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First i5 users recount 'nightmare' installs

Early customers of IBM's new Power5 server encountered numerous quirks during installation that frustrated experienced integrators. While some problems have been addressed by IBM, users will just have to adjust to the rest.

TORONTO -- The first installs of i5, IBM's next-generation of iSeries servers based on the Power5 chip, have been a big disappointment and have frustrated several users.

Complaints mounted during the COMMON iSeries Nation Town Hall session on Sunday, as users told of "nightmare" installations.

IBM introduced the i5 four months ago at the COMMON conference in May and has since then released three other models, including an Express version. The servers use combined technology from the pSeries, and run Linux, AIX and Windows. On Friday, IBM unveiled the last system in the product line, the i5 595, a high-end consolidation server. That unit will ship in mid-November.

IBM merged hardware and didn't take enough time to test it thoroughly… They could have spent more time.

Neil Palmer, Systems Engineer, DPS

Most problematic has been the hardware management console (HMC), a new component of the i5. HMC controls managed systems, such as servers and logical partitions. But if something goes wrong in one partition, all the partitions crash.

Users: IBM 'could have spent more time'

Still, while other installation issues have been minor –- cheap plastic doors, confusing configuration options, lights that don't mean what they used to, excessively long power downs and license key mishaps -- integrators said they spent an unnecessary amount of time sweating the small stuff, which turned into big-time headaches.

"It was a nightmare," said Mary Curran, an integrator with the University of Toledo Foundation, about her first i5 install.

The problem lies in the integration of the pSeries and iSeries technologies, experts said. IBM, in its efforts to consolidate the platforms, forgot that what is familiar to an iSeries user is not necessarily familiar to a pSeries user.

"IBM merged hardware and didn't take enough time to test it thoroughly," said Neil Palmer, a system engineer with DPS, a system integrator headquartered in Indianapolis, Ind. "They could have spent more time. Things that were obvious before are not so obvious in this system."

Bob Buchanan , an independent consultant with ISI Software in Mountain View, Calif., said, "IBM got sloppy," because with this change in technology, it neglected certain details that it never would have missed in the past.

"I know they'll get it fixed," Palmer said. "But what would it have taken for them to say, 'These are the differences you'll encounter?'" Palmer added that these minor mishaps cost him about 12 extra hours of install time -– time he did not bill the customer.

"We ate that time and just chalked it up to experience," Palmer said.

IBM: These are 'first-generation problems'

Although IBM executives at the conference were bombarded with complaints, none of them were surprised. In fact, they admitted that they knew there were issues.

John Reed, director of client availability solutions for IBM, said he became aware of the HMC problem around the time the server was being released for general availability (GA) and the problem was fixed immediately. It should not be an issue in any servers now being shipped, he said.

As far as the other issues are concerned, Reed insists the server was not shipped before its time.

"What you see is first-generation problems," he said.

The merging of technologies is not so easy. Not that anyone at IBM thought it would be, Reed said, but it was a matter of taking the best of both systems and in the process, some things had to be eliminated. He said IBM combined the technologies to focus its resources on what it believes matters –- moving forward.

"The 'miss' was [on] us [for] not anticipating that our installers don't read anything -- they just install," he said. Reed knows this because he and his teammates did the same thing when doing i5 install tests –- that's why user comments didn't surprise him.

For more information

Read our exclusive: High-end Power5 i5 server unveiled at COMMON.


Learn how IBM forges new ground with next gen iSeries, V5R3.

"We will go back in and redouble our efforts and scrutinize the install characteristics," he said. "Perhaps we took too much for granted. We haven't done anything this big in a long time."

Palmer said he'll wait at least a month or two before installing another i5, but is convinced it'll be easier the next time around, now that he knows the quirks. Still, he said he was taken off guard by the changes and, in this case, a short list of differences would have gone a long way.

""I've been doing this for 16 years," Palmer said. "after working with a system that long you don't tend to read the instructions, which are aimed at first time users. But it would have been nice to see a list that said, 'These are the things that have changed.' It would have helped.

"They made a date for the GA and they couldn't stop it. I don't want them to be like a Microsoft and keep pushing the release dates back -- but it would have been nice to know what we were getting."

Let us know what you think about the story; e-mail: Kate Evans-Correia, Senior News Editor.

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