Converged approach of PureSystems has roots in AS/400

Former IBM veteran also traces the roots of PureSystems to failed effort to put Windows on POWER

IBM’s PureSystems has roots its in AS/400 and the failed effort in putting Windows on the POWER Instruction Set Architecture, according to former IBM System i chief scientist, Frank Soltis.

The converged approach of PureSystems may seem like a bold new approach by the technology vendor, though Soltis said it goes back to the model that IBM put together for the AS/400.

More commonly known as the System I, the AS/400 was released 25 years ago and IBM will be celebrating the milestone next month.

When the AS/400 was released back then, Soltis said it was one of four major IBM systems.

“All four had completely different goals as far as their strategy and what they were trying to accomplish,” he said.

One pressing challenge was that all four IBM systems were after the same customers.

“One of the things that would cause a bring problem for our customers is that when it came to buy a system, IBM said the choice from the four was up to them,” Soltis said.

He added the company was spending a lot of money developing for each of those four systems because nothing was shared between the teams.

“We could not get internally together to share anything because that was not the way IBM worked,” he said.

“The IBM model was based on a competitive environment.”

Soltis explains this approach goes back to the original IBM founder, Tom J. Watson, who believed that every single laboratory should be in competition with one another to get the best products.

“That clearly had to change, so during the early 90’s, an effort was made to merge these businesses,” he said.

“IBM has continued to do that over the last 25 years, and PureSystems is the latest incarnation of this effort to merge these efforts to create a platform for the future. “

When one window closes, another opens

Soltis worked for IBM for 45 years, and he witnessed numerous developments that would shape PureSystems into what it is today.

On significant event was when IBM considered putting Windows on its POWER Instruction Set Architecture used in servers, as more and more customers were using the OS.

“As luck would have it, we received a call in the early 00’s from Microsoft about putting Windows on POWER,” Soltis said.

Microsoft’s reasoning for the move was to build “some very big” Windows servers.

“They recognised that to get a very high end performance system POWER was needed,” Soltis said.

“Almost every major supercomputer in the world used POWER, so Microsoft was very interested in using the technology for Windows.”

Microsoft was getting ready to move Windows to the then new 64-bit processor called Itanium from Intel, so Microsoft made the decision to do the port to POWER after the Itanium version.

Soltis said the transition from Itanium to POWER should have been an “easy one,” and even Microsoft expected the Itanium port to only take three years.

“From our experience, we expected it to take at least five years, but they told us they were in the PC world and they moved pretty fast,” he said.

“They added that IBM worked a whole lot slower than they did.”

It would actually take six years until the Itanium version was released and Soltis said it did not live up to expectations.

“It was a disappointment for Microsoft, because AMD offered a cheaper alternative, and Microsoft and Intel had to respond to that,” he said.

Soltis adds that Itanium is a “great processor” but that it “did not go anywhere.”

Because of the muted reception to the Itanium port, Soltis said Microsoft lost its enthusiasm to port Windows to POWER.

“I am a POWER enthusiast, but I would have said the same thing if I was at Microsoft,” he said.

Since Windows did not come to POWER, IBM decided to put Intel under the cover and PureSystems was born.

“That really was the beginning of bringing these things together, and will continue to be the direction for IBM,” Soltis said.

Patrick Budmar covers consumer and enterprise technology breaking news for IDG Communications. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @patrick_budmar.