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IBM's iSeries line gets upgraded hardware, OS

IBM's iSeries line gets upgraded hardware, OS

IBM is releasing a new operating system as well as updated hardware for its iSeries line, part of the company's ongoing effort to modernize and expand the number of applications available for the systems.

The new operating system for the System i5 line is the i5/OS V5R4 (Version 5, Release 4), the first operating system upgrade since June 2004. The system, software and new hardware will be available Feb. 14, and iSeries users can upgrade to the new release under their maintenance contracts, said Jim Herring, director of product management and business operations for the iSeries. The System i5 will use IBM's Power5+ dual-core processor, which according to IBM delivers up to a 33 percent increase in performance over current Power5-based iSeries models.

The improvements are just a small part of efforts by IBM to burnish the system's luster. Over the past year, IBM embarked on its iSeries Initiative for Innovation to modernize and expand applications for the platform, as well as improve its marketing with television advertisements.

"From my perspective, I see they [IBM] are doing work," said Trevor McCullough, an information systems project leader at Saint Laurent, Quebec-based footwear maker Genfoot, which uses two iSeries systems. McCullough said IBM has been continuously adding applications the system, which Genfoot remains committed to.

What it needs to do now, he said, is win over people on different systems by keeping prices in check. The biggest iSeries hurdle comes from pricing competition from Wintel boxes, he said. "They still have to address the pricing issues," said McCullough.

Last February, IBM announced a program to provide its iSeries partners with tools to modernize iSeries applications to replace, for instance, a green-screen interface with a Web front-end. Since starting that effort, IBM said nearly 600 applications have been updated, and another 500 new applications have been added. There are now more than 6,400 applications for this system.

In its most recent financial quarter, IBM reported that revenue from the iSeries midrange servers had decreased 18 percent from the previous quarter. That's a change from the previous two quarters, when iSeries revenue was up 25 percent and 10 percent, respectively.

IBM said it now has 245,000 iSeries customers, with 2,500 of them new customers who were added last year. Mostl of those new customers were small to midsize companies.

Among the improvements to the operating system is improved integration with Windows. On previous models, IBM relied on a technology called the Integrated xSeries Server and Integrated xSeries Adaptor to connect to an xSeries server. The System i5, by contrast, will replace IBM's proprietary interfaces with Internet SCSI to connect to the xSeries BladeCenter. That improves the i5's ability to consolidate management of xSeries systems and will be available midyear, an IBM official said.

The i5/OS also offers improved security and auditing, including automatic detection of denial-of-service attacks and other security issues. The system also includes virtual tape support that allows saving direct to disk instead of the tape drive.

One user who has been testing the new operating system is Beverly Russell, IT director at E.D. Smith & Sons, a food products manufacturer in Ontario. Russell is especially pleased with the system's new storage capabilities, and she praised its ability to write to disk instead of tape. That speeds backup operations and opens the door to the possibility of electronically sending backups to the company's disaster recovery site, she said.

Russell, who is president of the Chicago-based iSeries user group Common, said IBM has "definitely done a lot to energize the i5 and attract new [independent software vendors] and customers to this great technology. Common has seen a sharp increase in the number of new exhibitors exhibiting at our conferences last year, as well as [at] our upcoming show in Minneapolis." That conference begins March 26.

There are four models, from the 520, which can be either a single or dual-processor machine, to the high-end 595, which can scale up to a 64 processors. Prices range from US$11,995 for the 520 to the million-dollar range for the 595, said Herring. The systems also include capacity on demand -- extra processors that can be turned on as needed.

Jean Bozman, an analyst at Framingham, Mass.-based market research company IDC, said IBM is increasingly using the iSeries' system management capabilities. "What they are doing is leveraging the system management capabilities of this thing and using it to manage multiple Windows workloads," said Bozman.


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