Reader Feedback on Goodbye, AS/400, Old Friend
April 14, 2008 Timothy Prickett Morgan
Brian Kelly’s historical tribute to the AS/400, iSeries, and System i platform last week, Goodbye, AS/400, Old Friend, was a cathartic experience for a lot of us, especially those who were around during the System/3X days before the AS/400 came to market. As you might imagine, plenty of people do not agree with IBM’s merging and homogenization of its server platforms, which they see as detrimental to the AS/400 and its ecosystem.
Here’s a sampling of some of the feedback we received on that story, including one reader who was moved to poetry.
I wrote this back in 2000 with the advent of the iSeries. With a little tweaking, it seems more appropriate now. With apologies to Alfred, Lord Tennyson:
The Charge of the Byte Brigade, c.2008 Half a gig, half a gig, Half a gig onward, All in the valley of Death Rode the AS/400. "Forward the Byte Brigade! Charge for the tools!" he said. Into the valley of Death Rode the AS/400. Forward, the Byte Brigade!" Was there a man dismay'd? Not tho' the coder knew Some one had blunder'd. Theirs not to make reply, Theirs not to reason why, Theirs but to do and die. Into the valley of Death Rode the AS/400. Multics to right of them, Unix to left of them, Linux in front of them Volley'd and thunder'd; Storm'd at with script and shells, Boldly they code and well, Into the jaws of Death, Into the mouth of hell Rode the AS/400. Flash'd all their MI's bare, Flash'd as they turn'd in air Outperforming others there, Charging at competitors, while All the world wonder'd. Not using mirrors and smoke Right thro' the line they broke; NT and Sun Reel'd from the Java-stroke Shatter'd and sunder'd. Then they rode back, but not, Not as the AS/400. Unix to right of them, Linux to left of them, Multics behind them Volley'd and thunder'd; Storm'd at with script and shells, While boss and coder fell, They that developed so well Came thro' the jaws of Death, Back from the mouth of hell, All that was left of them, Left of the four hundred. When can their glory fade? O the wild charge they made! All the world wonder'd. Honor the charge they made! Honor the Byte Brigade, Farewell noble OS/400!
–Greg McKain, CAS Severn, Inc.
Many thanks for your tremendous article on the history of S/3X and AS/400. Despite not having been employed by an AS/400 department since about 1996, I suddenly realized that Rochester has dominated my working life (so far). I started as a pre-university student at IBM Rayners Lane in 1976 on the System/32, and ended my connection as a U.K. product manager in the mid-1990s. (I won’t bore you with the details in between.)
The whole S/3X and AS/400 ethos generated an immense amount of affection, pride, and loyalty among the employees working in the associated IBM division. I suppose we thought ourselves a breed apart. In recent years it has seemed that the whole line–from System/3 to (System) i–was intended to last the entire career of the people who started with it in the early 1970s. Once we had witnessed the retirement of figureheads such as Frank Soltis, Glen van Benschoten (already gone) and, from the U.K., Malcolm Haines (already gone), the emotional commitment might dissipate.
And so it seems to be. IBM’s proprietary lines adapted a little to open standards such as SPEC 1170, but what really signaled the long-term challenge for AS/400 was IBM’s big shift into services in the mid-1990s. IBM services SRs had to be system-independent in their services proposals–and besides, the AS/400 was too easy to use, so that fewer services were required.
Mr. Gerstner indicated his thinking when he publicly said in the late 1990s that proprietary systems had a poor future. At the time, he was talking about Sun Microsystems, but Gerstner wasn’t the type of guy to be inconsistent in the application of his thinking.
It is sad to see the declining sales numbers of AS/400 over the years, but it has been partly to blame for its own decline. After experimenting with the 9401 P01, Rochester decided it couldn’t win in the high-volume/low-price market, and reverted to the high-value formula that has typified AS/400 and S/3X throughout their lives. But ironically, Rochester was probably the first IBM lab to recognize the long-term threat of Windows NT on Compaq servers.
So now it’s all called Power, apparently. Oh well, at least we beat Itanium, I think.
Well Brian, you couldn’t have put in more succinctly. The Borg metamorphosis is complete, n’est pas? It does indeed seem to be a sad day in AS/400 (er, i Series, System i, and the machine “formerly known” as AS/400) land. All that is left is a symbol (“i”) and what the heck does that really stand for anyway? I suppose IBM is getting its inspiration from rock star “Prince” (perhaps they could come up with a really bizarre symbol that can’t be typed on a keyboard). I really enjoyed your history lesson on the rise of the IBM midrange, and your thoughtful reminiscence on our beloved machine. You continue to beat the “natural Web interface” drum like Gene Croupa, but like Gene, it seems to be an idea that was great at one time, but died somewhere along the line when IBM lost sight of the value proposition of having an “integrated” server. Thanks for everything you wrote in the article, and I really enjoyed it.
