The iSeries Blog

Jun 23 2008   3:56PM GMT

History repeating itself? A look at the 20th anniversary of AS/400

Mark Fontecchio Mark Fontecchio Profile: Mark Fontecchio

This year, as many of you know, is the 20th anniversary of the introduction of AS/400. This weekend IBM held a big celebration at its campus up in Rochester, Minn. in celebration of the anniversary. But 20 years ago, not everyone was celebrating.

When System/36 and System/38 merged to become the AS/400 back in 1988, the higher-end customers were pleased, but not all the smaller ones were. This according to Frank Soltis, the chief scientist of System i who has been working on the AS/400 platform since it still had the codename of “Silverlake.” Soltis spoke during a Webcast last week hosted by Tango/04, a System i server monitoring software company.

“System/36 folks absolutely refused to buy AS/400 for many years,” Soltis said.

Twenty years later, System i and p have merged to become Power Systems, and similar consternation exists among users. The high-end ones tend to like the merger, Soltis said, while the smaller customers are worried that they’re losing their business computing platform.

So will all the System i users become Power System converts? Perhaps not, but predictions of the platform’s demise may be premature.

It is striking to see how far the platform has come in 20 years. Ian Jarman, the System i product manager, said that the first AS/400 machine, the B10, was rated at 3 cpw (commercial processing workload). A new Power6 that runs i5/OS, the 595, is rated at 300,000 cpw.

Soltis said during the Webcast that if someone had asked him 20 years ago what he’d be doing in 20 years, he certainly would not have guessed that he’d still be working on the AS/400. So what about 20 years from now? Jarman said this:

“I’m very confident that we can take our applications forward into any generation of technology to come and we’ve made investments with Power systems. I can’t predict the future but we have positioned it to really move wherever the mainstream moves.”

Other Soltis anniversaries

Soltis is celebrating other work-related anniversaries this year with IBM. This October is the 30th anniversary of System/38, one of the precursors to the AS/400. And then in November, Soltis is celebrating 40 years of working full-time with IBM. His first assignment? To create a replacement for the System/3 minicomputer, which ended up being the System/38, which ended up being the AS/400, iSeries, System i and now Power Systems.

“Even my children point out to me that in all my 40 years at IBM, I’ve only really worked on one product,” he said.


Soltis revealed that when IBM decided to merge System i and p, the opportunity arose to re-rename the operating system from i5/OS back to OS400. Soltis opposed the reversion, agreeing with most at IBM that “going backward was a bad thing.” Still, all the renaming has given Soltis some regrets.

“If there was something I could do, it would be to undo all the renaming,” he said.

The future, according to Frank Soltis

Some things to look for, both from IBM, its customers, and the server market in general, according to Soltis:

  • “In the future one of the things we’re looking to do is move toward special purpose processors. As a result, one of the things we have done is worked out the design of the next generation of Power technology called Power7. If you look at Power7, it’s not just Power anymore. It’s Power plus a lot of these special purpose processors.”
  • “Back in 2001, we were having negotiations with Microsoft to run Windows on Power…Over the last several years, Microsoft has been busy moving to 64-bit platforms. As a result, very little has happened with running Windows on Power…We certainly don’t see anything in the near future with Windows running on Power.”
  • On the System i blade: “A lot of our customers don’t have blades, and personally I don’t see a lot of them moving to a blade environment. Yes, we’re going to support blades where it makes sense, but also support the fully integrated system as we always have.”
  • “Personally I believe over the next couple years there will only be two vendors of processing technology (in business computing)…I’m a firm believer that Intel and IBM will be the two main ones or only ones…”

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