AS/400 Users Split On Server Strategies

D.H. Andrews survey finds far ranging plans for favored server.

If there ever was a time when AS/400 customers agreed over what servers they should deploy, that era is over. This is one of the key findings of a study being released by D.H. Andrews Group, a market research and IT services firm located in Cheshire, Connecticut. The study, which gathered extensive data from 347 AS/400 customers, represents the most comprehensive independent analysis of AS/400 sites ever conducted.

According to Lee Kroon, a senior industry analyst at D.H. Andrews Group, AS/400 owners are deeply divided over the servers they plan to use in the future and the role that the AS/400 will play in their plans. “While many people think of the AS/400 community as a homogenous group, it’s far from it. It’s really a loose coalition of companies with very different server strategies. Some are sticking with the AS/400 as their only host system. Others are deploying multiple servers, with AS/400s running next to Windows NT/2000 and Unix boxes. Some companies are putting more of their overall computing workload on the AS/400. Others are reducing their dependence on the AS/400, and a small minority is leaving the server altogether.”

To gather this information, the research firm asked study participants to report what servers they use, what percentage of their enterprise computing workload runs on each server, and how those percentages will change over the next three years. According to Kroon, the average company reported that it currently runs 69 percent of its computing workload on the AS/400, and that this average will decline by only three points over the next three years. Over the same period, the average workload percentage managed by Windows NT/2000 servers will rise from 19 to 24 percent, while Unix servers will rise from 5 to 6 percent.

These figures show that, on the whole, the AS/400 will maintain its position as the primary server at the vast majority of midrange sites. “What they don’t show,” Kroon says, “is the wide diversity of server strategies that lie just beneath the surface of those averages. Around half of the sites we studied plan to have their AS/400s manage roughly the same percentage of their overall workload over the next three years. The other half, however, will reduce or increase their percentages, in many cases dramatically.”

A key factor behind these differences appears to be study participants’ beliefs about the long-term viability of the AS/400. To learn about these beliefs, D.H. Andrews Group asked study participants to predict how several market success factors—such as software vendor support—would change for the AS/400 over the next three years. On a consistent basis, those participants who had upbeat expectations for the AS/400 were more likely than other participants to boost their AS/400 workload percentages over the next three years. By contrast, those with negative expectations were more likely to reduce their AS/400 workload percentages.

“We can’t say that customer beliefs about the AS/400’s future are causing them to change their investment levels in the server,” Kroon explains. “What we can say is that where we saw optimistic or pessimistic beliefs about the AS/400, we saw those beliefs reflected in server strategies.”

As D.H. Andrews Group learned, the midrange community is far from united in its beliefs about the AS/400’s future. For instance, when asked whether the AS/400’s share of the server market will increase, decrease, or remain steady over the next three years, the participants split sharply over the issue. While 30 percent believe the server’s market share will remain steady, an equal percent said it will fall, while 40 percent think it will rise.

What was just as interesting, however, were the written comments that study participants submitted with their answers. An overwhelming number of comments were extremely positive about the AS/400’s technology, even among study participants who were pessimists about the server’s future. On the other hand, there was widespread negativity about IBM’s ability to promote the system.

“Clearly, there’s a lot of discontent brewing in the AS/400 community,” Kroon comments. “Dozens of respondents complained about the lack of AS/400 marketing on IBM’s part. That should be a big concern for IBM, because many of these firms are installing more Windows NT and Unix servers. That means the AS/400 increasingly has to compete with better publicized systems for visibility and funding. If the IT professionals in these companies don’t believe that IBM will back them up when they advocate the AS/400, more of them will likely become pessimists about the server’s future.”

Besides analyzing server deployment strategies, D.H. Andrews Group conducted extensive analyses of the study group’s long-range plans for deploying applications ranging from e-business and ERP to supply chain management, business intelligence, and customer relationship management. The research firm also surveyed participants about the programming languages and server platforms they will use for applications development. The company is publishing the results of its studies in seven detailed reports. Companies that want more information about these reports, or that want to purchase copies, can do so at www.dhagroup.com/home.htm (new window) .