Curiosity makes our world a constantly changing place. It's the primary reason the computer industry is so dynamic and interesting, and it's behind the explosive growth of client/server technologies. We wonder what will happen if we give employees the ability to access and manipulate the information they want when they want to, and something impels us to find out.
That's when we run headlong into another universal human trait-fear. We fear incompatible applications, long weekends at the office, skyrocketing costs, and security breaches. So how can we explore the exciting new frontier of client/server confidently? IBM has been asking itself precisely that question, and it has developed a strategy to make the AS/400's passage to client/server relatively safe. In this article, we'll explore that strategy and evaluate its impact on the AS/400 community.
Travel Without Trouble
The request that the AS/400 Division has been hearing from its customers about client/server computing is "Make it easy, inexpensive, and compatible with everything I already have." That request has led IBM to develop an unusual distributed computing strategy for the AS/400. Here are the major objectives.
o Use the AS/400's high level of systems integration to create a "no assembly required" client/server environment. Most PC and UNIX servers require customers to buy and integrate third-party products to create a client/server system. IBM, on the other hand, will continue to package client/server technologies with OS/400. This gives users access to the AS/400's integrated database and broad array of systems and network management facilities.
o Make the AS/400 client/server environment easy to install and administer. Because of the AS/400's high level of integration, it requires less time and effort to deliver distributed computing solutions to end users than other servers. Easy installation and administration will continue to be an AS/400 hallmark.
o Deliver a distributed computing environment that is low in cost. Because an AS/400 server system is easy to install and administer, it requires fewer support personnel than other servers. Several computer industry consultants have reported that the AS/400 can deliver client/server applications at a lower overall cost than PC and UNIX servers primarily because of the lower personnel costs.
o Make client/server technologies compatible with current applications. Distributed computing will only succeed on the AS/400 if customers can run their existing applications on the new systems. IBM will continue to provide compatibility for the OS/400 operating system and offer "bridge" technologies that integrate traditional AS/400 facilities into the client/server framework. For instance, developers will be able to use RPG code in a variety of event- driven and object-oriented development tools.
As these objectives illustrate, integration is the key to IBM's client/server strategy. IBM has pledged to carry virtually all of the baggage as the AS/400 community travels to distributed computing. As we shall see, Big Blue has shouldered a heavy load.
A List of Amenities
To be successful as a server, the AS/400 must give its clients transparent access to all the information resources of an enterprise. It must support multiple server and client operating systems. It must excel as a database, file, print, mail, and network server. It has to offer models that cover a wide range of performance, applications from many developers, and comprehensive system and network administration facilities. Finally, it must have a flexible development environment that gives application builders a variety of tools to choose from .
That's a long list of services for any system to perform, but IBM wants to make the AS/400 proficient at all of them. On the following pages, we'll discuss these services.
Support for Multiple Server Operating Systems-In the client/server world, flexibility and openness are the watchwords. Clients must have access to heterogeneous systems containing a variety of applications and databases. Inevitably, servers must offer some level of support for multiple operating systems.
This situation presents a challenge for the AS/400, for it is fully integrated with a single operating system. To overcome this barrier, IBM developed the Workplace Environment strategy (see "IBM's AS/400 Strategy: The Next Three Years," MC, December 1994). Over the last several months, however, IBM has decided that it does not have the development resources to deliver the entire Workplace Environment. In response, the AS/400 Division has developed a less expensive method for providing multiple operating system support.
Figures 1 and 2 illustrate the division's strategy change. Under Workplace, the AS/400 was to host multiple operating systems that would interface with the hardware through a layer of code known as a microkernel. Meanwhile, OS/400 and SSP (the S/36 operating system) would operate over a similar code layer- Systems Licensed Internal Code (SLIC). All of the operating systems would use the systems management facilities in OS/400, the various programming models, and other facilities known as Common Services.
At the heart of IBM's revised strategy is its belief that most customers don't want to run multiple operating systems-they want to run the applications that the operating systems support. So the AS/400 Division is replacing the multiple operating systems of the Workplace Environment with a single hybrid operating system that will support applications from multiple operating systems. IBM's code name for this new operating system is Raptor.
