Hardware Highlights: F-Models Announced

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The flagship of IBM's February 16 announcement is a revamp of the AS/400 hardware line. Every model from the F02 to the F95 has more performance than last year's E-models. New and enhanced DASD, tape drives, printers and other related hardware were also announced. This article gives you all the important new numbers and puts them in perspective.

If anyone in the computer industry doubted that the midrange AS/400 is also a solid alternative to traditional mainframes, IBM laid those doubts to rest on February 16. In an announcement that spanned nearly every hardware and software category, Big Blue unveiled the new, more powerful F-series, with some models available as early as March 5. (See 1 for prices and ship dates for F-models). As a result, the AS/400 family now has systems whose performance exceeds that of all IBM rack-mounted ES/9000 mainframes and equals that of many frame-based systems.

If anyone in the computer industry doubted that the midrange AS/400 is also a solid alternative to traditional mainframes, IBM laid those doubts to rest on February 16. In an announcement that spanned nearly every hardware and software category, Big Blue unveiled the new, more powerful F-series, with some models available as early as March 5. (See Figure 1 for prices and ship dates for F-models). As a result, the AS/400 family now has systems whose performance exceeds that of all IBM rack-mounted ES/9000 mainframes and equals that of many frame-based systems.

The new systems are not the only hardware story. IBM also expanded the AS/400's connectivity to larger and faster peripherals and networks. Hardware announcements included:

o A new double-density version of the 9337 disk drive, as well as increased

storage capacities for all 9406 F-models.

o Support for attachment of the 9337 to the older B-models.

o A faster, higher-capacity version of the 7208 8mm tape drive.

o The ability to attach many high-performance 34XX tape drives to 9404

models.

o A statement of direction declaring IBM's intent to create an automated tape

cartridge library for the AS/400.

o A new, higher-capacity 3995 optical disk library.

o A new cryptographic processor for encryption of sensitive data.

o Support for high-speed nonimpact and magnetic ink character recognition

(MICR) printers.

o Additions to the growing family of 4230 serial impact printers.

o A statement of direction promising high-speed local area networks (LANs)

based on 100 Mbps fiber and copper Distributed Data Interface standards.

The F-Series-A Look Under the Hood

IBM's newest models improve on the E-series in almost every sense of the term. They are 15-60 percent faster than their predecessors, have more memory and disk storage capacity, and cost less on a price/performance basis than previous models.

To get these results, IBM made two major improvements. First, it put faster logic chips into the processing units. All models up to and including the 9406-60 use the same chip packaging as the E-series, but models 70 and above now have a multi-chip module which uses a hybrid of bipolar and CMOS technology known as BiCMOS. These modules are smaller and pack more circuits on a chip than the logic units they replace. The result is a cycle time that is over 40 percent faster than comparable E-models.

Second, IBM expanded memory limits and, in some cases, improved memory speeds. As 2 shows, most 9406 models now have twice the base memory, as well as higher maximum memory limits. In addition, IBM used faster memory in many systems. In the E-series, the fastest memory chips had cycle times of 65 nanoseconds. The largest F-models now sport a 128MB memory board with a 50- nanosecond cycle time.

Second, IBM expanded memory limits and, in some cases, improved memory speeds. As Figure 2 shows, most 9406 models now have twice the base memory, as well as higher maximum memory limits. In addition, IBM used faster memory in many systems. In the E-series, the fastest memory chips had cycle times of 65 nanoseconds. The largest F-models now sport a 128MB memory board with a 50- nanosecond cycle time.

Another enhancement to the AS/400 product family involves expanded storage capacities. The maximum storage levels of the 9406 F-series surpass existing 9406 E-model levels by 32-114 percent (see 3).

Another enhancement to the AS/400 product family involves expanded storage capacities. The maximum storage levels of the 9406 F-series surpass existing 9406 E-model levels by 32-114 percent (see Figure 3).

The memory and chip improvements are responsible for the boost in raw system horsepower shown in 4. In addition, IBM's pricing has made that power more affordable. 5 shows how AS/400 performance and price/performance have accelerated since 1988.

The memory and chip improvements are responsible for the boost in raw system horsepower shown in Figure 4. In addition, IBM's pricing has made that power more affordable. Figure 5 shows how AS/400 performance and price/performance have accelerated since 1988.

For most customers, upgrading to the F-series should be relatively painless. However, there are two changes you may need to make to your current system during the upgrade. First, you might have to replace a number of older feature codes. Examples include attachments for tape drives, magnetic storage device controllers and memory cards. These features originated with the B-series, and IBM continued to support them on the D- and E-series by offering special adapters. With the F-series, however, that support ends. To calculate the true cost of upgrading, you must add the cost of replacing these items.

Second, you will have to upgrade to OS/400 V2R2 if you have not already done so. In addition, the V2R2 distribution must have cumulative PTF C3047220 or later applied. If you have not made the V2R2 jump yet, you'll need to allow time for this upgrade in your conversion budget.

