IBM Announces New iSeries Systems, Packaging, and WebSphere Express

Big Blue eliminates interactive licensing requirement on new iSeries systems

Building on the momentum of the iSeries management shake-up that it announced two weeks ago, IBM Corp. yesterday disclosed significant changes to its iSeries product line, including the addition of a new sub-$10,000 system and the introduction of support for On/Off Capacity Upgrade on Demand (CUD).

All told, Big Blue unveiled four new iSeries servers, including two high-end systems—the eServer iSeries models 870 and 825—that are designed to complement its current top-of-the-line eServer iSeries model 890. For SMB customers, IBM introduced a new single processor system—the iSeries 800, which starts at $9,995—along with the two-way iSeries 810.

Big Blue has marketed other low-cost iSeries systems over the years—its AS/400 Advanced Entry 150 and 170 systems, for example—and currently markets the eServer iSeries 250.

According to worldwide iSeries manager David Bruce, the new model 800 is the first low-cost iSeries system that effectively supports Linux, Domino or WebSphere Application Server, in addition to 5250 applications, on the same hardware. “With [iSeries 800], we’ll be delivering a system that’s under $10,000 and will be capable of running all of those kinds of work.”

IBM also tinkered with the packaging of its new iSeries systems, offering customers a choice between Standard and Enterprise Editions. Bruce says the standard edition supports e-business applications and includes the capability to run multiple operating systems, in addition to features such as CUD and dynamic logical partitioning.

The Enterprise edition, on the other hand, introduces further enhancements, such as On/Off CUD, and includes support for a range of DB2, WebSphere, Lotus and Tivoli middleware. As part of its Enterprise edition packaging, Bruce says IBM will also offer free processor activation for Linux on its high-end iSeries 870 and iSeries 890 systems, along with an integrated IBM eServer xSeries for Windows integration.

The upshot, he explains, is that each iSeries server in the product line is now capable of supporting multiple operating environments—OS/400, Linux, and Windows—in addition to e-business applications such as WebSphere. “In our 2002 product line, a customer might look at the lineup and they might choose based on performance or price, and they would find that some capabilities don’t exist in certain parts of the line. In this new line-up, every server can run Linux, every server has partitioning, every server can run WebSphere.”

On/Off Capacity Upgrade on Demand

The iSeries models 825 and 875 ship with On/Off CUD, says Bruce, who confirms that IBM will extend support for On/Off CUD to its flagship iSeries 890 servers as well.

iSeries has boasted a pay-before-use (permanent) CUD feature for quite some time, and current high-end iSeries users can unlock “trial capacity” on their systems for a period of up to 14 days. Bruce stresses that On/Off CUD gives customers a pay-after-use (temporary) facility to allocate resources and then to de-allocate them again if necessary: “It gives you the ability to dynamically turn processors on or off, which they haven’t had before. Before it was permanent, they couldn’t turn it off. Now they can turn it on when they need it and off when they don’t need it anymore. This is truly dynamic.”

On/Off CUD could ultimately connote more than simply processing power, however: Big Blue is said to be evaluating Memory-on-Demand, Disk-on-Demand, and Interactive-on-Demand facilities as well, which could be included in a forthcoming iSeries release.

New WebSphere for iSeries

Big Blue also announced WebSphere Application Server 5 Express for iSeries, a version of WebSphere that’s been stripped of support for Enterprise Java Beans (EJB) and optimized for iSeries hardware. “WebSphere Express is really targeted for customers who are not looking for EJBs. WebSphere Express is going to deliver a really nice punch for the iSeries, and it’s been tuned to run on even the smallest hardware.”

IBM offers several packaging options for WebSphere Express for iSeries. On its new iSeries 825, 875 and 890 systems, WebSphere Express is included in the Enterprise edition package, although IBM says that it will also offer these customers the ability to select from either WebSphere V4 Advanced or WebSphere V5 Base as well.

An End to Interactive Licensing?

One of the changes announced by IBM could affect high-end iSeries customers who use its so-called “interactive” licensing feature to support 5250 online transaction processing (OLTP) applications in very large installations.

IBM’s interactive feature has increasingly come under fire from customers, who say that it can add significantly to the cost of an iSeries system. Says one user: “It can be a huge part of the total price of an iSeries. … Obviously we all want the interactive feature gone. It was implemented a number of years ago to allow for a ‘server’—i.e., mainly batch jobs with very little interactive—to be much cheaper in price [than a] full blown user production system.”

During a November interview, iSeries product marketing manager Ian Jarman defended interactive licensing, citing its performance advantages over GUI-based client-server applications, and indicated that “optimal performance has a value and customers who run [the interactive feature] in very large installations with … 1,000 or more order-entry users value that interface and that data-stream very highly. It’s that value that we charge for with the interactive feature.”

Perhaps so, but over the last several years, some industry watchers, such as Gartner Inc. analyst Tom Bittman, have suggested that the cost of supporting the interactive licensing option has undercut the inherent cost-savings of the iSeries platform. The upshot, Bittman has indicated, is that price improvements for iSeries in the high-end have essentially been nullified, largely as a result of the high cost of the interactive feature.

IBM yesterday announced that interactive licensing is no longer available or required on its new iSeries models. Big Blue described at least two options by which organizations that purchase new iSeries systems can continue to support their existing 5250 OLTP applications.

For iSeries shops with Standard or Enterprise edition packaging, says Bruce, customers can use the WebFacing tool that IBM includes with its WebSphere Studio Client development kit to modernize 5250 applications for display in client/server GUI environments. Alternately, he explains, Enterprise Edition customers can run their 5250 OLTP applications as they are—without using the WebFacing tool—and exploit Enterprise Edition’s support for Maximum 5250 CPW (processor capacity).

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.