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IBM merges System i and System p platforms

IBM's new Power Systems platform combines System i and System p. But the merger and name change may also mean better pricing -- and greater longevity -- for System i.

IBM Corp. has officially merged the System i and System p platforms into a single platform that it will call Power Systems.

For more on IBM Power-based systems:
System i5/OS operating system due out in March

IBM virtualizes Linux on new System p Power6 servers

IBM AIX 6, Power6 blade due out this month

Big Blue announced the anticipated move in Nashville, Tenn., at the Common System i user group conference .. Ian Jarman, IBM's Power Systems software manager, likened the move to the 1980s-era merger of System/38 and System/36 into AS/400.

With the announcement, IBM introduced three Power6-based servers from the Power Systems line that will be available beginning later this month. And finally, Jarman said the company has renamed i5/OS, the System i operating system, to IBM i.

Joe Clabby, the president of the Yarmouth, Maine-based IT research firm Clabby Analytics, said that having System i and System p as separate platforms "wasn't as efficient as it could be," and the merger makes sense. Some time ago, Clabby asked IBM about the reason for two divisions when each server platform is based on the same Power processor architecture.

This has been coming for quite a while and it's not going to be a shock to anyone.
Dan Olds,
analyst Gabriel Consulting Group

"I was essentially told that there were special requirements for the AS/400 marketplace that had to be fulfilled using separate engineering, which was sort of a bogus answer," he said. "There was very little in terms of specialized requirements of the AS/400 that dictated special components."

Dan Olds, an analyst at Beaverton, Ore.-based Gabriel Consulting Group, added that he thinks the merger will lead to cheaper manufacturing costs for IBM and hence its customers, and that it will help make the company's Power-based systems more competitive in the RISC/EPIC processor-based server market.

"This has been coming for quite a while, and it's not going to be a shock to anyone," he said. "There may be some [System] i people that might whine a little bit about not being as special anymore, but I think the payoff for hardware pricing -- and that it will be an ongoing platform -- outweighs it by quite a bit."

Olds said that IT shops have confronted difficulty in getting the resources to maintain or expand on the System i, sometimes because others in the company don't even know what it is. But combining with System p could help them justify the expense.

The new JS12 blade server
The first of the three servers is the JS12, a new blade that has a single dual-core 3.8 GHz Power6 processor, up to 64 GB of RAM, and support for AIX version 5.3 or higher, IBM i version 6.1 or higher, SUSE Linux version 10 or higher, and Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) version 4.6 or higher. It can fit into any one of IBM's five BladeCenter chasses. This is in contrast to IBM's other Power6-based blade, the JS22, which can fit only in the BladeCenter H and HT models (although there are plans to support it on JS22 on BladeCenter S).

The JS12 blade server will be available on May 30, with pricing beginning at about $5,000.

On May 30, IBM will also offer IBM i Edition Express, a package deal that includes a BladeCenter S chassis, at least one JS12 blade, and internal storage. Pricing starts at about $12,000.

Jarman said he believes that BladeCenter S is a good fit for small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) that want to run Power-based and x86 blades in the same chassis without connecting to an external storage area network (SAN). He foresees the majority of JS12 sales coming from System i users.

"I think the AIX and IBM i would go together typically on larger servers," he said. "Unix is more prevalent [among] larger clients."

He added that almost 90% of System i users also run Windows, so now they can run IBM i and Windows in the same blade chassis.

The Power 520 and 550
The other two servers, the Power 520 Express and Power 550 Express, are virtually the same machines as the p 520 and p 550 that IBM rolled out in January; the only difference is they will now be able to support the i operating system. Pricing starts at about $9,000. Some details on each of the servers:

  • The 4U Power 520 Express has support for up to two dual-core 4.2 GHz Power6 processors, up to 64 GB of RAM and can run AIX version 5.3 or higher, IBM i version 5.4 or higher, SUSE Linux 10 or higher, and RHEL 4.5 or later. It will be available on April>
  • The 4U Power 550 Express can support up to four dual-core Power6 chips, up to 256 GB of RAM, and can run the same operating systems as the 520. It will be available on May 23.

i5/OS to now be called IBM i
Formerly called i5/OS, the System i operating system will now be called IBM i, or as Jarman said, "simply 'i.' " He added that IBM renamed the operating system after much deliberation with the server platform's user community, which has been sensitive to name changes, such as that from AS/400 to iSeries and then to System i. Now it will face two name changes: the hardware platform again, to Power Systems, and i5/OS to IBM i.

Last year rumors swirled that IBM i OS V6R1 (or version 6, release 1) would be called i6/OS to match up with the Power6 processor. But in the end, IBM decided to stick with i5/OS, obviously realizing that it would rename it to IBM i in the near future.

"You can't have i5/OS going on forever," Clabby said. "The '5' doesn't make sense."

IBM i V6R1 became available late last month.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Mark Fontecchio, News Writer. You can also check out our blog.

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