V4R4: The Real Northstar Announcement
This year, 1999, has always been on the AS/400 roadmap as the year of the Northstar generation, and, as it turns out, the new Northstar AS/400s and their associated OS/400 V4R4 system software, announced on February 9, represent the bulk of the new AS/400 products IBM plans to launch this year. Unlike in past years, when IBM offered some hardware in the spring and some in the fall, there will be no other major announcements. More importantly, there will be no high-end AS/400 enhancements with Pulsar processors in 1999, nor will IBM debut advanced symmetric multiprocessing (SMP) capability that allows AS/400s to have 16 or 24 processors lashed together into a single, giant processor complex. IBM had been hinting that it might deliver Pulsar and big SMP early, but this isn’t going to happen.
This year’s AS/400 announcements focus on extending OS/400 with universal database support, giving it mainframe-class logical partitioning and a foundation on which to build fault tolerant clusters. Perhaps equally important to AS/400 customers, IBM is putting the Northstar processors into a consolidated and simplified product line that does away with the cumbersome and confusing distinctions between AS/400 systems, servers, and mixed-mode servers. Well, it sort of does away with these distinctions, but not really—not once you look at the details. Look at it one way and the product line looks simpler, but it is still not as simple as, “Buy one machine, and it runs both interactive and client/server jobs at full-tilt boogie for one low, low price.” And, although IBM hasn’t released its price list yet, the February 9 Northstar servers are widely expected to have much better price and performance than prior Apache and Northstar machines. I expect significant price cuts on existing Northstar machines, bringing prices in line with new Northstar models, too.
It takes many years to bring a new generation of AS/400 hardware and software to market. Sometimes, hardware development gets ahead of software development; sometimes the reverse is true. Sometimes, due to marketing conditions and technical difficulties, the AS/400 roadmap has to be almost entirely redrawn. The Northstar and
associated OS/400 V4R4 announcements represent the fulfillment of plans that IBM let selected members of the analyst community in on almost three years ago.
These Northstar announcements look very different from IBM’s original plans. In many cases, IBM has been forced to go back to the drawing board and bring technology forward. Sometimes, this strategy hasn’t worked out so well. The early releases of OS/400 V3 software, for instance, were cranky and quite buggy by AS/400 standards (not all that
bad when compared to Microsoft, however). Sometimes, IBM has delivered AS/400 technology many months early, as it did with with the Northstar AS/400e machines, which came to market six months early last September. For some unknown reason, IBM didn’t press that point, and many remained unaware of the Rochester Labs’ accomplishment.
Three years ago, IBM was telling AS/400 analysts that it would deliver AS/400s using its Apache chip in only one-, two-, four-, or eight-processor configurations. It didn’t plan to get 12-way machines out until 1998, and, even then, IBM told customers to expect to be using Apache chips, not the Northstars (which were not due until 1999). However, IBM got 12-way processors to market 12 to 18 months ahead of schedule and even got the Northstars out six months ahead of the plan.
Not only that, the Northstars had significantly more power than IBM thought they would. Back in 1996, IBM said that a 12-way Northstar would have about 978 times as much processing power as the original B10 processor, but the machine it actually announced in September 1998 had 1,569 times as much power as a B10, 60 percent more scalability than IBM had hoped for when it started work on the Northstars. (Apache processors had between 15 to 20 percent more power than planned, too.) The increased power IBM was able to wring out of Apache and Northstar machines came mostly from sophisticated tuning of OS/400 and better main and Level 2 cache memory controllers, not through cranking up chip clock cycles. At 262 MHz, the Northstars have only a little higher clock speed than the 250-MHz chips IBM was talking about three years ago.
While IBM has not been able to move Pulsar chip technology forward into 1999—Pulsars are expected to make use of IBM’s copper CMOS 7S and silicon-on- insulation (SOI) chip fabrication processes, which are still being perfected—the current high-end Northstar line offers more than enough scalability to meet the needs of all but the largest AS/400 shops. Therefore, AS/400 shops shouldn’t start worrying that they are going to hit the performance ceiling. Last year’s eight-way and 12-way Northstars were a gift.
