IBM is likely to slash prices of its AS/400 to beat off the challenge of Windows NT when the system is re-launched on August 19. It will use a 12-way configuration using the PowerPC 625 or Apache chip – the biggest processor IBM has ever shipped and will support around 7,000 concurrent users. But to blow away the threat of high-end Intel servers, the maximum performance will be doubled in the next seven months and there is currently a 24-way machine up and running in IBM’s Rochester laboratories. News of IBM’s intentions emerge thanks to Paul Newman, managing director of Pacific Systems International Plc in the UK. In terms of processing power, IBM is currently working on a 128-bit design, but as this is far in excess of the performance potential of the PowerPC design, it may bring out a 96-bit version instead, says Newman. The systems will still be black but they will be smaller, with a built-in power supply and back-up power supply, and there will be a PCI bus on the low-end systems. IBM will also start to sell AS/400s ready configured with pre-loaded software, such as an internet server or Lotus Notes server. Notes currently runs on the AS/400’s Integrated PC Server (IPCS) card, a 166MHz PC on a board, which some will better remember as the FSIOP (file server integrated I/O processor) card, but the division is working on a native version of Notes that should be ready from January next year.
By David Johnson
The internet server uses the IPCS to host the AS/400’s firewall software, which has been ported from the AIX division. This means that the AS/400’s security will be maintained, as even when the AS/400 is directly attached to the internet, it will still be insulated by the IPCS. The AS/400 will translate 5250 data streams of existing applications directly into HTML documents without any programming. IBM will also be offering servers with pre-configured business software from third party vendors such as SAP, JD Edwards or SSA. IBM will start selling the AS/400 with the OS/400 operating system pre-loaded. According to Newman, this is an attempt to sort out a problem that has arisen in the second user market. In theory, when a second-hand AS/400 changes hands, the buyer only gets the hardware and then has to license OS/400 from IBM. This can lead to the situation where the hardware may only cost $1,000 but the operating system costs $60,000. In practice, a lot of brokers have sold AS/400s with OS/400 still installed and IBM has found it impossible to keep track of what is installed where and whether it is running a licensed copy of OS/400. To maintain revenue streams, users will have to pay more for operating system upgrades, Newman believes. In spite of all these enhancements, Newman still believes that the AS/400 will continue to be hamstrung by its poor marketing, however. They couldn’t sell virgin restoration treatment, he says.