Happy 20th Birthday, AS/400!
June 16, 2008 Timothy Prickett Morgan
This week, and probably into next, IBM, its partners, and its customers will be celebrating the 20th birthday for the AS/400 system, which came to market on June 21, 1988. It has been an incredible–and sometimes unbelievable–two decades for the venerable OS/400 platform, whose roots go back a decade earlier to the System/38, the first integrated system in the world with a relational database and easy-to-use programming language designed for people who speak business, not assembler or C or some other alien computer language.
I am not sure how much celebrating Big Blue will be doing, particularly since a lot of the people in its Power Systems division, which makes Power-based servers and their operating systems, and its Business Systems division, which does the marketing of systems to small and medium businesses, all hail from the Unix side of IBM’s house, formerly known as the RS/6000-pSeries-System p lines, or the mainframe lineup, formerly known as the System/390-ES/9000-zSeries-System z lines. As IBM executives, these people know of the AS/400 platform, but I doubt that they understand that it is still, despite a lot of seriously bad moves in sales and marketing, the system that is installed at the most IBM customer sites worldwide.
After the week of intense heat in New York City, as I sit here on Friday the 13th after an exhausting IT week (the heat did bad things to the T3 lines in upper Manhattan, which AT&T and Verizon struggled to cope with), I am not interested much in beating up on IBM for past mistakes with regard to the AS/400 platform. Quite frankly, I am too tired. There is not much to be gained from it. But what I will do is inhale deeply and renew my commitment to readers of The Four Hundred, Four Hundred Stuff, Four Hundred Guru, and Four Hundred Monitor to do what we at IT Jungle have always done: provide the deepest and broadest coverage of the AS/400 platform–no matter what IBM calls it–in the market. This is still a large and vibrant market, even if other platforms have gotten larger and taller around the AS/400 in these past 20 years. Writing The Four Hundred is the first job I had out of college nearly 19 years ago (if memory serves, Thursday, July 6, 1989, was my first day on the job), and like many of you, the AS/400 platform is the only real job I have had. And like many of you, I have had to add other jobs to stay afloat in this rough and tumble IT market, and to seek the aid of allies. In my case, that means covering other platforms and employing other news editors and technical editors to round out the content. Like you, I have not always had an easy time of it, and there are days when I wonder if the payoff is worth the grief.
So far, over the long haul of a 48-week publishing year, I can say that it has always been. I don’t foresee that changing.
IBM has not contacted me about any birthday celebrations for the Power Systems and i, the most current implementation of the AS/400, but that doesn’t mean there are not events afoot. That doesn’t mean there are, either. I have been contacted by Tango/04 Computer Group, a maker of system monitoring tools for the i platform, and Midland Information Systems, a reseller of Power Systems and solutions for these boxes, for an event that they are hosting together on June 19 at 10 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time. Here’s the invitation I received:
Frank Soltis, who will be speaking at the Webinar 22 hours before the summer solstice for 2008, will probably not be engaging in pagan rituals to boost the i platform, such as jumping through solstice bonfires; he probably won’t be wearing garlands of herbs and flowers to ward off summer magic, or taking so-called chasedevil herbs (such as St. John’s Wort), which pagans apparently did because they thought the solstice was full of magical power–and not always good magic, either. What Soltis is apparently going to do is talk about the past two decades of the AS/400 and its successor platforms and what the future of the architecture holds.
You have to register for this 45-minute Webinar, which you can do by clicking here. You have to be running Windows 2000, Windows XP Home or Pro, Windows Server 2003, or Windows Vista on your PC or MacOS X 10.3.9 or higher on your Mac to participate.
With Bill Zeitler, a former general manager of the AS/400 Division who is stepping down as the head of the Systems and Technology Group on August 1, it is a bit odd that he is not participating in some kind of event celebrating the AS/400. Zeitler got his start at IBM’s Rochester facility in the System/3 line, and worked his way up through the System/3X, AS/400, and moved out to the mainframe and then to take over all servers, storage, and technology (mostly chips) at Big Blue. Like many of you, I am hoping that Soltis is not going to announce his retirement and that he is, in fact, at work on some specific i-related technologies and not just being trotted out to talk up the troops.
What I know, and what I am grateful for, is that the AS/400 and all of the values it has embodied exist at all. I am grateful that companies responded to this, and that the AS/400 has been a good business for IBM and its reseller and software partners, which meant that it could be a good career path for you as well as for myself and my colleagues. Who knows what the future holds? There are always possibilities. I learned that when I was a kid from Spock, and it is no less true just because it is knowledge from a fictional character. The future is never unlimited–oh, yes, my friends, not even for Microsoft–but the future is open. And I have been determined in my life to keep an open mind, about the AS/400 and about every other thing I consider. What I know is that as long as there are RPG and COBOL programs, whether they are modernized or not, running somewhere in the world, there will be a place for an i platform and an IBM (or some other vendor if IBM gets out of hardware) to sell it. I am going to wait to hear what Soltis has to say, and tell you about it, before making my predictions.
So have a drink to your old buddy, the AS/400, on June 21, and say thank you. Raise your glass and say “Happy Birthday, AS/400!” Just don’t do it when anyone else is watching, or they will think you are crazy. . . .