Millennium Momentum Builds for OS/400

Annual Shipments of OS/400 Continue Unabated...
Worldwide New License Shipments of Host and Server Operating Environment Software
- 1999 - 84,000
- 2000 - 91,000
- 2001 - 99,000
- 2002 - 108,000
- 2003 - 110,000
Source: IDC, 1999

...Continuing the Slow But Steady Growth Ahead of the OS/400 Installed Base*
Worldwide Total Installed Base of Host and Server Operating Environment Software
- 1998 - 288,000
- 1999 - 314,000
- 2000 - 342,000
- 2001 - 407,000
- 2002 - 466,000
- 2003 - 520,000
Source: IDC, 1999

[*Including deactivations]

As we pass through the Y2K portal and adjust to its immediate aftermath, new developments will reshape IT management as we know it. Next year will mark the beginning of a virtual flood of pent-up IT initiatives--held back by Y2K work--encompassing e-business and more powerful systems. On the near horizon for OS/400 is expanded support for 12-way SMP, LPAR, universal database and ERP.

However, the timing of the next releases of OS/400 remains unclear. At the October COMMON conference, Tom Jarosh, general manager of the AS/400 division, confirmed that a new release of OS/400, most likely V4R5, is in the works for general availability sometime in 2000. However, IBM officials refuse to comment on the exact timing and contents of any new releases. At COMMON, Jarosh promised some type of new feature release "every six months" as part of the AS/400's new "transformation path." A major PTF release with UDB features was issued in September, putting the timing of another release in March or April of 2000.

At this time, however, no major announcements are in the works "until the second half of 2000," says Matt McMahon, spokesperson for IBM's AS/400 division. While IBM is foregoing its usual February announcement in 2000, McMahon denies Y2K is a factor. Rather, IBM is still promoting its recently announced 700 series, two-way 170 series and V4R4.

If IBM's past release patterns are a guide; no new software enhancements will be out until new hardware starts shipping. There would have to be a "compelling business reason" to release an operating system upgrade early in the year without accompanying new hardware, says Butch Maxwell, research director with D.H. Andrews (Cheshire, Conn.). Maxwell doesn't see a new software release on the horizon until the second half of next year.

Maxwell, like other analysts, feels that IBM's hardware and software upgrades are being delayed into the latter half of 2000 as the market recovers from Y2K. "AS/400 sales in the second half of this year were not up to IBM's hopes," he says. "They're calling Y2K one of the root causes. If that's the case, the question becomes, 'Is it strategic to announce new hardware on the schedule you were going to before?' Ultimately, Y2K is an element in positioning their hardware announcements. It's probably more of a business issue than a technical issue."

In fact, because of Y2K, both the first and second quarters of 2000 may be dismal for AS/400 sales, agrees Tom Bittman, research director with GartnerGroup (Stamford, Conn.). After that lull, sales will start going like "gangbusters," he adds.

Symmetrical Features
One of the most pronounced features to come in any upcoming release is enhanced symmetric multiprocessor (SMP) support for the AS/400. Support for eight-way to 12-way SMP will be available next year, says Jarosh.

Enhanced logical partitioning (LPAR) technology and new high availability clustering solutions on the AS/400 will also likely be part of next year's release. Currently, LPAR enables a single server to operate like 12 separate servers, facilitating server consolidation, business unit consolidation, mixed production and test environments, and integrated clusters.

Currently, only one partition is available per I/O processor, and the solution is not easy to implement. The next enhancement will enable a more dynamic partitioning of the system. "I would refer to today's LPAR as static LPAR," says Maxwell. "Although it is possible to change some of the configurations, it is not as easy as it may be in the future."

Bittman reports "huge interest" among AS/400 customers of all sizes for LPAR capabilities. "Mid-size companies that have three systems see LPARs as a way to get down to two or one," he explains. LPAR also provides a way to "create data warehouses or add Domino on one box." It's likely that up to 100,000 AS/400 systems will support LPAR within the next two years, Bittman relates. Dynamic LPAR, in which the system can be partitioned on the fly, will serve as a major load-balancing tool.

As a result, "AS/400s are going to get growing use in data centers," says Bittman. "LPAR is going to be one of the key capabilities that will keep AS/400s on the table."

And of course, expect continuing gains in e-business functionality, including WebSphere, Enterprise Java Beans, native XML and Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) capabilities, which enable AS/400-based application to interact with other enterprise platforms. "We're going to continue to see a strong focus and investment in WebSphere and Java," says Bittman. Ultimately, this will provide a strong differentiation from other platforms, he adds. "It's not just that the software stack is the same, but that the AS/400 is totally integrated and appliance-like. You don't have to deal with any complexities. You would choose Netfinity for a build-your-own kind of environment and an AS/400 for ease-of-use integration."

The next release will incorporate the final enhancements to the AS/400 version of IBM's universal database (UDB), which were included in the large September PTF. While there is nothing new with the technology itself, "The direction of UDB is certainly interesting in supporting unstructured data types," says Bittman. "It would be even more interesting if IBM could somehow get their act together between their DB2 strategy and their Lotus strategy. But the whole direction in supporting unstructured data types is very compelling."

Support for Windows NT/2000 will also be enhanced with increased integration with IBM's Netfinity Server. While IBM is expected to continue to support and upgrade the Netfinity card, a cable attachment to Netfinity servers will help sites keep pace with new developments. "Because the card is inside the AS/400, it's difficult to keep up with changes in the processor, or the configurations that other vendors were offering in NT servers," says Maxwell. "They were very often one click behind what was going on in the industry."

Market Machinations
Upcoming releases will also reflect IBM's increasing emphasis on platform-independent computing. "IBM use to build value based on the hardware and the operating system," says Bittman. "Now they're building value based on software and software infrastructure. IBM is trying to shift the loyalty of its install base from S/390, from AS/400, RS/6000, and Windows NT to IBM's software stack. For example, bus-level connectivity between AS/400s and Netfinity servers enables IBM to seamlessly support a far greater range of applications.

Besides, Y2K has narrowed the range of choice of operating systems. Only seven major operating systems will be following us into the new millennium: Windows NT/2000, IBM's OS/400 and MVS, three variants of Unix--Sun Solaris, IBM's AIX and HP-UX--and Linux. Many vendors are being forced out of the platform manufacturing business into niche or service opportunities, Bittman says. "The Unix world is in shambles," he adds. "Of the 12 Unix vendors receiving R&D investment today, only five will continue to receive investment by 2000, and perhaps only three by 2003."

OS/400 will continue to ride high with a dedicated following, analysts agree. "The AS/400 continues to be used by a core group of customers that know and love the system, and it continues to grow steadily, albeit, at a more modest level than Windows NT, Linux, or even Unix servers," says Al Gillen, research manager for server infrastructure software with IDC (Framingham, Mass.). "The likelihood that the AS/400 will break out of its market segment and begin to steal market share from other server operating environments is not great. But at the same time, the AS/400 does not seem to be impacted as much as one might expect from the growth of Windows NT, and more recently, Linux. This is probably due in part to the fact that the AS/400 is heavily used in application environments where customers are unwilling to accept the complex configurations of Windows NT that are required for high levels of availability."

Gillen points out that the AS/400 environment represents the third-largest source of applications revenue for accounting, manufacturing, and materials management, "surpassed by only Unix and Win32 environments in terms of total revenue associated with the applications themselves."