Raptor will contain OS/2 and UNIX APIs to let it run applications from these environments. IBM may even incorporate technical UNIX APIs into the product so the AS/400 can run engineering applications. Raptor will also contain some OS/400 code to better integrate it with the system. Because it will largely be a collection of APIs, Raptor will require less memory and run more efficiently than multiple operating systems. It remains to be seen, however, whether the applications themselves will perform as well on Raptor as they would on a native OS/2 or UNIX system. IBM intends to deliver the first release of Raptor in late 1996 or early 1997, possibly along with OS/400 Version 4.
Meanwhile, the AS/400 will use separate coprocessors to run other operating systems and network services. The File Server I/O Processor (FSIOP)-which runs a version of OS/2 LAN Server-is one example, and IBM will ship a similar device running Novell NetWare by the end of this year. Then, in 1996, the company may announce a new "server on a board" that customers could configure to run several operating systems. This device-called an open application engine-could run operating systems such as Microsoft NT or SCO UNIX as well as various services.
First, however, IBM and other operating system vendors must write code that integrates each operating system with the AS/400's functions and hardware devices. In some cases, political considerations (such as competition between OS/2 and Windows NT) may prevent the code's development. In other cases, the code may not adequately integrate an operating system with OS/400. If this happens, IBM will have a hard time selling AS/400s to new accounts that have heavy investments in non-OS/400 applications.
Support for Multiple Client Operating Systems-In a truly distributed computing environment, customers can access any server through the client operating system of their choice. While the AS/400 offers support for several client operating systems, that support has not always been timely or complete- especially for Microsoft Windows.
IBM wants to give AS/400 customers a smoother ride on the client support road. Now that it has Client Access support for Windows 3.1 established, the AS/400 Division intends to ship support for Windows 95 no more than 90 days after Microsoft's ship date. Then, sometime during the first half of 1996, Rochester hopes to ship Client Access for UNIX and Macintosh clients. According to our sources, if the division cannot meet these deadlines, it will give Windows 95 priority over the other client operating systems.
At Your Service
Database Serving-In the client/server world, queries to various databases are the dominant form of computing. As such, a server must be able to deliver its own data quickly and interoperate with other vendors' databases.
IBM plans to improve the AS/400 in both of these areas. To speed up database services, the DB2/400 development team will shorten code path lengths and put more intelligence into the query optimizers. It will also give the AS/400 new levels of database parallelism. Right now, an AS/400 running V3R1 can divide a single query across multiple I/O processors (IOPs) to cut query response times. Over the next year, the AS/400 should gain two new parallel processing abilities-CPU parallelism and a shared-nothing architecture.
With CPU parallelism, the AS/400 will be able to divide a query among multiple CPUs on a single system. The shared-nothing architecture will spread a single database across multiple AS/400s, which will let even more CPUs work simultaneously on a query. IBM intends to ship these features on an improved version of V3R1 for non-RISC AS/400s and on V3R6 for the new RISC-based AS/400s. Customers may get CPU parallelism in the fourth quarter of 1995 and the shared-nothing architecture by the summer of 1996.
Late last year, IBM was also considering a third method to improve query performance-devoting multiple, specialized IOPs to database queries-but now the company is questioning the feasibility of this approach. Once Rochester delivers CPU parallelism and the shared-nothing architecture, it will wait to see if the features meet customers' performance needs. If the new features do, the company could shelve the query engine concept.
IBM is also working on the AS/400's database interoperability. The company has already put an open database facility-SQL Client Exit-into V3R1. Several vendors-including Oracle, Information Builders, and Techgnosis-are writing routines to this facility that will let their databases receive data from and send data to DB2/400. Over the next two years, IBM may develop other DB2/400 facilities and APIs to enhance data sharing. It may also commission an unnamed vendor to build a tool that propagates data between DB2/400 and various PC databases.
File Serving-Many companies initially adopt client/server computing as a convenient way to share files and printer resources. IBM has done the best job of addressing the first of these two areas. In February, the company began shipping FSIOP support with V3R1. The FSIOP, which runs on an Intel 486DX/66 chip, accelerates file serving by up to eight times over shared folders. It serves PC files from the AS/400's disk storage to DOS, Windows, and OS/2 clients over Token-Ring or Ethernet LANs.
