Article

IBM's System i and System p merger: Users weigh in

Mark Fontecchio
More than a year after IBM merged its System i and p platforms, System i users say the benefits are technical and financial, while the drawbacks are largely social.

It was April 2008 when IBM announced the merger, combining its midrange and Unix platforms into the single Power Systems unit. Both platforms already ran on the same Power processor and featured essentially the same hardware. The new servers are now able to run AIX, IBM i (formerly known as i5/OS) and Linux.

At the time, System i users worried whether IBM would continue to market System i and the renaming of the operating system. But in fact, some key benefits emerged from the merger, including cost decreases because of platform competition and technical improvements.

Competition brings cost and virtualization benefits to IBM I
Before the joining of platforms, System i was practically in a category of its own and competition from other vendors was limited. Meanwhile, System p had to compete with the likes of Itanium- and PA-RISC based machines running HP-UX and earlier Unix operating systems, as well as with Sun and Solaris. Now that the platforms have merged, System i users have seen price reductions because of the competition with other platforms.

"One thing I do care about is a lot of the prices have come down," said Robert Arce, a systems analyst and president of Metro Midrange Systems Association, a System i-focused user group in the Dallas area. "That has been a good thing for us."

Charles Kaplan cited technical benefits to the merger. A System i user and analyst, Kaplan is also the vice president of the Long Island System Users Group, another i platform group. He said ease of application transition and virtualization capabilities in the System p platform are a plus.

"People can run their [System] i applications on the new hardware and there is no difficulty making that transition," he said. "The i side is also benefiting from new functions that came from the p side, particularly in the areas of virtualization."

Diminishing user support
Not everything, however, is rosy. The downside is loss of tradition, Kaplan said. For the history of the platform, dating back to System/38 and then with the AS/400, the platform was considered to be a combination of hardware and operating system. Now, there seems to be some loss of identity because it's just the operating system.

"It's a change in people's minds about how they look at the platform that most of them are very loyal to," Kaplan said.

Kaplan added that a group within IBM, stationed in Rochester, Minn., has historically supported the System i community. With the merger, that group is now "the Power group," as Kaplan put it, and System i is the minority user on that platform. So as Kaplan sees it, the hardware group no longer supports the System i community to the same extent.

Why does that matter? Kaplan thinks it has eroded support of user groups, both local and national.

"User groups are suffering because of that, and then they're also suffering just because employers in general have pulled back on employee education," he said. "The i community has always been a tight community of dedicated individuals. There was always sharing on how to use the platform and discovery of best practices. Now many user groups have folded in the last year or are on the brink of folding."

That isn't the case for all user groups, though. Arce said that the organization he heads is healthy, often bringing in good attendance depending on the topic. A one-day seminar on PHP, for example, drew almost 40 attendees, which Arce said was pretty solid for a local user group.

"The one thing that makes a big difference for us at the moment is if we can bring in a good speaker, we get a good response from users," he said.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Mark Fontecchio, News Writer. Also, check out our blogs: Data Center Facilities Pro, Mainframe Propeller Head and Server Farming.


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