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No hardware or software problems that can’t – and won’t – be solved on IBM’s AS/400

Ten AS/400 installations and two systems houses later, Hoskyns Plc is a fairly safe bet for singing the mid-range machine’s praises. According to the company, even the problematic areas the lack of a decent tape drive for System/36 users, and those initial operating system and system software hitches – are within IBM’s grasp. The 3422 tape drive is promised for September, and Hoskyns clearly believes that Release 1.2 of the OS/400 operating system will address all the flaws which dogged the original release. Meanwhile, users can reap numerous cost, productivity, and in-built education benefits, and, at the top-end, look for the official announcement of a Model B80, recently spotted by an eagle Hoskyns eye in the US, quite soon. Other observers expect it to be accompanied by B90 and B100 models, which shouldn’t come as an enormous surprise; as long ago as April 1987, insiders were talking in terms of the AS/400 going up to the performance of the 3090/200, and more immediately, top-end performance of 100,000 transactions per hour, as against 25,000 an hour on the System/38 Model 700 (CI No 763).

System/36 users must convert to native mode if they need performance

In essence, argued senior Hoskyns consultant John Hooper, migration to the AS/400 from the System/38 is no problem whatsoever. For System/36 users, however, Hooper conceded that the migration issue is much more complex – more of a planning exercise than an intellectual challenge. Among the situations that Hoskyns is advising System/36 users to weigh up, is whether the conversion of software derived from a System/32 or a System/34 is worthwhile, and whether lost source code should be rewritten, or completely replaced. Short-term, Hoskyns advises some customers to run in System/36 emulation mode, and migrate in a piecemeal fashion. However, where a fast response time is critical this is clearly not the answer; with 35 users, the difference in performance between emulation and native modes is put at the difference, in hardware costs, between a B30 and a B40. For its part, IBM is promising a communications controller or migration data link, which can be left to carry out an automatic conversion over the space of a weekend. It has also been known to make tape drives available to top-of-the-range System/36 users who lack their own.

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Rack-mounting as important to IBM as Systems Application Architecture

On the issue of Systems Application Architecture, Hoskyns claims that simply staying abreast of the flood of relevant specifications coming out of IBM is keeping one of its UK employees fully occupied. The number of IBM’s development staff worldwide currently dedicated to SAA-related projects is now put at 65%. Cox claims, however, that the Rack – the decision to rack-mount processors and peripherals, and the accompanying notion of producing shared components for different families was just as weighty an announcement as Systems Application Architecture. The Rack will solve IBM’s biggest problem manufacturing – argued Cox; SAA is IBM’s way of keeping the user base rolling forward.

The post-launch euphoria is over: sales slow as users mull forthcoming Baby/AS

There is plenty of anecdotal evidence that AS/400 sales are going emphatically off the boil in the US. Horror stories now beginning to surface include machines committed to but unsold, the return of grey markets, and deep discounting by agents desperate to move machines. Responding to this, Hoskyns’ IBM division chief Charles Cox argued that the immediate post-launch rush of emotional buying was over, and that a rational period had set in. Cox added that many currently biding their time, are eyeing California Software Products Inc’s forthcoming Baby/AS emulator for the AS/400 environment on 80386-based micros (CI No 1,189) with particular interest. Among those who have bought AS/400s, however, are a growing number of mainframe users, including those with top-of-the-range 4381s; significantly, more than a trickle,

are opting to use the machines to replace ageing 370s – hardly something that will warm the cockles of IBM’s heart: we hear of a US 370 user whose friendly neighbourhood IBM salesman came up with every argument in the book why he shouldn’t install the AS/400 he wanted in a remote location. On the software front, the introduction of one-time licence payments and graduated charges has swept users into a different world, Cox added. Additional benefits include a quantum leap in productivity, major cost savings, and an estimated 90% reduction in staffing levels for some tasks compared with a 370-type machine. However, IBM’s equally revolutionary approach to putting as many sales as possible through third party suppliers appears to be producing mixed results. Many are in for a quick buck, warned a pious Cox, forcing IBM to have a long, hard look at its Agency Programme. IBM recently reduced the trial period for potential AS/400 agents to just three months, in place of the previous 12.

Need for more tools as skills shortage in mid-range market hits 25% in the UK

On the home front, Hoskyns is developing an interface between its proprietary DesignAid software, and the IBM-approved Synon/2 applications generator. The product should make an appearance later this year. It is also linking its set of Life Cycle Manager computer-aided software engineering tools for MS-DOS micros, but says it has no immediate plans to produce an integrated range to run on the AS/400. Addressing the skills shortfall, now put at 25% in the mid-range market, Hoskyns’ Alan Wilson argued for an increased commitment to training, a reduction in maintenance problems, and a careful look at the toolkits, application generators, fourth generation languages, and methodologies, now beginning to resurface within the marketplace.
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CBR Staff Writer

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