AS/400e a strong offering: analyst

A new line of AS/400e servers consolidates older separate families while also adding new functionality, according to IBM Canada Ltd.

“When the AS/400 was originally announced, it was meant to handle green screen interactive applications, back in 1988,” explained Barry Pow, AS/400 product manager for IBM North America in Markham, Ont.

“We have a lot of customers now who have intelligent desktop servers, so their use of a central system has changed and moved to the client/server environment. In order to accommodate that, back in 1993 and 1994, we announced a separate path within the AS/400 called the server family. Those machines were set up to specifically serve customers who had client-serving environments.”

Pow said the two families evolved separately and soon spawned a third family along the way.

“What we’ve announced is the ability to bring all of those families together, so we’re back to a single family and we support all three environments within the single family…client/server, a mixed environment with interactive and client/server, and full green screen, non-intelligent desktop environments,” Pow said.

Pow said the old AS/400e models — the S series and 6xx series — are still available, but will likely be phased out for this new 7xx series.

Rich Caron, MIS systems manager for Polyclad Laminates in Franklin, N.H., ran beta tests of the new AS/400e 720 model. He said the consolidation of the families makes selecting a model easier.

“Previously, you had to pick and choose between a server model or a system model or a custom model. With the 720, the model we have, you don’t have to worry about which specific model you’re going to buy. You get one-stop shopping. You buy an AS/400 that can meet any of your business needs,” Caron said.

Laurie McCabe, senior analyst with Summit Strategies in Boston, said IBM has a good history of building up and pushing forward with the AS/400. She said new high-end features such as logical partitioning (LPAR) help to differentiate the AS/400 from what she said is its major competitor, Windows NT.

“They have the LPAR, the 228-node clustering capabilities…they have some really strong differentiators at the high end…All of these things add up to giving this platform a pretty healthy future. No, it’s not going to be an NT killer or Unix killer, but it’s a really healthy, viable, real alternative with real advantages for a lot of customers,” McCabe said.

LPAR gives customers the ability to “carve up” the machine, Pow said. The n-way processors — two-way to 12-way — allow the customer to dedicate a given number of processors within one machine to one application, area or task.

“I can carve up the machine and from an external standpoint it looks like I’ve got multiple machines. I actually run multiple copies of the operating system, of the I/O handling, of all the communications and so on, so I physically run it as if it’s multiple machines but I manage it as one,” Pow explained.

Caron said Polyclad will evaluate the LPAR technology soon to see if it is useful to the company. In the meantime, he said the strongest part of this offering is the ease of rolling out Lotus Notes compared with attempts to do so effectively on his company’s NT servers.

“NT has proven to be very unreliable for us. The AS/400 has proven to be a very reliable platform. We are going to eliminate all of our NT for Lotus Notes and move that to AS/400s,” Caron said.

The only drawback McCabe noted is that a customer can only buy the AS/400 from IBM.

“So a decision to go with the AS/400 is a decision to go with IBM. And it depends on who you are whether that’s a positive or negative, and a lot of customers want the choice that if they get fed up with a vendor, they [have a way out],” McCabe said.

Pow said pricing of the AS/400e line ranges from $11,999 to several million dollars.

IBM Canada in Markham, Ont., is at 1-800-426-2255 or on the Internet at