New AS/400 Raises Benchmark Bar

For some time now IBM has been touting the AS/400 as a leading platform for server-side Java applications. Backing up this claim, IBM recently announced that the AS/400 model 840 has set VolanoMark 2.1.2 records in server-side Java Virtual Machine (JVM) performance. A 100 percent pure Java server benchmark, VolanoMark measures the speed of the Java platform and accurately predicts real-world performance and scalability.

“What we’re looking for is recognition,” says Dick Odell, IBM senior performance analyst. “The AS/400 is a leader in Java technology and this is a way to get that image out there. We hope this translates in future success for the AS/400.”

According to Odell, the new performance results were enabled largely by the major AS/400 announcements that IBM made in May. Those announcements included a new line of servers, the 800 series, which were the first AS/400 servers to use IBM’s patented silicon-on-insulator (SOI) and copper wiring technologies. The highest-end AS/400 server, the 840, is 3.6 times faster than the previous generation of AS/400 servers. IBM also introduced OS/400 V4R5, which can improve Java performance up to 65 percent over the previous release of OS/400.

In setting this record, IBM has gained the upper hand on one of its main competitors in this space, Sun Microsystems. Sun ran a similar test in February, posting the VolanoMark performance results of its Sun Enterprise 6500 server and touting it as setting a new VolanoMark test record. In response, IBM compared its VolanoMark result on the AS/400 model 840 with Sun’s result for the E6500 server.

Following the blueprint of the VolanoMark local performance benchmark, a 24-way AS/400 model 840 server with 4 GB of memory handled a record 108,513 messages per second using 200 concurrent connections---more than four times faster than a comparable Sun E6500 22-way server with 30GB of memory running the Solaris operating system.

IBM also ran a VolanoMark network scalability test. A 12-way AS/400 model 840-2418 using a single Gigabit Ethernet NIC with 8GB of memory was able to process 39,529 messages per second at 9,000 connections. According to IBM, it was more than eight times faster than the results of the Sun E6500 22-way server.

“”We were pleasantly surprised by how much we outperformed Sun,” says Odell. “We’re now the industry leader in Java. The ball is in Sun’s court now.”

In further recognition of its scalability, the AS/400 processed 23,942 messages per second at 20,000 connections. At 20,000 connections, the AS/400 handled more than 40,000 concurrently active threads in a single Java Virtual Machine.

Odell says IBM views the strong AS/400 Java performance as an opportunity to expand its horizons. “We have an opportunity to compete outside our installed base,” he says. “There are 2.5 million Java programmers out there today, so it’s a really big market. Java programmers will be attracted to platforms that have leading JVM performance, and that’s what we offer.”

“A lot of people out there don’t understand the value proposition of the AS/400,” added John Quarantello, IBM’s AS/400 Java segment manager. “One of the best features of the AS/400 is its Java performance and with this testing, we’re able to prove that.”

In particular, Quarantello says the AS/400 is in prime position to become a big player in the Java business-to-business space. “From a b-to-b point of view, the AS/400 is going to be a big player in connecting to e-marketplaces,” he says. “In order to connect to these e-marketplaces, you have to have powerful and reliable JVM performance, and that’s where the AS/400 comes into play.”

Although the tests were run on the most powerful (and most expensive) AS/400 available, the Java performance advances enabled by the May 22 announcements also cover the low-end systems.

Previously, the smallest and least expensive AS/400 capable of running Enterprise Java Beans (EJB) technology was a model 170-2385 costing anywhere between $55,000 and $60,000. In comparison the price of the recently introduced model 270 that is EJB capable is significantly lower, costing anywhere from $18,000 to $27,000.

“We were very expensive at the low end,” Quarantello admitted. “Two months ago, everyone from customers to analysts to the press were saying we were way too expensive on the low end servers with Java enterprise beans technology, and they were right. With the 270, you get comparable performance at a dramatically lower price.”

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