Guest Commentary: The Changing Landscape

From the beginning the AS/400 Platform has offered solid performance and exceptional reliability. It has built a strong global following with approximately four hundred thousand in use worldwide and is currently IBM's most profitable computing platform. With the introduction of V4R4, Operations Navigator and Management Central provide greater functionality and control to this robust 64-bit operating system. Many improvements have been made to the AS/400 in 1999, but the sales growth numbers have seriously lagged behind NT and Unix. This scenario becomes more troublesome because of pressure from the recent release of the Intel ProFusion chip set and other important developments in the AS/400 space.

The new ProFusion chip set from Intel features eight Pentium 3 Xenon processors with speeds surpassing 500MHz. Compaq, Dell and IBM have recently introduced this new chip set in their server lines called the 8000 Series, PowerEdge 8450 and NetFinity 8500R respectively. This powerful Intel chip set may also be clustered and, when combined with inexpensive memory and disks, the Intel offering becomes a very attractive alternative in the $75,000 space. Most AS/400 and Unix users will ask, "How can a 32-bit operating system be industrial strength?" The answer will appear when Windows 2000 becomes a real 64-bit operating system. This will happen and IBM must take quick action to protect the AS/400 from this new, real Microsoft/Intel offering.

The Microsoft/Intel scenario becomes even more interesting when Vertical Computing Architecture (VCA) comes into the picture. This type of computing architecture will cut down on the number of instructions needed to perform a task and greatly increase the efficiency of the NT platform and Windows 2000. Information will be held in memory and pushed to the person who requested it at far faster speed than current technology offers. This is not a pipe dream, but a glimpse of the future of new technologies from Microsoft and Intel.

Competition in the midrange computing arena becomes even more exciting with IBM's purchase of Sequent Computer Systems, a leader in non-uniform memory access (NUMA) architecture that allows a large number of processors to act as a single system. This technology currently supports up to 64 processors but is planned to reach 256 by mid-2000. That purchase, in July of this year, was a shrewd and important move on IBM's part to improve the performance of its computing platforms.

Another important technology acquired in the Sequent deal is the NUMACenter, which allows NT and Unix to interoperate on a single system. And Sequent is a major player in Project Monterey, a consortium that also includes IBM, Intel and SCO that has a charter of turning out a high-volume Unix. A recent IDC Sever Forecast states that the Monterey Partners hold a 55 percent Unix market share. Project Monterey is an important effort for IBM in regards to the compatibly of AIX with Linux. In the Unix space, Linux is quickly becoming a logical choice because of its ability to run 32- and 64-bit applications, its built-in TCP/IP drivers and the fact that it's free.

Further complicating matters in this highly competitive space is the arrival of Intel's Itanium/McKinley technologies. Intel is focusing on large-scale implementation technologies because of their high profit margins compared with the PC market. Is Itanium going to replace the Power PC on the AS/400? Stay tuned.

A great deal of change will take place in the NT, OS/400 and Unix space during the next 18 to 24 months. The new millennium promises to bring about profound changes in this highly competitive arena and some will survive and some will not. This is IT's process of natural selection.

Russell Ruggiero is vice president of sales and marketing for SoftScreen Inc. in Princeton N.J.