IBM Takes Its Own Advice on Server Consolidation
Perhaps the most significant change in the AS/400e line, and one that all AS/400 customers will have to deal with, is the consolidation of system, server, and mixed-mode server AS/400s into a single server line, dubbed the 7XX models. IBM has listened to the advice of customers and sales reps who have correctly pointed out time and time again that the AS/400 product line is too complicated and that IBM punishes customers who use green-screen applications. The new 7XX server series brings the idea of a mixed-mode server to full fruition.
Just as server and system models have had since the Apache generation, a base 7XX Northstar model comes with a set client/server power rating based on IBM’s Commercial Processing Workload, or CPW (the CPW gauges the power that the machine can bring to bear on jobs that use IBM’s 5250 terminal data stream). However, instead of having one set CPW interactive rating, like the existing Apache and Northstar server models, the new 7XX server models have from three to five different CPW interactive ratings that customers can choose from. In the past, customers buying AS/400e servers were stuck with low 5250 performance, and those with AS/400e systems paid through the nose to have full 5250 performance. Now, customers can acquire a base AS/400e 7XX server and then pay for only the interactive performance they need; equally important is the fact that they won’t have to do a forklift upgrade to boost their interactive performance as
their legacy application workloads grow. IBM can upgrade the interactive performance of a 7XX server just by swapping out processor feature cards.
After all the rejiggering, there are ten Northstar 7XX server models in three separate series: the 720s, 730s, and 740s. These series designations correspond roughly to the 620/S20, 640/S30, and 650/S40 designations in last year’s Apache and Northstar AS/400e line. (In fact, the eight-way and 12-way Northstar machines are exactly the same, except that they have multiple interactive power ratings and offer up to 4.3 terabytes of storage capacity, compared with 2.1 TB on last year’s model.)
The ten new Northstar 7XX models each have a unique CPW client/server rating and offer 44 different combinations of client/server and interactive performance levels. While it sounds complicated, and maybe it is, AS/400 customers are much better off with this dial-a-5250 approach. (To help you better make your upgrade plans, we have provided a table comparing the salient and pricing characteristics of the new and old AS/400e lines on our Web site at www.midrangecomputing.com/mc/99/02.)
The 720 servers have one or two 200-MHz Northstars or four 255-MHz Northstars; all but the smallest models are equipped with 4 MB of Level 2 cache memory to boost performance. IBM has tuned the 720s, mostly with software tricks, to provide four different CPW client/server power ratings and six different CPW interactive power ratings for a total of 16 unique performance-level combinations. Model 720 performance ranges from 240 to 1600 CPW client/server and from 35 to 1050 CPW interactive. The 730 servers have from one to eight of the fastest Northstar chips, which run at 262 MHz. Each of these processors has 4 MB of L2 cache. The 730s have four different CPW client/server ratings, ranging from 560 to 2890, and six different CPW interactive ratings, ranging from 70 to 2000, for a total of 19 unique performance combinations. The 740s are similar to the existing 650/S40 machines. They have either eight or 12 of the 262-MHz Northstar chips, each equipped with 8 MB of L2 cache. The eight-way machine offers 3660 CPW on client/server jobs and from 120 to 3660 CPW on interactive jobs. The 12-way Northstar has a 4550 CPW rating on client/server work, and offers from 120 to 4550 CPW on interactive jobs.
IBM has also added two new Northstar model 170 Invader models to the five existing machines in the line. Like last year’s server models, the 170s have one CPW client/server and one CPW interactive performance rating. The new low-end 170-2289 has a single Northstar processor running at 200 MHz and no cache memory. IBM says that it will be priced between the 9401-150 entry AS/400 and the former low-end 170-2290 Invader. IBM should be cutting prices across the Invader line and on the model 150, but, until announcement day, it is hard to say where these prices will end up. The 170-2388, the first SMP machine in the 170 line, has two Northstar chips running at 255 MHz, each equipped with 4 MB of L2 cache. This machine is interesting in that it uses a much improved L2 cache memory algorithm that allows IBM to get 25 percent more performance out of the two-way machine than it would have gotten using older SMP implementations.