The FSIOP's file serving performance is comparable to that of Novell NetWare LANs running over PCs. To keep it that way, IBM intends to replace the FSIOP's Intel chip with a PowerPC processor in late 1995 or early 1996. The company also plans to announce a NetWare IOP this summer that will function as a server node in Novell networks. The NetWare IOP could ship in the fourth quarter of this year.
Print Serving-While IBM has directly addressed file serving on the AS/400, it has not put the same focus on print serving. However, this summer the company intends to announce AnyPrint for the AS/400. This facility will include an expanded version of the Host Print Transform function that currently serves OS/400 print files to AS/400-attached printers. In addition, AnyPrint will serve print files to PC-attached printers over the FSIOP or the NetWare IOP. In essence, AnyPrint will transform these IOPs into print servers as well as file servers. IBM hopes to ship AnyPrint late this year or early next year.
Mail Serving-The area of client/server computing that causes the most headaches for network managers is probably E-mail administration. To ease these headaches, IBM is delivering several facilities to let the AS/400 act as a central mail server to a variety of E-mail systems. The company has put these facilities in three products-OS/400 V3R1, Client Access/400 for Windows 3.1, and Client Access/400 Optimized for OS/2 (formerly Client Access/400 for OS/2 2.1).
On the server side, OS/400 V3R1 contains AnyMail/400, a facility that lets the system act as a central mail repository. AnyMail complies with Microsoft's Messaging API (MAPI) and the Lotus-sponsored Vendor Independent Messaging (VIM). Mail-enabled client applications that use these APIs can access the AS/400's mail repository and services.
Initially, some clients will be limited as to which mail applications they can use to access AS/400 mail services. Clients using MAPI-enabled products must access the AS/400 mail services through Client Access/400 for Windows 3.1. IBM will ship the MAPI capabilities in June. Clients using VIM-enabled products will be able to reach the AS/400 through Client Access/400 Optimized for OS/2 or Windows 3.1. IBM shipped the VIM abilities in March.
Overcoming Language Barriers
Access to LANs and WANs-The AS/400 is an excellent gateway to networks running over Systems Network Architecture (SNA), but has lacked adequate support for other protocols. To remedy this situation, IBM has been gradually shipping pieces of an architecture called AnyNet. AnyNet is based on a Multiprotocol Transport Network (MPTN) software gateway. If an application has access to MPTN, it does not need additional protocol stacks to communicate over various networks. The MPTN stack translates the application's native protocol to whatever protocols other networks require.
Although AnyNet is not yet complete, IBM is shipping parts of the service on its major systems. At present, AnyNet for the AS/400 supports SNA and TCP/IP network access under OS/400 V3R1. During the fourth quarter of this year, IBM intends to ship support for IPX (the Novell network protocol) for both RISC- based and non-RISC AS/400s. This support will let the AS/400 fully participate as a node in any Novell LAN.
Over the next several years, Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) will become an increasingly popular way to transmit multiple data types over LANs and WANs. IBM has no plans to support ATM on the AS/400 in 1995, but the company could ship an IOP that offers ATM communications sometime during 1996.
Hardware Performance-Client/server systems often start small but grow rapidly, so server vendors must offer a wide range of performance. With only three models, the AS/400 Advanced Server series has not met this demand. IBM realizes this deficiency, so it will announce a whole new family of AS/400 servers during its RISC announcement (probably this summer). The new servers will offer a performance range that is four times greater than the current lineup. In addition, customers will be able to cluster up to 32 servers together using the OptiConnect technology that IBM announced last year.
Application Support-The AS/400 excels in application support. Scores of vendors have written more than 2,000 client/server applications for the AS/400, and more are appearing each day. To help customers choose between these applications, IBM has been marketing products from other vendors in its Client Series of applications. Because this program can highlight only a fraction of the available applications, the company will start a client/server certification program. Under this program, client/server applications will have to meet certain IBM standards to get the "AS/400-ready" certification.
Meanwhile, IBM will expand its Client Series of software offerings. Over the next year, customers can expect new products that improve interoperability between DB2/400 and other databases. There's a good chance that data interchange products from Oracle and other database vendors will appear in the expanded Client Series.
