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In My Opinion: Look at the alternatives to the S/

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The inevitable has finally occurred. IBM discontinues the marketing of System/36 hardware and most associated upgrades, enhancements and peripherals from the market as of October 2, 1992. The 5360, 5362 and 5363 models will no longer be available from IBM. Is it finally time to consider moving on to something else? The answer is yes-and no.

The withdrawal should not overly concern most S/36 users yet, since most of us typically buy new machines or upgrades from third-party vendors these days. A withdrawal of SSP and related software would be cause for far more concern, since IBM is the only legal source for system code for the 5360 and 5362. Overall, the hardware withdrawal is of minor importance, acknowledging what we already knew-it has been difficult to get anything S/36-related from IBM recently anyway.

I will note a cause for concern, however, for those who plan to upgrade their existing machines. While many upgrades can be had cheaply on the third-party market-such as disk drives and memory-others are more difficult to come by. This is especially true of the 5360 and 5362 upgrades necessary to allow direct participation in a Token Ring network. If your plans call for this approach, consider moving quickly.

In past years, I have argued that many S/36 customers had no valid business reasons to leave the S/36. Despite IBM's desperate attempts to get every S/36 to migrate, no really good options were available to these customers. However, recent developments (withdrawal implications, better options) lead me to modify that stance. I think that it is now time for most S/36 users-except for the very smallest-to investigate the options. This doesn't necessarily mean it is time for change-just that it is time to prepare for inevitable change in the future. At some point down the road, a marked increase in maintenance costs for your trusty S/36, along with reduced availability of upgrades and software, will dictate that a change be made, even if there is no other business reason to switch.

The S/36 user now has several options, far more than those available just two years ago. First, the most obvious is to move to an AS/400. The newest AS/400 models practically eliminate the price/performance problems that made staying with the S/36 so attractive for small companies. Most of the kinks in the S/36 Environment have finally been worked out, and conversion from the S/36 to the AS/400 is less complicated than it used to be.

A second option is to move to a PC network-based system. While still not nearly as reliable as your S/36, networks have improved dramatically in the past two years. Network-based software has become sophisticated, and real business solutions can now be run on networks.

An RS/6000 running in native AIX or using one of the S/36 emulators presents a third option. However, I wouldn't recommend this option simply as a platform for running S/36 software, unless you ultimately intend to follow through with native AIX applications.

How do you choose among these options? Simple-you find the best possible software to meet your business needs and then you choose whichever platform it runs on. In other words, the concern here is the software direction you intend to take, rather than the hardware you're using at this moment (even if it's being withdrawn by IBM). Let your software requirements drive the hardware decisions.

So is it time to change? That depends. Most very small S/36 shops (the small 5363's) and any stable operation with no DP staff should not be stampeded into changing for change's sake. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

On the other hand, shops using 5360 and 5362 machines should begin to plan for the future; it will make the inevitable change a lot easier. You can also use the planning process to leverage more accurate, timely support from IBM for your current requirements. Simply inform IBM that you are actively planning the replacement of your S/36, and that IBM may not even be on the short list unless you get the service you need. Try it-it usually works.

The S/36 has been a workhorse over the past nine years. It has had a long and productive life, and still remains the single most popular midrange computer ever sold. There are still more S/36s in operation worldwide than any other midrange computer. And even with the withdrawal of the 5360, 5362 and 5363, the S/36 lives on in the guise of the 9402-Y10-an AS/Entry that runs SSP. So value your investment in the S/36 and don't let anyone pressure you to change immediately. But, it is time to look around and see what's out there. The world has changed-and it is inevitable that those of us in the S/36 market will someday have to change as well.

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