Volume 15, Number 24 -- June 12, 2006

Gartner Report Espouses the Virtues of i5/OS

Published: June 12, 2006

by Timothy Prickett Morgan

While all of us live each week in the OS/400 community in one capacity or another, many of the business managers that you work with do not know what the AS/400, iSeries, or System i5 are, nor do they have any idea what the OS/400 or i5/OS operating system are or why they should care. If this is true of the people at your company, imagine how little the people at companies who have never installed an IBM midrange box know about the System i5 and i5/OS.

But, the two names they most certainly do know are IBM and Gartner, one of the largest IT consultancies in the world. I don't happen to think that Gartner has any more special System i5 or i5/OS knowledge than we have, but it's name carries a lot more weight (perhaps) than our names do, at least to CEOs, presidents, and bean counters. Which is why it is important that Gartner has released a report on the i5/OS operating system and its related System i5 hardware platform, given the ridiculously simple name of IBM i5/OS Operating System. While Mary Hubley, the writer of the Gartner RAS Core Research Note, was probably not allowed to be clever in her choice of titles, she does give a pretty good overview of the System i5 and i5/OS platform--one that you can print out and hand to people. (You can get the report by clicking here.)

I have no idea if IBM commissioned the Gartner report, but it sure does tow the IBM party line on the new System name changes and the reasoning behind IBM's changing of the names of its server lines. "This rebranding to System i5 harkens back to the historical 'system' name used in the original System/38," explains Hubley in the report, "a concept that focused on the entire system architectures, rather than just the servers. This rebranding as a 'system' plays especially well with System i5's strengths as an integrated system. The System i5's traditional all-in-one integrated nature, with its inherent reliability, manageability and security, continues to differentiate it from more recent, often difficult-to-manage, distributed and client/server environments."

Of course, you could say the same thing about System z mainframes and, to a certain extent, now that the System p machines use the same hardware as the System i machines and IBM's AIX variant has been propped up with many of the virtualization features developed originally for OS/400, you could say the same things about the System p line.

The Gartner report is also honest about where OS/400 server sales have been, and where they have fallen. "In the late 1980s and early 1990s, when it was known as the AS/400, IBM consistently sold about $4 billion to $5 billion in servers, operating systems, and related technologies," explains Hubley. But, she says, that was when Unix was just a baby, Windows was on the desktop, and Linux was just some guy in his basement being miffed at Unix distributors who charged too much money. (That last description is mine, apologies to Linus Torvalds, who probably did his coding in a place that had at least some light and without too much rancor.) "While System i5 users continue to give it high scores in terms of functionality and manageability, its technology advancements have not stopped Windows, Unix or Linux systems from stealing sales. These systems have overshadowed the System i5 platforms in terms of market awareness and market share." Indeed. It might seem tempting to black that section out with a marker, but this isn't the National Security Agency.

The Gartner report explains the packaging of System i5 machines and the differences between Standard Editions and Enterprise Editions, and even goes into what a CPW. But Hubley doesn't explain why anyone should care about what a CPW is, or how it related to the world. I'll tell you why should care. Show me any server line from any other vendor, including IBM, that gives a relative performance metric for each and every possible processor configuration in its server line, generation after generation. Guess what? There's only one: the IBM System z, with the Large Systems Performance Reference (LSPR) benchmark suite, which everyone uses to estimate MIPS. Aside from that, you have to rely on the scattered benchmarks that Windows, Unix, and Linux server makers supply to existing and potential customers.

Interestingly, the Gartner report includes the result of a survey that the company did to gauge the prevalence of OS/400 and i5/OS servers. According to the survey, which presumably was aimed at a true cross-section of industries, geographies, and company sizes, Gartner found that AS/400, iSeries, or System i5 servers were installed at 8.4 percent of the companies surveyed. Among companies with 500 to 999 employees, OS/400 and i5/OS boxes were at 12.5 percent of the companies, compared to only a 3.8 percent penetration among companies with 20 to 99 employees. This data pretty much dispels the notion of the OS/400 platform as an SMB box, except among small- and medium-size businesses that have long-since adopted IBM midrange platforms and have not grown all that much. (There's no dishonor in that, and I mean no offense in pointing this out. There is great honor in keeping a company alive and paying people, and growth is not always possible or preferable.)

By contrast, Gartner found in its survey that Windows Server 2003 was installed in 69.4 percent of the companies surveyed, with Windows NT 4.0 at 26.5 percent of the companies and Windows 2000 Server at 61.3 percent. Linux server variants were at 30.3 percent of the sites. For some reason, Gartner did not reveal the penetration of Unix among these companies, but it is safe to bet that there is a Unix presence that is larger than that of the OS/400 platform but lower than that of the Windows platform, since this is how the broader server shipments are in the market every year.

These survey numbers, of course, tell us nothing about what these various platforms are doing at these companies and the relative importance of the workloads. What is clear is that there seems to be a lot of Windows out there, and if IBM is going to be an SMB competitor with the System i5, then it needs to take on Windows and start beating it. This, it would seem, would be the only way to reverse this sentence in the Gartner report: "While customers should not worry about the i5 being eliminated within the next few years, market visibility is unlikely to ever rebound to where it was in 2000."

The task that IBM and the OS/400 community has is to make Gartner eat those words. And that is no easy task.

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Editor: Timothy Prickett Morgan
Contributing Editors: Dan Burger, Joe Hertvik, Shannon O'Donnell,
Mary Lou Roberts, Victor Rozek, Kevin Vandever, Hesh Wiener, Alex Woodie
Publisher and Advertising Director: Jenny Thomas
Advertising Sales Representative: Kim Reed
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