The irony is that Mr. 400, Al Barsa passed away the same week IBM formally got rid of the box. He was the in-your-face champion of midrange when there was such a thing.
What will IBM do now that the merger is done and they have to translate everything in terms of i and p?
Can you actually merge an article of clothing like as shirt, and a garden tool? Can you merge a mosquito and a broom? What is the new merged item when it exhibits a characteristic of one of the ingredients rather than the compound?
I enjoyed your article very much having been involved with using IBM equipment since 1955. I am presently running on an AS436 using SSP that we have had for about 10 years. I started with the company in 1968 and put them in their first computer (System/360 model 20) and we are still running mostly RPG II software (most of which was originally written in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s). I will be retiring in the next few years, but it’s been a great run. By the way when the 1401 was introduced I remember learning FARGO Fourteen-O-One Automatic Report Generating Operator, which I think was a forerunner to RPG?
Anyway, thanks for the memories.
Thanks for the comments. Time sure goes quickly.
I never heard of FARGO. I did work on 1620 with SPS and Fortran. 1620 was the scientific 1401 technology unit. I actually wired 402 accounting machine boards with special programming to do an aged trial balance and punch out a new balance record each month with a–get this–directly attached 029 keypunch.
The System/34 and System/36 were as revolutionary to ease of use OCL and RPG interactive programming as the System/38 was to advanced function in an easy to use / hard to forget package. The System/38 was not as easy to use as the System/36, but it was more productive once you finally learned it. Admission price was high.
Just read your “goodbye” article. That took a bit of time and effort and you did a great job, I hope that many people take the time to study it.
In this time of the “we know better what you need than you do” attitude in many areas of our lives, the article shows some of how IBM’s various factions ganged up on the System/38 and its successor boxes. It’s been obvious to me for some time that IBM long ago abandoned its three basic principles and concentrated on in-fighting and power grabbing.
Glad to see the article, keep up the good work.
Thank you for your comments. I have been looking for IBM to start behaving like a company that wants to win through product excellence and the ability to maintain that excellence and the willingness to spend marketing dollars to achieve victory. However, I find a top management team that is unwilling to take a chance on anything–no matter how good and no matter how much potential–if there is any risk at all. Removing the AS/400 brand is not a bold step, just as removing OS/2 and Rolm, and DiscoVision, and SBS, and IBM disk drives. It is merely an acceptance of failure. It also reduces management complexities at IBM since there are fewer decisions to be made.
What a management legacy since the 1980s! If John Opel had the power to give another IBM gold mine to Bill Gates, with all we know about Bill Gates, he still would. If John Akers has a good thought some day in the future, it will be lonesome. If Lou Gerstner hadn’t been brought in after Akers, there would be not even be the IBM Service Company of today. And, Sam Palmisano is hidden from view, like Howard Hughes, assuring innovations are made regularly to the IBM Executive Compensation program, and paid for by similar reductions in IBM employee and retiree compensation and benefits. He is able to do this all on his laptop PC (probably a Dell), well insulated by minion managers who would like nothing more than to be anointed to Palmisano’s job. Their big fear is becoming the next Buck Rodgers by taking a position on something. As you know, Buck’s penalty for making the decision to charge for IBM SE services in 1969 was the end of his up-side career and he was hide off to speak at National Sales Meetings for the rest of his time with the company. He became the IBM DPD Sales Manager in charge of speaking at recognition events. Nobody in IBM wants this fate for having been bold enough to make a mistake.
If it were not for the whole Power chip hardware project which IBM seemingly reluctantly chose to engage in the 1990s instead of going for the full Intel doink (one of IBM’s finest endeavors in my opinion), IBM’s hardware consolidation would be headed toward elimination of all hardware products, including the mainframe and the Unix-type systems as the company steamed toward relying solely on revenue from its patents–a safer and much easier marketplace than having to face actual competitors who know how to sell products. . . .
One thing for sure, I can’t figure it all out.
As a 23-year (30 with the Bridge) “retired” IBM guy who now pays almost half of his IBM pension to get what were once fully free benefits, IBM executive’s ethical behavior toward company employees and retirees does not live up to the promise under which we all worked. I suspect ethics is no longer one of the necessary ingredients of success. I would offer just one generic suggestion to IBM. The current IBM management team would do well to bring in professional readers in the afternoon to read chapters of Tom Watson’s IBM history and his Wild Duck Theory, rather than take their well deserved siestas. I have the WSJ picture and full-page tribute to Thomas Watson Junior at the time of his death hanging in my Sun Room as a reminder of the IBM I once worked for.