SAN ANTONIO – IBM has delivered on a strategy it embarked on nearly four years ago – to converge its server technologies and set the iSeries on a new path.
The company announced the next generation of its iSeries, the eServer i5, the first server based on the Power5 chip. The new server was developed using technology from the pSeries, and, as a result, the servers share common hardware. (A pSeries server using the Power5 chip will be introduced later this summer.) The next generation of the iSeries platform will run Linux, AIX and Windows.
Big Blue also unveiled the newest version of OS/400, V5R3, dubbed, i5/OS.
iSeries general manager Al Zollar delivered the news Sunday during the COMMON IT Education Conference.
The industry has been abuzz for months about the anticipated arrival of V5R3 and a Power5 server. With all the speculation and rumors, there's almost nothing to new to tell, except that this announcement could be IBM's most significant shift in strategy in years.
Not only is this new version of the iSeries the first in IBM's portfolio to boast the Power5 chip, but IBM has also drastically reduced the pricing—essentially eliminating the argument that the iSeries is too expensive.
"This is a very strong signal from IBM as to where the iSeries is going," said Ian Jarman, iSeries product marketing manager, IBM. "We're saying we're continuing to invest [in the iSeries platform]. Now we're the first to deliver Power5…a new competitive pricing model…the future is now crystal clear, we know where were going….and we know exactly who we're going with.
The first two models will be low-end configurations. The i5 model 520 will be configured with 1-way or 2-way Power5 processors and can scale from 500 CPW to 6,000 CPW. It upgrades from i810 and i820 iSeries servers.
The i5 model 570 features capacity on demand options, ½-way, 2/4-way Power5 processors and can scale from 3,300 CPW to 11,700 CPW. It is available in Standard and Enterprise Edition versions and upgrades from most of the iSeries 800 line.
The new servers will also feature IBM's recently announced Virtualization Engine (VE), a combination of software embedded into new hardware systems that enables computer systems to "clone" themselves. By making one server act like 10, the VE multiplies the performance capabilities of a single server. This same premise has allowed mainframes to maintain utilization rates in the range of 80% -- compared with rates as low as 5% in Unix and Windows environments.
Although news of the i5 overshadowed the announcement of V5R3, the new release of the OS/400 has some significant features as well. Probably most important is the integration of WebSphere Express. In addition to running on i5 servers, i5/OS will run on all iSeries and AS/400 models 720, 730, 740 and 170.A server by any other name -- or price
While some users balked at another name change for the platform and OS/400, Zollar said the change was necessary.
"We were getting a lot of feedback from independent software vendors that [the OS/400] implied an outdated platform, and it was getting difficult to sell," said Zollar. He added that IBM is taking the opportunity with the introduction of new technology to refresh the image of the operating system and leave behind the baggage.
Still, a new name and new features appear to be taking a backseat to the new pricing structure. In a move that has shocked some analysts, IBM has priced the i5 Model 520 at $48,000. This is nearly $30,000 less than an equivalent iSeries Model i810. An i5 520 Model Express Edition starts at under $12,000.
But to level the playing field for users not ready to upgrade to an i5, IBM also cut the prices of the iSeries 800 line of computers to be more comparable with the i5.
IBM has taken out the price differential, said Charles King, research director at The Sageza Group. Now, users can get a "data center in a box" with a price point that is usually associated with a stack of Intel boxes.
"If IBM wants this platform to thrive, it needs to find a way to keep the interest up and open the pocketbooks of new users and show them why this is better than anything they've got in their data center now," he said. "Intel boxes have always been the better price/performance. But when you keep applying cheap server after cheap server, at a point the price tends to offset the complexity of managing them. And that's where the iSeries will win. It's bullet proof."
Giving users leverage
Users, too, are impressed with the pricing, and believe it can only make the iSeries more appealing to users outside the platform.
"With this new economic model in place, it will ring a bell with the accounting department," said Phillip Vaxquez, Jr., a computer operations analyst at Handgard, Inc., a plastics manufacturer for the food industry based in El Paso, Texas. "Budgets are limited, but [the lower price] helps us to move forward [in getting] all those bells and whistles."
Chris Durbin, a programmer analyst with beverage distribution company CC Clark of Oakland, Ky., said the more competitive pricing will put an end to the speculation that IBM doesn't invest in the iSeries and simply views it as nothing but a cash cow.< p>
"It's good that IBM is readjusting its pricing," he said. "That's one of the biggest gripes that users have, that it's too expensive. I think this announcement will put an end to that."
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
Let us know what you think about the story; e-mail: Kate Evans-Correia, Senior News Editor