A Watershed Date

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On January 25, 2002, the iSeries quietly turned a corner in its history. Years from now, we may all look back on this date as the moment when IBM began to promote the iSeries solely for its ability to host operating environments other than OS/400.

Allow me to explain. On this date, in anticipation of the LinuxWorld Conference and Expo that was held last week, the computer giant announced it will ship two Linux servers based on the zSeries and iSeries technology platforms. Like other zSeries and iSeries servers, the new offerings will host multiple Linux environments within logical partitions (LPARs). Unlike their eServer brethren, however, they will be optimized to run Linux alone. This means that the iSeries version of the server will not support interactive, 5250-based applications.

The iSeries offering for Linux, as IBM calls it, is a Model 820 with one, two, or four processors. Though IBM is still determining general availability dates and prices for the offering, it anticipates first shipments in March with prices that are 10 to 15 percent lower than those for standard i820s. Through partitioning, the server provides customers with up to four LPARs on uniprocessors, eight LPARs on two-way models, and 16 LPARs on four-way systems. While OS/400 V5R1 runs in the primary LPAR, its function is to manage system and storage resources for the Linux environments running in the secondary LPARs.

The new server's packaging reinforces the fact that OS/400 is meant to play a background role. For instance, the system includes wizards that let administrators with virtually no knowledge of the iSeries load and configure OS/400, set up LPARs, then load either SuSE or Turbolinux distributions in the secondary partitions. Once this is done, Linux programmers can happily bang away at the server without ever knowing that OS/400 lurks inside.

This makes the iSeries offering for Linux a significant departure from the rest of the iSeries family. Other iSeries servers can run Linux in LPARs, but are equally capable of supporting OS/400 applications. By contrast, like the AS/400 Dedicated Server for Domino that came before it, the iSeries offering for Linux is configured for a single environment. However, this server takes the Domino Bumblebee paradigm a step further. While IBM touted the Dedicated Server for Domino's integration with DB2/400 and the AS/400 System Distribution Directory, it has yet to mention OS/400 or its subsystems in any press releases for the new Linux offering.

Despite the dearth of publicity, customers may still use the iSeries offering for Linux to support non-interactive OS/400 applications. After running Java applications in a Linux partition, for instance, an adventurous Linux programmer might wonder how well they would run in an OS/400 LPAR. Chances are good that the applications, once recompiled on OS/400, would handily outperform the Linux compilations. Still, one has to wonder how often Linux gearheads will look over the virtual fence to see what the administrative OS can do besides administrate.

In short, IBM is targeting the iSeries Offering for Linux at customers who normally wouldn't think of buying an iSeries. This includes small and medium-size businesses that want to consolidate multiple Linux servers or migrate from Windows NT/2000 server farms to a more centrally managed Linux solution. For such firms, IBM will stress the lower cost of ownership, greater reliability, and enhanced security of a single system that can manage 15 virtual Linux servers. As a platform for infrastructure applications such as file and print servers, firewalls, Web servers, and mail servers, the iSeries offering for Linux could serve as a relatively low-cost "integrated server appliance." Whether it succeeds in this role will depend on how IBM prices and markets the new server.

Regardless of how well or poorly the new offering fares, it represents another step in IBM's evolution of its servers away from their roots in the company's own operating systems. The end point in this evolution will be a family of servers--ranging from rack-mounted appliances to mainframes--that run a common systems software platform based on industry standards. These servers may also host OS/400 or mainframe operating environments. However, their role will be to support lower-level management functions and legacy applications that make more sense to maintain rather than migrate to the common software platform.

Don't get me wrong: OS/400 and the programming models it supports will be here for years to come. However, these technologies will increasingly assume background roles, and their names will appear less and less on announcement letters and product brochures. Most of you will move on to other technologies, though you'll occasionally dip into the guts of your IBM servers to pay fond visits to the old systems. And if you ever wonder what moment the world changed for OS/400, remember this date?January 25, 2002.

Lee Kroon is a Senior Industry Analyst for Andrews Consulting Group, a firm that helps mid-sized companies manage business transformation through technology. You can reach him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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