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Survey confirms user dismay at AS/400 marketing

AS/400 users are passionate about the midrange server. Mention IBM's marketing of the beloved system, however, and their enthusiasm quickly wanes. Despite IBM's attempts to convince the market of the AS/400's power and efficiency, particularly as a Web server, a recent survey acknowledges the fact that AS/400 users continue to believe IBM's marketing attempts are meager and have put the system's future at risk.

In other surveys, the S/390 fairs only slightly better in terms of how it is marketed by IBM.

To understand why the AS/400 isn't marketed as much as some would like, one must look at IBM's family of servers, said Al Barsa Jr., president of Barsa Consulting Group in Purchase, N.Y. The AS/400 is just one of a "family" of computers that includes the Netfinity, RS/6000 and the S/390. The profitable "children" are the AS/400 and S/390, so strategically the marketing push is behind the other two, Barsa said.

About 90 percent of the 590 respondents to the 11 question survey said they were satisfied or very satisfied with the AS/400 as a business computer. Yet 60 percent were dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with the marketing of the machine. Recent interviews with AS/400 users mirrored the survey's finding. While users praised the machine's stability, flexibility and reliability, they slammed IBM for not letting prospective users know about the AS/400's outstanding performance and reliability.

Complete survey results, may be viewed at

Years of user dissatisfaction over IBM's marketing of the AS/400 came to a head in February during the annual COMMON user conference. Users blasted IBM for it's lack of marketing support for the AS/400 during one open session. IBM countered with a session of its own, defending its AS/400 marketing initiatives.

IBM was unavailable for comment. However, in previous reports, IBM representative Timothy Dalman, responding to users sentiment during the COMMON user conference, said that despite what users perceive, IBM is aggressively and successfully marketing the AS/400.

Last week, IBM announced it will spend millions on ad campaigns in The New York Times and Wall Street Journal and a number of business-to-business Web sites, promoting its high-end systems, specifically, it's Unix systems. Ad campaign The announcement comes shortly after reports circulated that sales of IBM's mainframes and servers continue to be slugglish. Shares slide

Despite concerns surrounding IBM's marketing of the AS/400, or the lack thereof, the system itself clearly has loyal followers.

"The machines can literally run for years at a time," said Barsa . Unlike other systems, where parts and applications come from various sources, the AS/400 all comes from IBM, so any problems can be directed at the company," Barsa said.

Jack Gipson, systems administrator for Goody Products in Columbus, Ga., has worked with the machine since it was first introduced and has a great deal of respect for it. "Since the machine has been on the market for a while, it's been through all the paces, he said.

Larry Ketzes, systems professional for AON Corp., an insurance company in Hatboro, Pa., can remember when the AS/400 was introduced in the late '80s with a high-profile marketing campaign with prime-time television ads featuring cast members of M*A*S*H. While the AS/400 enjoys a tremendous customer base (about 450,000 companies use the computer), not enough new people are being brought into the fold, Ketzes said.

Gipson envisions the AS/400 becoming a niche market much like Apple computers. While existing users will probably continue to be very dedicated, few new customers would be recruited, Gipson said.

What user comments really boil down to are concerns about the future of the machine. Fewer new users and queries about new applications, and the less likely the AS/400 will stay viable, Ketzes said.

The survey results also raised questions about user confidence in the AS/400 as an e-commerce tool. About half of the respondents were satisfied or very satisfied with IBM's support and product offerings in the e-commerce space. Slightly less, however, were satisfied with IBM's explanation of its role in e-business. (When queried about WebSphere, IBM's Internet software platform, over 40 percent of the users surveyed didn't have an opinion.)

However, Ketzes said the AS/400 handles Web server duties brilliantly in addition to in-house functions. In fact, Ketzes has recommended people get a small AS/400 just to run Lotus Notes for an office.

In the end, the AS/400 isn't going anywhere soon, Barsa contends. "Just as Cobol will be used in mainframes, AS/400s will always be around."

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