System and Network Administration Tools-Most servers don't have adequate tools to manage themselves or distributed computing environments. Furthermore, the tools that are available rarely work well with each other. In contrast, the AS/400 has a well-integrated set of tools to manage itself, and it is gaining more facilities to manage the rapidly growing networks it must service.
The AS/400 has tools that distribute software to client workstations, automatically back up client files to the server, and administer Novell networks. In late 1995 or early 1996, these tools could become part of a larger, object-oriented network management suite that IBM is developing for the AS/400, the RS/6000, and its mainframes. This cross-platform suite, named Karat, will integrate existing systems and network tools with other management facilities. With Karat, the AS/400 will act as a network manager or as another reporting node within the network. Customers will access the management facilities through an OS/2 graphical interface. Developers in Rochester are already working with a beta version of Karat.
Client/Server Development Tools-The event-driven nature of most client/server applications requires a new programming model and a cornucopia of tools that embody that model. To meet these requirements, IBM will ship several client/server development tools over the next two years. The company will also enable customers to integrate existing code into the new development environment.
At the heart of IBM's plans is a single object-oriented program model that will ship in two forms-Systems Object Model (SOM) and Distributed Systems Object Model (DSOM). These models will provide frameworks within which developers can construct and modify object-oriented applications. While SOM will provide this framework for local environments, DSOM will offer access to the model across a network. IBM intends to ship the first releases of SOM and DSOM near the end of this year.
Within SOM and DSOM, developers will be able to use a variety of object- oriented tools including VisualAge (which uses Smalltalk), CSet++ (a C++ language compiler), and the Taligent development environment. IBM has already shipped VisualAge running under OS/2 and Windows, and it intends to ship an OS/2 version of Taligent during the second half of this year. The company will probably ship CSet++ on the AS/400 in early 1996, then deliver visual programming tools for the product later in the year.
If programmers want to use procedural languages with SOM and DSOM, they will be able to through the Integrated Language Environment (ILE) compilers and tools. Both SOM and DSOM will treat ILE routines like objects. This will make it possible to integrate legacy applications into the object-oriented model and will also give ILE tools an important role in the process. IBM is already shipping ILE tools, such as VRPG, that support the integration task by giving procedural languages some event-driven capabilities. (For additional information on VRPG, see "IBM's VRPG Hits the Street," elsewhere in this issue.)
Evaluating the Itinerary
Now that we've charted the AS/400's voyage to client/server, we've arrived at two all-important questions. Can the AS/400 successfully reach its destination? Will its users experience a comfortable-or at least tolerable-ride on the way?
The good news is that, given IBM's commitment to the AS/400 and to client/server, the system will become a highly competitive server platform over the next two years. The bad news is that the system will probably be missing several of the features IBM currently has on its agenda. As the company's revision of the Workplace Environment demonstrates, IBM sometimes changes its plans and deadlines. While initiatives such as Raptor and Karat sound tantalizing, they could become victims of corporate rethinking or shipment delays.
There are good reasons to believe, however, that IBM will give the AS/400 Division enough resources to meet most, if not all, of its objectives. The AS/400 has the solid backing of some powerful IBM executives, and increased sales of RISC-based systems could further enhance its image. Furthermore, the AS/400 is already winning the respect of many client/server consultants who like IBM's "no assembly required" approach to distributed computing.
Because of this approach, the AS/400 community can be assured that, of all the systems migrating to client/server, their system will give them the smoothest ride. To modify an old marketing phrase from Apple, IBM is designing the AS/400 to be "the server for the rest of us." It integrates everything needed for the new computing paradigm into one package. Learning to use that package will take time and effort, but the AS/400 stands the best chance of transporting customers to the world of client/server computing with a minimum of unpleasant surprises. For those accidental tourists among us who are apprehensive about leaving home, it may be the only safe way to satisfy our curiosity about the place.
Lee Kroon is an industry analyst for Midrange Computing.
A Passage to Client/Server
Figure 1 The Original Workplace Environment Strategy
UNABLE TO REPRODUCE GRAPHICS
A Passage to Client/Server
Figure 2 IBM's New Multioperating System StrategyUNABLE TO REPRODUCE GRAPHICS