Since IBM announced last month that it would change the name of the AS/400, users of the midrange system have debated the logic behind renaming their machine the iSeries 400. Lost in the debate, however, was a new feature that allows users to add more processors without having to reboot the machine.
The feature, which IBM calls "capacity on demand," allows users to buy a system with a pre-set number of processors, but only pay for the processors they intend to use immediately. As business needs warrant it, the dormant processors are paid for as they are activated.
IBM offers three configurations: A 12-way system with 8 active processors; an 18-way system with 12 active processors; and a 24-way box with 18 active processors.
The release marks the first time Big Blue has offered an 18-way iSeries. To date, there are no plans to bring the feature to less powerful models. Capacity on demand is currently only available on new high-end iSeries model 840, said Randy Grimm, an IBM marketing manager for the iSeries.
The thinking behind capacity on demand is to allow users to add more processor power without having to shut down their machines and lose business, said Grimm. IBM is hoping to capitalize on the recent paradigm shift in business brought on by the Web, which has thrown capacity planning out the window. "Most businesses are not 'eight to five' kinds of places. Any time they are down, they are losing business," he added.
Capacity on demand will specifically benefit application service providers (ASPs). When they have a new contract, they could add a new processor and have the account up and running in a day or two, said Grimm. Under the old method, users would have to wait for additional processors to be shipped and then shutdown so to install them..
Customers with capacity on demand systems will still have to "order" additional processors and go through the ordering process they do for other equipment, Grimm said. "But once we get the order on the factory floor, we'll have it turned around in 24 hours," he said.
IBM will post an access code to activate the processors through a secured Web site. For shops that need extra processors quicker, IBM has included a free 14-day trial period for all the processors. All a user has to do is enter a code that comes with the machine and all processors will be activated for a fortnight. In addition, to tiding companies over until their orders are processed, the feature gives users a chance to see what the system can truly do, Grimm said.
Capacity on demand probably wouldn't make someone buy the machine, but it will help keep it in the running, said John Phelps, vice president of servers and storage for the Gartner Group, Stamford, Conn.
Within the past year, both Sun and Hewlett-Packard have unveiled similar capacity processor-adding features to their Unix-based machines. IBM's capacity on demand machines will have a premium of 9% to 15%, which is higher than other than other platforms, Grimm said.
According to Phelps, the advantage the iSeries has over other machines is that the system does not have to be rebooted in order to added capacity power.
However, the capacity on demand for the iSeries only addresses one of several possible scenarios where having additional processors would be advantageous, Phelps said. Examples of situations it does not currently address according to Phelps would be replacing a failed processor, the temporary addition of processors for spikes in usage, and disaster recovery with additional processors.
IBM is looking at expanding capacity on demand to allow failed processors to be replaced, Grimm said, cautioning that failures are very rare, however. Another kink to be worked out is that the system recognizes all the processors even when only a few are activated. In this case, usage and performance reports would appear lower since the machine's calculations are based on all the processors. The next release of OS/400 will correct this situation, Grimm said.
Capacity on Demand systems will be available on Dec. 1.For more information: Ed Hurley, assistant news editor