COMMON Sound Off: Frustration Level Is Down a Bit Among the Faithful
by Timothy Prickett Morgan
There probably is no better barometer of the sentiments of the OS/400 community than the Sound Off portion of the iSeries Town Hall meeting at COMMON twice a year. IBM has ramped up the visibility of the iSeries platform in its marketing and advertising campaigns, and that has clearly pleased the iSeries faithful. But, like the mouse who wants a cookie, iSeries shops want more. And they still have a bunch of things they would like to see IBM improve about the platform and the support it gets.
There was the usual accolades for the stability of i5/OS V5R3, thanks to Al Barsa, the owner of Barsa Consulting, which just so happens to be one of the key iSeries resellers in the world. (You can read a transcript of the Sound Off portion of the iSeries Town Hall Meeting by clicking here.) Barsa also took IBM to task because the Hardware Management Console for managing logical partitions on the iSeries is still too difficult to use, as is the Independent Auxiliary Storage Pools (iASPs) feature that debuted two releases ago. He also said that in his own shop, Notes/Domino 6.5.4 did not work right, which baffled IBM a bit, but Big Blue promised to help him figure out what was wrong. One iSeries business partner (Jim Oberholtzer) stood up and said that he really like that IBM allows software keys for activating software to be distributed over the Internet and added that he installs a few iSeries boxes a month and has had no trouble at all with the Hardware Management Console. "The HMC does very well. Keep it up. Keep going. We love it," said Oberholtzer.
IBM brought along Vijay Lund, the vice president of server and storage development for the company's Systems and Technology Group, to give the iSeries faithful the first look anyone has gotten of the future Power6 processors, which are expected in the 2007 to 2008 timeframe. There has been some concern about what the Power6 platform is and is not, and Lund brought along the entry-level, since chip version of the Power6 from the development labs to prove that it exists and to show that the iSeries would be a key consumer of this part in future systems. There has also been some confusion in what the roll of the derivative "Cell" Power processor (one might actually more accurately call it an integral rather than a derivative design) will play in IBM's future systems.
"Let me clear up some misconceptions first," Lund said when someone from the audience asked about future iSeries systems. "Cell, the way we look at it, is really a booster function, an accelerator function. That's how we look at this going forward into our server space, into our system space. It will find applications in servers, it will find applications in storage." It is hard to say if Lund meant that literally--that Cell chips would end up in machines, or that the ideas embodied in the Cell chips would end up in future machines. I am still not clear on this, and I talked to Lund and Jim Herring, director of product management and business operations for the iSeries line, for 45 minutes at COMMON. (More on that next week.)
Lund called the Power6 project one of IBM's "most ambitious processor system programs," and said that IBM was focused on bringing more system functions onto the chip to cut out server component costs and also increasing the reliability and resilience of those components because with such system-on-a-chip designs, if a chip fails, a whole system can fail.
"We're taking a tremendous amount of cost out, a tremendous amount of cost," Lund explained as he waved the chip around. The single-chip implementation of the Power6 is about an 1.5-inches square, and about a quarter of an inch thick, and has around 750 million transistors, by the way. IBM has not said anything about the core count in this chip, but it has promised one thing: lots more computing muscle. "This is going to have a tremendous amount of power, and I chose to bring this with me to give you a feel for where this business is going for us," Lund said. "And of course most important, we'll never let up on the performance pedal. You'll have lots and lots and lots of performance. So come anyone, anytime, we will not be compromised. So we will give you the performance you need, in many different flavors, we'll give you virtualization, you can carve it up any way you want, and you'll have great, great, great systems."
All but the biggest iSeries shops are not worried about peak processor performance, although there are some big shops that can and do always have the biggest iSeries boxes IBM can roll out. But among the people I talk to and the readers who respond to what I have been writing over the years, iSeries shops seems to be more worried about the cost of acquiring performance across the line and the ability of IBM to make a cost-effective entry iSeries server that can attract new customers to the platform. If Power6 really does take out the cost of a system, then perhaps the future System i6 machines--and presumably that is what they will be called--could have an affordable entry machine that competes with and beats a Wintel box on its own SMB turf. There is always hope that IBM understands that this is vital.
At the Sound Off session, iSeries users also stood up to keep the heat on IBM to keep promoting the iSeries. Randall Munson, of Creatively Speaking, a frequent speaker at COMMON, SHARE, and other user group meetings and a staunch advocate for the iSeries platform, brought his trademark wit to his comments. "Again, like last conference, I'm encouraged about what I hear. The fact that we've got our own advertising agency is a good [improvement, things] will be remarkably different, I hope. Having 20 percent growth in awareness is wonderful. Having twice as many white papers or articles written as before is great. And having a TV commercial that you actually put on TV--I don't know where you come up with that one." But Munson cautioned IBM to not "get too giddy," because all of the comparisons to past iSeries performance are, as we say in the IT industry, easy compares. Munson, like many of us, wants IBM to focus on comparing the iSeries to the rest of the IT industry.
Shearer, while charming in his comments back and forth with Munson, accepted that this was indeed something that needed to be done.
"I couldn't agree with you more," Shearer said. "Something that I've always done, is I've always measured my business results--I don't always tell my boss this--I always measured my business against the marketplace. And I think that is the appropriate metric. What kind of mindshare in the marketplace versus Microsoft and Intel. I completely get what you're saying. I really believe in my heart, which is why I signed up for this job for several years, that there is a latent market for integrated business systems. And I assure you that, while I may be upbeat, I am certainly not giddy about a month or two or six or twelve. Two and a half years from now, I'll sort of give a check point with you, and we'll determine whether my optimism is justified. I completely agree with you. I won't be satisfied until the iSeries plays the roll in the industry that it should."
The question I now have--and one that I will answer in the coming weeks--is if the iSeries will be pushed as the primary system under this new IBM Systems Agenda, or rather that IBM's other servers and operating system platforms will begin usurping the "integration" aspects that are the hallmark of the iSeries. I can guess how you all feel about that, and I am sure you can guess how I feel about it.
Transcription: iSeries Town Hall Meeting Sound Off