The low-end model 150 entry machine and the SB1 mixed-mode servers for SAP R/3 applications are still being sold, but the other mixed-mode servers for supporting various enterprise resource planning applications have been removed from IBM’s catalog. The 7XXs offer more flexibility (and presumably better price and performance) than the mixed-mode machines ever did.
IBM Beefs Up OS/400 to Take On the Big Jobs
As usual, the Northstar hardware is what most AS/400 customers will be interested in initially, but it is the updated OS/400 programs that will make the Northstars a valuable tool for enterprises. When they become available on February 26, all of the new Northstar machines will run OS/400 V4R3 software developed since IBM tweaked the underlying OS/400 microcode to support Northstar chips last year. On May 21, IBM will deliver a new release of OS/400 V4R4, which will run on the new Northstar machines. V4R4 will
run on any AS/400 that has a prior PowerPC RISC processor as its main brain. Certain features of V4R4, such as Universal Database enhancements, won’t ship until September.
OS/400 V4R4 is a major software release, perhaps the biggest one since V3R1 back in late 1994. IBM says that V4R4 has more lines of code in it than V4R2 and V4R3 combined, which means it has about 80 million lines of code. That is why IBM is staging the release of V4R4. It does not want to repeat the mistakes it made with V3R1, which was a complete rewrite of OS/400 and its integrated DB2/400 database management system that comprised some 30 million lines of new code. While much of V4R4 is derived from V4R3, plenty of the code (exactly how much IBM isn’t saying) is new, and that’s why IBM is taking the extra time between February and May to keep testing V4R4, which was done many months ago, and is staging its delivery between May and September.
As we go to press, IBM has briefed me on the major features in V4R4, but much remains unknown until after announcement day (a month away as I write this) and, more importantly, until all the V4R4 code is being used in the field by intrepid customers as 1999 draws to a close. IBM has correctly foreseen that many companies will not want to go into the next century changing both their applications, for Y2K compliance and their operating systems, to take advantage of new Northstar hardware. This is the major reason why all Northstar servers can run V4R3, which has been installed on tens of thousands of machines. We will all have lots of time to look closely at V4R4 in the next year, and I will be closely watching how it develops and is adopted by customers.
Here are the major features in V4R4, most of which we have been covering for many months in Midrange Computing and in our strategic advisor, Monday Morning AS/400 Update:
• Logical partitioning. This is one of the big components that comes with V4R4 and one that puts the AS/400 squarely in the mainframe class of servers. Logical partitioning allows customers with AS/400s
that have multiple processors to carve those machines up into smaller virtual AS/400s. IBM says that logical partitioning will be useful for about 25 percent of its customer base, mostly big customers who have to manage diverse workloads or separate machines today but who want to simplify their hardware by consolidating onto one big machine. As implemented in the AS/400 with V4R4, logical partitioning allows customers to chop up processing, memory, and disk capacity as well as I/O bandwidth to create multiple virtual AS/400s in an SMP machine. Logical partitioning software will work on 6XX systems, SXX servers, and 7XX servers; it will not work on the new two-way model 170, which doesn’t have the necessary I/O structure. A maximum of 12 partitions (one per CPU) is supported, and these partitions can be equipped with as little as 1 MB of memory and one disk IOP card.
IBM says that logical partitioning will be useful for customers who currently have multiple AS/400s but who, for one reason or another, have not been able to consolidate those servers. For instance, OS/400 has long since been able to provide multiple-language support on a single machine, but partitioning is necessary to support multiple languages in multiple time zones. V4R4 partitioning will also allow customers to run applications in one partition and test versions of operating systems in another partition on a single machine. Right now, each partition must have its own copy of OS/400 running, and they all have to be V4R4. In the future, IBM will extend OS/400 so it can support multiple and different release levels. Customers can then, for instance, test V4R5 in one partition while still running V4R4 in another partition in production. IBM also plans to extend OS/400 logical partitioning so it can automatically move data stored in a test partition into an existing production partition; it will also add software that allows dynamic reallocation of processor, memory, and disk resources in existing partitions as workloads in those partitions change. These last two partitioning enhancements will take years to come to market.