New 9337s Increase Capacity

Another major improvement for 9406 models is two new double-density versions of the 9337 DASD that will ship in April. The Model 40 contains four drives, each with a capacity of 1.97GB, for a total of 7.87GB. Users can add up to three additional drives to get a maximum capacity of 13.77GB. The RAID-5 version, known as the Model 140, contains four drives with a total capacity of 5.90GB. It can also expand to seven drives with a maximum capacity of 11.80GB. For more details on 9337s and RAID technology see Significa, "New: 9337 DASD," MC, September 1992.

The Model 40 costs about $6.60 per MB and the Model 140 around $8.20 per MB. These costs are significantly below those of the lower-capacity 9337s IBM introduced last September. However, the new high-density drives are not the best storage option for every AS/400. This is because each read-write head has to access two to three and half times the data found on older 9337s. As a result, users with high storage access rates may experience decreased response times if they use the new models.

Such users will have to find ways to get around this problem. For instance, they could buy high-density 9337s and reduce the percentage of the actual disk surface occupied by data. While this solution maintains high response times, it also reduces the cost-per-MB advantage of the new drives over the older 9337s. On the other hand, they could buy one of the lower-capacity 9337s IBM announced last September. These models can handle higher access rates, though at a higher cost per MB. As these examples show, selecting the right storage solution can be a complex problem.

IBM also fulfilled a September 1992 promise to support the attachment of 9337 drives to the 9406 B-series. In addition, users can now mix mirrored disk drives with RAID-5 drives within an auxiliary storage pool, allowing greater flexibility in pool configuration.

Storage management and recovery will also become easier in the near future due to a new facility known as System Managed Access Path Protection (SMAPP). Anyone who has experienced a system crash knows it takes a lot of time to rebuild access paths unless they are journaled. However, journaling all access paths exacts a big performance penalty on a system. As a result, customers must endure the tedious process of manually selecting the most important paths to journal. With SMAPP, however, managers will only need to specify the maximum time allowable for access path rebuilding after a system failure. The system will then dynamically select and journal the necessary number of access paths to meet this time limit.

At present, SMAPP is only a statement of direction. Sources inside IBM say the product will not be ready until sometime in 1994. The long wait may be due to IBM's requirements for the product. The computer giant wants SMAPP to consume no more than 10 percent of the AS/400's processor cycles, which is a tough goal to reach.

Backup Gets a Boost

Whenever disk storage increases, backup systems must grow to keep pace. IBM kept this principle in mind and introduced expanded tape and optical storage capabilities to match the 9337 announcement. It presented 8mm device users with the 7208-012, an upgrade to the 7208-002 that can store up to 10GB on a single cartridge using IDRC compression techniques at a rate of 3GB per hour. The 7208-012 also has fewer moving parts than previous models, resulting in greater reliability. By contrast, the 7208-002 can store a maximum of 3.5GB at a rate of 1GB per hour. Since the vast majority of AS/400s have less than 10GB of data, most users could store their entire system on an unattended basis in three hours or less.

IBM also announced additional tape device support for the 9404 user community via Version 2 Release 3 of OS/400, slated for release in December 1993. Presently, the 9404 is largely limited to its standard quarter-inch cartridge drive and the 9348-002 half-inch reel drive. Once IBM ships OS/400 V2R3, however, the 9404 will attach to the 3422, 3430, 3480 and 3490 drives commonly found on larger 9406 systems. This opens up an entirely new range of archive options for the 9404 community.

One option that IBM has never given the AS/400 community is an automated tape cartridge library. That will change in the first half of 1994, however, when IBM intends to couple a cartridge silo with 3490E tape drives. According to IBM sources, the silo could hold between 170 and 1,700 cartridges. The goal is to design the library within a reasonably small footprint that will complement the 9309 racks already in use.

Another announcement brought increased storage capacities to optical library users. The 3995-142 will hold up to 94GB on as many as 144 optical disks, compared with the 20GB capacity of the 3995-042. This increases the unformatted image capacity of the largest AS/400 to 1.3 terrabytes, as these models can attach up to 14 3995s. Since image applications are notorious for the amount of storage they consume, this was a necessary step to keep the AS/400 current with its image-processing users.

The AS/400 Goes to the Bank

Speaking of image processing, IBM used the February 16 announcement to attract some of the biggest users of imaging: banks, insurance companies, and other financial services. Besides announcing the 3995, IBM added support for a sophisticated cryptographic processor. Many financial services need such a processor to encrypt their data transmissions. At present, the cryptographic processor is only a statement of direction in the United States. However, IBM sources indicate that customers should be able to order the device in late May or June of this year.

The financial sector also prints high volumes of bills, statements and MICR documents. To meet these needs, IBM added support for the 3835-2 page printer and the 3828 MICR printer. The 3835 and 3828 print 91 and 92 impressions per minute respectively, giving the AS/400 greatly improved nonimpact printing capabilities.

For those of us who print at a more leisurely pace, IBM enhanced its family of 4230 serial impact printers for the AS/400 with two new models. The 4230-1I1, which prints at 375 characters per second (cps), is the lowest-priced printer IBM now offers that supports intelligent printer data stream (IPDS). The 4230- 1S2, which prints at 480 cps, provides a growth path for slower non-IPDS printers such as the 4214, 3268, and 3287 printers.

