Volume 8, Number 14 -- April 8, 2008

IBM Merges System p and System i Server Lines

Published: April 8, 2008

by Timothy Prickett Morgan

In what was probably one of the worst kept secrets so far in 2008, IBM announced last week at a Town Hall meeting at the COMMON user group conference and expo in Nashville, Tennessee, that it would finally and formally do away with the System p and System i server brands and change the name of the i5/OS operating system for what is very likely to be the last time. I said "very likely" because this is Big Blue, after all.

Many of us had a hunch that this rebranding of the box and possibly the operating system has been in the works for some time, of course. Last month, in an article called Bye Bye System p and i, Hello Power Systems, I did some out-loud thinking about what IBM might be up to in a meeting two key executives--Mark Shearer, vice president of marketing and offerings for the Business Systems division, and Ross Mauri, general manager of the Power Systems division--were going to host at the Town Hall on Wednesday. Now, IBM likes to announce things on Tuesday, so if it were not for the fact that this particular Tuesday in 2008 was April Fool's Day, you might have expected the big announcement, billed as the "New Power Equation," would be held on Tuesday morning. Why IBM didn't do it on Sunday or Monday is a bit of a mystery. (Maybe IBM was betting that the System i trade press would be out of town, since we all tend to leave on Tuesday afternoon?) But anyway, here we are today and IBM is indeed, as I suggested, consolidating the System i and System p server brands into a new, consolidated brand, and the company has picked the dead obvious choice of simply labeling the servers developed and manufactured by its newly christened Power Systems division with the name--drum roll please--"Power." As in Power 520, Power 550, Power 570, and Power 595, whether the machine is running AIX, Linux, or the operating system formerly known as i5/OS.

It is very likely that RS/6000, pSeries, and System p shops did not really care what IBM calls the boxes that run AIX or Linux; if such customers, their resellers, or their software vendors did care about such branding issues, not one has ever said anything to me about it in the past decade. The same cannot be said of the AS/400, iSeries, and System i customer base, reseller channel, and application vendor community, who blame IBM's poor branding and, more importantly, lack of strong marketing for the OS/400 and i5/OS platform for declining sales over the past decade.

While readers of The Four Hundred newsletter, our sister publication that covers the OS/400 and i5/OS platform, have over the years suggested a number of different ideas for changing the name of the OS/400 and then i5/OS operating system, and I have also been eager to see IBM rationalize (no, I did not mean Rational-ize) its integrated software stack pricing and naming conventions for the iSeries and System i platforms, I never thought IBM would get around to doing it with this rebranding. The hassle of changing an operating system name is right up there with changing your company name and Web domain. (Wink, wink.) But rebranding a server line, which only includes new iron, is a bit easier. So while my hunch about the server branding--which didn't require more brain power than that supplied by the HP-12C calculator that sits on my desk--turned out to be right, I was wrong that IBM would not also change the operating system name. Which is now--drum roll please--"i." In a pinch, if you just can't handle hanging a lower case "i" out there all alone, you can call it i for Business. And gone, too, are the "V" and "R" of version and release numbers, apparently. We are all one happy Power Systems family now, and we use the old dot release naming convention. So i5/OS V6R1, which just started shipping on March 21 and I would guess with all the paperwork and Web sites using that old name, is now just i 6.1, or if you can't handle that i just sitting there, you can call it "IBM i 6.1" or "i for Business 6.1."

Don't forget to backspace and retype a lot to get your word processor to allow you to lower case that little i. And if you think that you can get around this issue by having a standalone "I" automagically replaced by an "i" then you either better start working on your poetry, like e.e. cummings, start acting like a text-messaging teenager with too little time to capitalize, or begin talking in the second or third person. Just stay away from first person plural because people will think you are nuts.


So there you have it. The New Power Equation is, according to IBM's brochures and Web sites, Power = i + p.

If you wanted to be honest about it, based on my estimated 2007 revenues, it would be Power = i + 3.73 * p, and maybe on shipments (based on relative Power6-based 570 shipments since the System i variant started shipping in September 2007) it would be something more like Power = i + 6.45 * p. I remember when Power = i + p, and that was a long time ago. And it depends on how generous you want to be to the old RS/6000 line as it tried to measure up against the AS/400. In 1998, one of the best years ever for the AS/400 system sales, IBM sold maybe $3.3 billion in systems, while the RS/6000 sold some $2.4 billion in systems; if you add in the $520 million in workstation sales, then the lines are at parity, more or less. If you jump ahead to 1999, when AS/400 sales dropped by 23 percent and RS/6000 sales held even as sales started drying up at the end of the year as Y2K issues caused a lot of overcapacity in the market, actual AS/400 and RS/6000 server sales (not including workstations) were on par: $2.495 billion for the AS/400 and $2.43 billion for the RS/6000, if you want to get precise.

To my way of thinking, if we really wanted to be honest about it, we would all hark back to our high school physics and realize that power = work / time, and then recall that Einstein proved that time = money, (don't you recall that Economy = money * consumption squared?), and just say that the New Power Equation is really about saving IBM a lot of work, a little bit of money on printing and Web collateral materials, and a lot of money (perhaps) by eliminating confusion in the marketplace. Now, there is one Power-based server line--same feature codes, same price list, same optional features, same maintenance fees, and so forth--and it supports three operating system platforms: i, AIX, and Linux. And one virtue in this is that most people writing that triple play for operating systems will start with "i" because ending with it will look like even more of a typo. So maybe the real equation, based on revenues, would be Power = i + 3 * a + 0.73 * l, where i is for hardware allocated i partitions, a is for AIX partitions, and l is for Linux partitions. (I guess it is a good thing that IBM did not rename AIX a for Business and is not yet contemplating its own Linux, presumably it would be called l for business. But who knows what the future holds?)

By the way, IBM doesn't like the term "convergence" and has instead opted for the slightly different "unification" as a means of describing the simplification of its product catalog and the rebranding of the OS/400 and i5/OS platform for what is presumably the last time. I think the difference is that convergence implies that eventually one platform would go away, while unification implies that some things remain distinct. This is obviously a notion IBM wants to dispel.

If you want to see the official announcement on the IBM Web site, which bills the converged Power Systems as "a major new platform that provides a compelling new choice for companies of all sizes," you can check out the partially updated Web materials here and you can also read a short announcement with some hardware feeds and speeds on the i-enabled Power 520 Power 550 servers and the new Power6-based JS12 blade server at this link. (I will cover the hardware announcements separately.)

Two observations. First, Power is a very popular word on the Internet, and i stands alone a lot, too. So IBM has created two brands that are, once again, hard to search for on the Web. This is annoying, but not the end of the world. The second observation is that as far as I can tell, we are not going to have another conversation about rebranding for the product line for a long time. Not at least until IBM moves OS/400, er i5/OS, er i for Business and then AIX to the X64 platform after acquiring Advanced Micro Devices. (I am kidding. Well, about the AMD thing, anyway.)


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