• Fault tolerant clustering. Working in conjunction with high-availability (HA) partners DataMirror, Lakeview Technology, and Vision Solutions, IBM is adding the
underlying plumbing to OS/400 that will allow AS/400 customers to eventually add fault tolerant clustering for networks of AS/400s. IBM correctly believes that basic clustering features should be part of the operating system, down at the microcode level that none of these vendors is able to reach with their HA programs. However, to make use of V4R4’s integrated clustering, customers will still have to buy HA suites from one of these three vendors, who provide the interfaces to OS/400’s clustering and integrate it with applications. The clustering software will initially support from two to 128 nodes in a failover configuration, but by 2000, IBM says that it will extend OS/400’s clustering. Working in conjunction with third-party HA programs, AS/400 shops will then be able to have full, Tandem-style load balancing and fault tolerant clustering.
• Universal Database. DB2/400 is being rebranded as Universal Database for AS/400 as IBM adds support for storage of binary large objects (BLOBs) to DB2/400. One of the things that every universal database management system has to do is handle multimedia files, and with V4R4, DB2/400 supports BLOBs, either by putting these files into a database table directly or by storing references to external AS/400 Integrated File System files in database records. BLOB files can be as large as 15 MB.
• AS/400 Client Access Express. The Express Client software that has been in beta test since last year will be bundled with all V4R4 machines for free and will be able to be used on all attached clients for free. Express Client will make use of OS/400’s TCP/IP software to link clients to AS/400 servers. Customers needing terminal emulation and file transfer capabilities will still have to license regular Client Access. AS/400 customers will be encouraged to use OS/400 NetServer for print and file serving in conjunction with Express Client to build client/server applications.
• Java. OS/400 V4R4 will include a new Java Virtual Machine (JVM), which will be at the 1.1.7 level. IBM says that Java applications will run about 25 to 50 percent faster in this JVM than in the 1.1.6 JVM included in OS/400 V4R3. By the end of the year, IBM will add support for Enterprise JavaBeans (EJBs) into the WebSphere Application Server, included for free in OS/400. The AS/400 division says it’s skipping the current WebSphere release IBM just announced on other platforms because the company is concerned with the reliability and stability of that WebSphere code and plans to ship EJB support in the second half of 1999. V4R4 will include code that allows a single machine to run multiple, non- concurrent JVMs; V4R3 allows a single machine to run multiple JVMs if they are all identical.
• E-business. IBM has completely rewritten OS/400’s integrated TCP/IP protocol software. The company has also enhanced the HTTP Server for OS/400, which now includes dynamic HTML caching software and support for multithreaded CGI and for W3C’s Platform for Internet Content Selection (PICS) Internet Web site ratings. OS/400 V4R4 will also allow the HTTPP Server and Domino Go Web servers on a single machine
to share a single IP address and will allow Domino to access all OS/400-specific HTTP features. Additionally, IBM will bring the WebSphere Performance Pack to OS/400, which includes class of service and load balancing code that, thus far, has been available only for Windows NT and UNIX servers. OS/400 V4R4 will also include support for the Layer Two Tunneling (L2TP), Internet Key Exchange (IKE), and IPSec protocols that allow secure, virtual, private networks to be created out of the Internet. Finally, IBM will release Net.Commerce 3.1.2 and the IBM Payment Server V1.2 with Secure Electronic Transaction (SET) security for online transaction processing over the Web.
IBM, of course, made other enhancements to the AS/400, aside from Northstar machines and V4R4 software. It announced a new Integrated PC Server card using a 333- MHz Pentium II chip that supports up to 1 GB of its own memory. The IPCS has been renamed the Integrated Netfinity Server for AS/400 to help IBM marketeers better push the Netfinity brand. IBM has made a statement of direction that it will, in the future, allow direct linkage of real Netfinity PC servers to the AS/400 for customers who need more than
a uniprocessor to support their IPCS workloads. IBM says that it will always offer a uniprocessor CPU card that fits inside the AS/400 as an alternative to outboard PC servers. It also contends that making two-way and four-way Pentium II PCs fit inside an AS/400 on a single card is not feasible and has therefore come up with this two-pronged approach with integrated PCs.