Expanding the Network

To qualify as enterprise-level application servers, today's systems must offer sophisticated client-server facilities over high-bandwidth networks to hundreds or thousands of users. To satisfy the communications aspect of this requirement, IBM issued a statement of direction on high-speed LANs. According to the statement, IBM will provide adapters for 100 Mbps fiber and shielded twisted-pair LANs using FDDI and SDDI standards. IBM will ship these adapters by the end of this year.

Because of their high speed, FDDI and SDDI LANs will typically serve as backbones for other LANs and remote devices. According to IBM, the new adapters will let AS/400s communicate with LANs and remote devices over FDDI token-ring backbones up to 100 kilometers in diameter. The backbones will accommodate as many as 500 stations, with up to 2 kilometers between stations. This will let the AS/400 act as the application and data server for campus- wide or large metropolitan area networks. It will also let AS/400s offer image and multimedia applications to hundreds of users.

Tying It All Together

With the AS/400 growing by leaps and bounds, how are large AS/400 sites going to manage hundreds of devices and enough storage for the Library of Congress? Enter IBM SystemView Automation Center/400, a new line of integrated system management products created in cooperation with Candle Corporation.

Automation Center/400 consists of three separate but integrated programs. OMEGAMON/400 collects key resource and workload data. AUTOMATED FACILITIES/400 automatically takes user-specified actions based on information from OMEGAMON. OMEGAVIEW/400 lets managers control a network of AS/400s through a graphical user interface on an OS/2 workstation. These products could streamline operational tasks for many larger AS/400 installations.

The Big Picture (and a Look Ahead)

With so many pieces to this hardware puzzle, it is easy to forget that the puzzle makes a picture. If we step back to take a look, it becomes clear that IBM is out to capture the mainframe downsizing market. While mainframe-based companies want smaller systems, they do not want to scrap hundreds of applications and thousands of hours of programmer training. The AS/400 now answers those concerns with its mainstream programming languages, sophisticated system management facilities and connectivity to high-speed peripherals and networks.

At the same time, IBM is not forgetting its original customer base. Small businesses have always loved the AS/400 for its ease of use, high level of integration and abundant packaged software. IBM has preserved these features in the F-series. In a way, this makes the AS/400 something of a Swiss army knife among computers. You may normally use only one or two features, but you know there are dozens more if you ever need them.

Where will the AS/400 go from here? If the F-series is any indication (which it is), you can expect more power and features without a compromise in ease of use. In the next 7 to 12 months, look for several improvements in the 9402 and 9404 series. IBM will likely use higher-density memory boards in these models and substitute 2GB disks for the 1GB units found in most systems. As a result, memory and disk limits could increase by up to 100 percent.

IBM will also enhance some AS/400 peripherals. For instance, it could make cache memory an optional feature on 9337 disk drives (at present, customers can request it as a PRPQ). This would reduce performance bottlenecks on the new high-density models. Big Blue is also working on an automated tape library for 8mm cartridges. This device, however, will debut after the introduction of the half-inch library. In addition, look for IBM to support the 3800 and 3900 series of high-speed nonimpact printers. Many mainframe sites that want to downsize to the AS/400 have these printers, so IBM will preserve their investment.

My prediction is that one year from now, IBM will once again refresh the entire product line. While it may not call the new models the G-series, it will increase overall memory limits and use faster logic circuits to get another 30-40 percent boost in performance. This will be the last improvement of the current architecture before IBM moves to a new 64-bit design that will borrow heavily from reduced instruction set computing (RISC) technology. However, users will hardly notice this change, which should occur in late 1994 or early 1995. What they will notice are a lot of mainframes sitting on shipping docks and more AS/400s taking their place.

Lee Kroon is an industry analyst at Midrange Computing.


Hardware Highlights: F-Models Announced

Figure 1 AS/400 F-Model Prices and Ship Dates

 Model List Price First Ship Date 9402 F02 $ 10,500 3/5/93 F04 $ 12,870 3/5/93 F06 $ 16,990 3/5/93 9404 F10 $ 16,580 3/5/93 F20 $ 37,000 3/5/93 F25 $ 71,070 3/5/93 9406 F35 $ 39,000 3/5/93 F45 $ 73,000 3/5/93 F50 $ 155,000 3/5/93 F60 $ 280,000 3/5/93 F70 $ 400,000 5/14/93 F80 $ 730,000 5/14/93 F90 $ 980,000 5/14/93 F95 $1,080,000 5/14/93 
Hardware Highlights: F-Models Announced

Figure 2 Processor Memory Comparisions

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Hardware Highlights: F-Models Announced

Figure 3 DASD Storage Comparisions

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Hardware Highlights: F-Models Announced

Figure 4 Throughput Comparisons

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Hardware Highlights: F-Models Announced

Figure 5 AS/400 Price Performance Improvement - 1988 to 199

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