Linux on the Mainframe and Where is the AS/400 Headed?

Comments about Linux/390 and an IT consultant ponders where the AS/400 is heading.

Linux on the Mainframe
I found your "IBM Introduces Linux-Only Mainframe" article ("Enterprise Strategies" newsletter on Jan. 30) to be quite interesting, but I must protest the repeated references to z/OS. Linux/390 has nothing to do with z/OS, and most definitely does not run "… in a partition managed by z/OS." Linux/390 now, as always, runs either as the base operating system, in a hardware LPAR (logical partition), or under the control of VM/ESA or z/VM. The vast majority of the facts in the article were correct and well-represented, but the oft-repeated misconception that Linux/390 must be married with the large overhead and high cost of z/OS has definitely interfered with the adoption of this interesting new player in the enterprise operating system arena.

—Tom Rae
Director, Technical Services
Information Systems
Westfair Foods

Tough Competition
Joe McKendrick’s January article, "Host Integration: Beyond Green-to-GUI" mentions middleware players Iona and BEA as enterprise application integration (EAI) vendors. I’m curious about the traction they have in this space—along with IBM’s WebSphere. WRQ, with whom I’m considering a job, has a very large customer portfolio to leverage, but it seems to me that it has formidable competitors.

Does WRQ have the technology in Verastream to compete?

—Mike McHenry
Portland, Ore.

From what I’ve seen, Verastream offers a very compelling EAI platform. Technically, it looks like a great product. However, WRQ’s roots are in the Web-to-host/PC-to-host market, which typically has consisted of point-to-point presentations of 5250 or 3270 datastreams. Vendors such as WRQ recognize that the margins for these presentation interfaces are very thin and offer little differentiation from competitors (including IBM with its Host on Demand, Attachmate, and more). I don't know what the prospects are for WRQ to move its PC/Web-to-host base to EAI. In many cases, companies may be happy with screen scraping or a notch above. Instead, WRQ will need to draw new customers, or different decision-makers within current client companies, to compete in a higher-level space that’s dominated by IBM WebSphere, BEA and others.

—Joseph McKendrick

P.S. iCat is a company that’s really gone through an interesting metamorphosis in recent years. As I see it, they moved from software supplier to hosting service under Intel.

Shaping the Internet
I’d like to thank Laura Wonnacott for the helpful Web sites listed in her January 2002 column,"Take Charge of Your Future." Although I’m only one voice, added to others we can certainly affect change. Being a social conservative puts me in a minority of "hard-liners." We can’t turn our backs on any citizen who wishes to participate and function in our society.

—Byron D. Prather
Lebanon, Ind.

I completely agree with Laura Wonnacott’s January column regarding involvement in Internet policies. I’m concerned that the United States and the rest of the world need to take a realistic look at some level of controls with the Internet.

It’s not an issue of no controls vs. strict controls, it’s an issue of what are reasonable and achievable controls that can be applied in an open, democratic environment.

—Sheila Walsh
Baltimore, Md.

Salaries for Mainframe Systems Programmers
I enjoyed the salary survey article, "Big Iron Pays Big," in the January 2002 issue. Since you asked for feedback, what I’d like to see is salaries for mainframe systems programmers, which aren't at all the same thing as application programmers. Systems programmers are the folks that keep that big iron system software installed and running and as far as I know, that's a pretty universal job title.

—Meg Dobbins
Systems Programming Administrator

Headed for Oblivion?
Thanks for your article on IT salary survey trends in the January issue. As an iSeries AS/400 professional, I took particular note that RPG, and by implication, the AS/400, now ranks last in compensation levels. Not surprising from my vantage point, as new RPG application development has virtually ceased to exist, with the only RPG work being done to fix or maintain existing legacy systems when there’s absolutely no other alternative.

As an independent consultant, I’d be interested in hearing your opinion [on where] the AS/400, due to enter its 15th year this June, is headed (even if it’s oblivion). Specifically:

Differentiation: If IBM places Linux on its four servers, which it has, other than running legacy applications, what will distinguish the AS/400?

Applications: It seems that many midrange application vendors either didn’t make it past Y2K or have quietly chosen not to emphasize the AS/400—[examples are] SAP, whose AS/400 offering never made it to prime time, and J.D. Edwards, who appears to be leaning toward more of a Unix focus.

E-commerce: An excellent companion article in your January issue ("Does Big Iron Guarantee Security? Maybe") detailed that at most, a few thousand OS/390 sites out of probably 150,000 worldwide use mainframes for e-commerce hosting, despite the IBM hype. The worldwide base of AS/400s is probably on the order of 750,000—the same can be said for e-commerce. AS/400 sites are small for the most part, the IBM middleware and tiered pricing for Web enablement drive the visible dollar outlays far beyond what someone who is interested in exploring casual Web site hosting would be willing to pay. Result? Go with a cheaper Wintel solution. The AS/400 may have been a lot of things, but a Web engine it is not.

End of Life: Do you see the AS/400 continuing to struggle in stealth mode? What were last year’s sales for 2001? Will the box be subsumed into the pSeries, which is where IBM is placing advertising emphasis?

—Thomas O. Potts
Harrisburg, Pa.

I agree that IBM, to its detriment, has kept the iSeries a well-kept secret. A few years ago, OS/400 could’ve been a serious—and more robust—enterprise contender to Windows NT. IBM might even have licensed the operating system to run on some sort of commodity box, thereby detaching the system from the hardware. I once spoke with Frank Soltis, the "father of the AS/400," who revealed that he had OS/400 running on a Pentium processor!

IBM has now buried the 400’s identity within its eServer line. The company has been trying to eliminate hardware distinctions for years. The RS/6000 boxes (excuse me, pSeries) are produced on the same line as iSeries boxes—all operations merged.

The other troubling area, as you say, is the ISVs who supported the AS/400. They’re now seeing the handwriting on the wall and porting their solutions to other platforms, especially NT/2000.

It’s all unfortunate, because the iSeries has perhaps the most loyal following in the IT world. The security is bulletproof, the reliability rock-solid and it’s incredibly scalable. Even Microsoft was using 400s until recently. (Rumor is, it still has some.) So the market isn’t going away, even if it’s not growing.

—Joseph McKendrick