Benchmark Center Weighs Technology

By Larry Greenemeier

All of the advertising and sales information in the world won't help you determine whether or not a new product or upgrade is right for your company. Factor in the growing number of vendors and products to choose from, and the already difficult process of purchasing IT solutions can begin to seem impossible.

To keep difficult purchase and upgrade decisions in perspective -- from the point of view of both the solution provider and customer -- IBM continues to improve upon the services offered through its Partners in Development AS/400 Benchmark Center in Rochester, Minn.

"The Center has access to all of the latest AS/400 technology and has been running on some of the 7XX gear for quite some time," says Mark Williamson, IBM senior software engineer. In addition to providing its clients with access to the latest AS/400 hardware, the Benchmark Center is beginning to offer access to early V4R4 software. Demand for access to this latest release of OS/400 is not expected to blossom until it becomes generally available in May of 1999, according to Williamson.

The Center has begun to see an increase in the amount of testing in the Domino space as well as the Web serving and Java serving areas of the market, according to Williamson. "Those are newer technologies for us as well, so we end up learning a lot about those environments when people come in to study them," he says. "One of the big advantages to having the Center here is the fact that we're right next to Development. Sometimes we're able to spot some trends or patterns early on and react quickly to them."

Services offered by the Benchmark Center include: on-site or dial-in batch testing; interactive and client/server testing; compatibility testing for release-to-release; capacity planning; and Year 2000 testing.

As part of IBM's Partners in Development organization, the Center is used in a variety of ways by a variety of IBM solution providers and customers. Some solution providers, for example, make use of capacity planning benchmarks to provide sizing information to their marketing departments. Other solution providers use the Center as a way to close business deals by demonstrating that a proposed solution will sufficiently meet an end user's needs. IBM customers use the Benchmark Center, for example, to perform volume testing for planned upgrades, to practice OS/400 upgrades and to engage in Year 2000 file conversion and testing.

IBM uses Mercury Interactive Corp. (Sunnyvale, Calif.) products extensively to help with test automation at the Center. "This is the magic test automation tool that we use quite a bit to drive the tests," Williamson says. "We've done upwards of 10,000 user benchmarks before for some of our larger visitors. This means a company needed to know the AS/400 could handle the workload presented by 10,000 users logged on and doing work."

Though the 10,000-user workload represents the current high-water mark at the Center, Williamson says the capacity is there to push that number even higher. "Before the next couple of months are out, we'll go past those numbers," he says. "It kind of puts it in perspective the kind of capability that is here."

Though the AS/400 Benchmark Center dates back as far as the AS/400 itself, the facility was not moved to Rochester until 1993. In its earliest days, the Center was hosted at facilities in Dallas and used mostly as a marketing support organization.

The Center now provides a place for teams of IBM solution providers and customers to work on the latest AS/400 technology in an environment similar to their own, according to Williamson. The Center has proven useful for solution providers and customers to study projected changes in their businesses, he says.

This article originally appeared in the March 22, 1999 issue of MIDRANGE Systems.