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Can you still afford 5250?

Looking at the iSeries today, it's not clear how much longer companies can afford to run 5250 applications if they invest in new iSeries computers announced in 2003.

Looking at the iSeries today, it's not clear how much longer companies can afford to run 5250 applications IF they invest in new iSeries computers announced in 2003. IBM has changed the packaging of software and features once again, and it's no longer a simple answer that a new iSeries server automatically offers better price/performance than an old one. Here's what I believe is correct:

IBM has created two "packages" for buying iSeries software on the new servers (except for the low-end 800, which has three different options): Standard and Enterprise.


  • Standard edition provides only OS/400 (and its related components) and NO INTERACTIVE CPW for 5250 applications.

  • Enterprise edition provides additional software (WebSphere, DB2 extensions, Domino and on and on), including UNLIMITED INTERACTIVE CPW for 5250 applications. For the 810, Enterprise edition adds only WebSphere Express, DB2 Query Manager and Performance tools along with unlimited Interactive CPW. For the higher models (825, 870, 890), Enterprise edition adds everything but the kitchen sink as software: WebSphere, Domino, Sametime, QuickPlace, Tivoli, more DB2 tools, backup and recovery, etc.

It sounds easy -- until we talked to our business partner about the possibility of upgrading to an 810 server to run our new potential e-business workloads. He priced a single CPU 810 with 1470 CPW with both software editions. An 810 with the Standard edition was about $90,000. The same 810 with the Enterprise edition (with the software we DIDN'T want.) was about $205,000 -- more than double! I know now I can skip my next physical exam. I just survived a cardiac stress test that a treadmill couldn't surpass. To make me feel better, he pointed out that on larger 8xx servers, the difference between the two editions is over $1 million. Ha! I can't say that bit of information helped at all.

The partner explained that we still have the option to purchase any software we might want individually. We would just lose the "discount" pricing of the Enterprise edition. He explained IBM had bundled all this stuff together with UNLIMITED INTERACTIVE CPW and discounted it off the prices of the individual products.

It became clear that the key to reasonable prices was to avoid INTERACTIVE CPW. So what do you do if you want to run your existing 5250 applications affordably and provide web access? Running WebFacing on a new server or our existing 270 looks to be the best option. On a new iSeries server, all WebFaced 5250 applications run in server CPW -- not interactive. That allows us to look at the Standard edition with the possible addition of one license for WebSphere Express (very reasonably priced at $2,000 per CPU) to run the generated WebFacing Java workload. We could also use Apache Tomcat to run the WebFacing Java workload -- and that's free.

IBM only allows WebFacing to run in server CPW on a new 8xx server. If you're on an older model (like our 270), WebFacing still uses interactive CPW.

Web access for our two programmers can probably be done adequately with just the secure Telnet and FTP servers included with OS/400 to start.

Web access for users could also be done with other IBM software: iSeries Access Family or IBM Host Access Client Package. The Host Access Client Package requires INTERACTIVE CPW, but it is reasonably priced for us at about $200 per user. And iSeries Access would be about $24,000 on a value pack if we went with the P20 for 50 users ($7,500 for a P10 for only 20 users) and still requires INTERACTIVE CPW.

Given the need to avoid the Enterprise edition costs, WebFacing became our top choice for Web-enabling applications. The question then became where to run the added e-business workload for WebFacing applications: upgrade the capacity of an 810 server or use a separate Linux server?

If we support our added e-business workload on iSeries
Our option to upgrade the Standard edition iSeries to support e-business workloads was not cheap: about $26,000 (another CPU with 1470 CPW and 2GB of added memory). With processor-based pricing on some of the more expensive IBM software, this is a viable option even though we move from a software P10 processor group to a P20.

In the past, the rule on iSeries configurations was always stay at the top of a software processor group (e.g. a P10) by adding memory instead of processor, which could move you to a P20 software processor group. Given that we don't have lots of IBM billable programs in addition to OS/400 (just WebSphere Development Studio (57xx-WDS) and Query/400 (57xx-QU1), moving up one processor group to eliminate the Enterprise edition still nets us big savings. So, this becomes the exception to the rule on planning processor capacity.

Our e-business workload on the iSeries would use all the free e-business software IBM makes available: OS/400 features, DB2, TCP, the HTTP server, Java and the Java toolkit.

If we support our added e-business workload on Linux
We could also put the e-business workload on an Intel-Linux setup cost-effectively. Our business partner has experience with Linux, so they can do the install. Linux will definitely increase our support costs over running everything in iSeries, but overall the Linux option might be less expensive for us, especially in the long term.

For e-business on Linux, we would need DB2, Apache HTTP server, Apache Tomcat WebSphere Application Server, TCP, Java and the Java toolkit. Only DB2 from IBM has a license fee. If we needed to save money somewhere, we could test e-business with MySQL database instead of DB2 to start.

What about capacity on demand?
Do we need capacity on demand features? Not at this time. We've managed OK on the 270 for just the green screen applications. We will need more capacity to do e-business workloads for sure. We expect to buy that up front to run the WebFacing Java workloads. Beyond that, IF e-business workloads continue to grow, we'll just upgrade the platform (whether it's iSeries or another server) rather than pay for capacity on demand up front.

The bottom line
Standard 5250 applications are key to our business, but they are not what our users want long term. With IBM's new pricing, it's clear running traditional 5250 applications is expensive. WebFacing looks like a good option to run the 5250 applications without paying the "interactive tax" on the new servers. We have the option of running the J2EE portion of our WebFacing applications on an added 810 processor or a separate Linux server.

What will we do? We'll test WebFacing on our existing 270 to make sure it works well in a limited-user prototype using the Apache Tomcat server. If that proves acceptable, then we'll decide whether to go to a larger 810 or use a separate Linux server.

What's your strategy for 5250?
Do you have any better ideas on how to deliver high value and Web-enable 5250 applications?
Send your ideas to The Value Manager at

About the author: The Value Manager is an IBM iSeries IT manager trying to make the right decisions to deliver better value for his company. He welcomes your comments and feedback. E-mail him at




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