AS/400 has the right stuff for e-commerce

IBM Corp.’s venerable AS/400 could be the most misunderstood computer on the planet. Despite a 10-year history and worldwide sales of 700,000 units, it remains something of a mystery – even among fans who support the platform with Macintosh-like devotion.

Given its broad range of capabilities, some confusion is inevitable. From its origins as a terminal-centric, 48-bit box known best for 5250 green-screen applications, the AS/400 has evolved into a sleek, 64-bit machine that supports e-commerce, ERP, CRM, business intelligence and back-office applications with equal aplomb. In 1995, IBM dubbed these newer models AS/400e servers.

The AS/400e has considerably improved business processes via Internet technology. Although numerous native AS/400e products and technologies can be used to implement effective e-commerce, not the least of which is IBM’s WebSphere Application Server, here we limited analysis to Java and Lotus Domino. Both have been particularly well-received by AS/400e customers who have e-commerce deployments in mind.

Although performance, scalability, security and reliability have always been hallmarks of the AS/400, the platform’s relevance would diminish if it could not exploit the power of the Internet. Thus, IBM has invested heavily in making the AS/400e a formidable Internet platform. In May 1999, IBM released Version 4 Release 4 (V4R4) of OS/400 with more than 3 million new lines of code dedicated primarily to e-commerce.

Courting Java

Java may already be a de facto standard in client-side Web-based application development, but its true value will be realized as a language for portable server-side applications.

Java server programs require facilities to communicate with the particular hardware on which they run. The AS/400e provides a native JDBC (Java Database Connectivity) driver to optimize access to its integrated 64-bit relational database, as well as a direct execution-compile option that dramatically improves AS/400e Java performance relative to other platforms.

Perhaps the best evidence of IBM’s commitment to AS/400-based e-commerce is the development of its own JVM. Based on Sun Microsystems’ specification, Big Blue’s JVM is integrated at the lowest levels of the OS/400 operating system. This allowed IBM to optimize the JVM to take advantage of the AS/400e architecture and hardware, while still meeting the standards for a Java-compatible certification from Sun.

The AS/400e Java environment differs from other JVMs in two ways. First, it removes objects from memory (known as garbage collection) without halting all concurrent threads. This helps the AS/400e perform more effectively and scale better as a Java server. Second, the AS/400e JDK provides an option to compile the byte code into 64-bit executables. The benefit of this approach is improved performance in Java application serving.

For AS/400e customers, IBM’s support of Java is significant for other reasons as well. First, AS/400e sites can use Java to integrate legacy applications and databases with the Internet. Second, ISVs can easily port their Java e-commerce applications to the AS/400e.

Bonding with Domino

Lotus Domino is a leading groupware application that is often used to build Web sites that accept and maintain orders on-line, as well as manage electronic communications with both customers and suppliers. It has been available as a native 64-bit application on the AS/400e since March 1998.

The AS/400e is a compelling Domino platform for several reasons. First, a single AS/400e can be logically partitioned to support up to 30 Domino servers that can be managed separately. In other environments, Domino is usually implemented on several different servers. By operating multiple Domino servers on a single AS/400e, IT departments avoid the cumbersome administration tasks associated with server farms.

Largely due to server consolidation, the AS/400e’s TCO in Domino environments is much lower than that of PC servers. In fact, a recent International Data Corp. study found that the TCO for a 500-user Domino configuration on the AS/400e was 51 per cent lower than a similar PC server-based implementation.

Earlier this year, IBM introduced several AS/400e servers tuned specifically for Domino. Dubbed bumblebees because of their distinctive yellow stripes, these model 170 DSD (Dedicated Server for Domino) servers are configured for small and midsize businesses. For large-scale Domino implementations, higher-end AS/400e models are more suitable. For example, the largest AS/400e running Domino can accommodate more than 27,000 mail users on a single footprint. Clearly, scalability is a factor behind the AS/400e’s rising popularity as a Domino server.

Another reason for Domino’s success in the AS/400e arena is its tight integration with existing AS/400e facilities. Domino databases can exchange information with DB2 UDB/400 databases via real-time and scheduled jobs, and the Domino Directory/Address Book synchronizes with the AS/400e System Distribution Directory automatically.

Finally, the AS/400e is becoming a popular Domino host because built-in features such as RAID 5 storage, mirrored disk units, and integrated backup facilities let organizations run Domino applications 24 hours per day, every day.

World-class for the Web

Although many people still associate the AS/400e with green-screen legacy applications, its stodgy persona is bemusing to those who understand its power and relevance in today’s e-business economy.

The AS/400e occupies an enviable position in the race to become the world’s leading development platform for Java. Through IBM’s San Francisco project (an object-oriented application framework), EJB development, and a customized JVM, Big Blue has given the platform formidable weapons for that race. As for Lotus Domino, the AS/400e has achieved world-class benchmarks in both performance and scalability.

The AS/400e adroitly accommodates e-commerce by extending the reach of existing applications to the Internet, as well as supporting the development of brand-new, Web-enabled systems. By successfully heralding the arrival of e-commerce and the advent of the Internet age, the platform’s future looks quite bright.

Steinacher ([email protected]) has more than 10 years of experience as an AS/400 developer and consultant.

Review box: AS/400e

Supplier: IBM Corp.

Price: Varies with configuration

Platform: OS/400


High transactional volume enabled via 64-bit technology

Rigorous demands of e-commerce applications supported by top-notch scalability

Low total cost of ownership


No native support for third-party databases

Difficult to find AS/400 expertise.

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