Data Centers

Is IBM's iSeries the right choice for your enterprise?

While the iSeries eServer is touted as leading technology and offers superior reliability and scalability, is it the right solution for your IT shop? Here are some details that can help CIOs decide whether to bring the iSeries onboard.

Years ago when I worked as a tech consultant for a state agency, I used to hear, on a daily basis, at least one person complain about software problems on their Windows PC. Invariably, the IT department’s solution was to format the hard drive and reload Windows. Users got so accustomed to this fix that when they had a problem, they would just call the help desk and leave a message saying, “I think you need to reload Windows on my PC again.”

But the user and technical difficulties were only occurring on one side of the agency’s IT shop. The other side of the house ran on an IBM AS/400, and during my tenure, we never had to reload its OS. In fact, except for routine backups and scheduled maintenance, we never did anything to the AS/400 beyond standard business programming and application maintenance.

The AS/400, known today as IBM’s eServer iSeries, is an industry leader in many respects. In this article, we’ll discuss the iSeries' many good points (reliability, versatility, and scalability) and some of its flaws (initial high cost and lack of speed in running Web app servers) to help you determine whether the iSeries is a technology you should bring onboard at your enterprise.

iSeries series: Part 1
This is the first of a three-part series about IBM’s iSeries technology. In this article, we cover the pros and cons of the iSeries to help enterprises make the right platform decisions. Part two will focus on iSeries shops and some hidden features today’s users may not even know about. The third part will feature case studies on enterprises that have earned a strong return-on-investment from the IBM technology.

Strong reliability factor
In a comparison report published by IDC in 2001 titled “Server Cost of Ownership in ERM Customer Sites,” the iSeries beat out both Standard Intel Architecture Servers (SIAS) running a variety of server operating systems (i.e., Windows 2000, Novell Netware, UNIX, and Linux) and traditional UNIX servers on several fronts, including reliability and availability.

In the study, IDC rated servers on a variety of factors, including unplanned downtime hours per month, percent of internal users affected, and availability. Reliability was measured by the amount of time users have access to mission-critical applications.

Lower cost of ownership
In terms of Total Cost of Ownership (TCO), iSeries was the hands-down winner for both small and large enterprises, according to the IDC report. Within smaller enterprises, the TCO for UNIX-based servers was 91 percent greater than for iSeries, and it was 95 percent greater for SIAS-based servers. For larger companies, TCO was 58 and 72 percent higher for UNIX- and SIAS-based servers respectively, than for iSeries.

When you purchase a SIAS- or UNIX-based server, you must also purchase the following:
  • Operating system (i.e., Windows 2000, etc.)
  • Direct-access storage device (DASD)
  • Database and database management system (i.e., Oracle, etc.)
  • Security software
  • Peripherals, such as tape drives for backup.

Buyers will also pay other up-front expenses, such as database administrator costs and multiuser license fees.

With an iSeries, on the other hand, everything listed above is included in the initial purchase price. Plus, the operating system, OS/400, is built in, as is the database and the system security. The database, which is tightly integrated with the OS for added stability, performance, and flexibility, is also integrated with the system security. In fact, the security is so tightly integrated that the iSeries is likely the only platform that can boast that it has never been successfully hacked.

Lower staffing costs
iSeries shops typically require fewer technical staff members than other shops. The iSeries makes it possible for anyone with the proper authority to handle the work, while other shops often require specialists.

Basically, anyone who can select a menu option or two can manage the iSeries database, DB2/400. The same goes for iSeries security. Maintenance tasks, such as system backups and installation of program temporary fixes (think service packs), can be performed by a single person, usually without even having to bring the system down.

Because of this ease of use, iSeries shops are usually manned by a single IT staffer who manages all aspects of a system that often supports thousands of users worldwide.

Compare this scenario to the typical SIAS shop, which features a large server farm and staff to maintain and synchronize databases, security, hardware, and software across multiple systems, and you can appreciate the iSeries’ simplicity.

The iSeries can host and integrate objects and data in another operating system with its own core operating system, OS/400, making it extremely versatile for mixed IT environments. The iSeries supports these platforms:
  • Windows 2000 (and Windows XP in first quarter 2002)
  • UNIX, via the iSeries Portable Application Solutions Environment (PASE) (PASE is an environment that is both independent and tightly integrated with OS/400. UNIX applications can be ported to and executed in the PASE environment, and access objects in OS/400, all with little or no modifications to the original UNIX application.)
  • Linux, via logical partitioning (Major Linux vendors, including RedHat, SuSE, and Turbolinux, fully support Linux on iSeries. Its popularity with the Linux crowd is clear: The iSeries was voted Best of Show at the 2001 Linux World conference.)

Scalability impressive
The iSeries is designed to grow as the business grows. For example, a business can purchase a smaller iSeries initially while exploring the possibility of migrating to a new platform. As the business’ needs grow, that “small” system can be upgraded to handle increased data loads. Faster processors can be added to increase computing speed. Logical partitions can be added to provide multiple, completely independent (with the added ability of dynamically sharing hardware and processor resources), and “logical” iSeries systems within the same physical footprint (up to 32 logical partitions on a single iSeries box).

Additional operating systems can also be loaded, allowing a single iSeries to take the place of server farms, and more users can be added without paying for additional user license fees.

It ain’t cheap
The iSeries may not be the most economical solution for every enterprise. If you're running a small business and have a small tech base with core applications running on a single or a small number of SIAS- or UNIX-based systems, it may not be wise to spend the big bucks to purchase that first iSeries.

A small iSeries server, such as the Model 270 featuring 17.1 GB of mMirrored DASD, a quarter-inch tape drive, and a 100/10 MBPS Ethernet card, will cost you an initial $18,000, although that price tag could be reduced by standard discounts, a possible rebate, or by other sales incentive programs that come into play.

The cost does, however, include the operating system, the database, integrated security, and a whole host of other technology pieces that would need to be purchased separately if you choose to go with an SIAS or UNIX solution.

Still, if your business typically buys hardware, software, and peripherals from mail-order catalogs or retail stores, the sticker shock of purchasing an all-inclusive iSeries may be more than you are ready to handle.

The Linux factor
If you are a Linux shop, running Linux on low-end or smaller PCs (which is one of Linux’s strengths) and then purchasing an iSeries to run Linux is probably not a good move. While it’s true that you’ll benefit from iSeries security, stability, and versatility, these benefits may not outweigh the initial purchase price of an iSeries.

Not a good development choice
If you are a UNIX development shop, you won’t want to purchase iSeries for development. Although you can run UNIX applications in the iSeries PASE environment with little or no modifications, iSeries contains no means for you to compile those objects. In other words, you cannot create applications for the UNIX environment on iSeries from an iSeries. Obviously, this is a big factor in any large development environment.

The choice is yours
While the iSeries clearly offers some high-quality features, it is not the right solution for every business. If the few noted negative factors don’t impact your current environment, it’s time to give the iSeries and its nearly 100-percent uptime record a strong look. For more technical specifications and product information, IBM’s iSeries site is a good place to spend some time reading.

Are you using the iSeries?
Share your implementation and experience, send the author a question about the iSeries, or start a discussion to share insight and track the series information.


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