From Chapter Two: The appliance computing culture

When you look at the iSeries what you see is business computing as it should have been about 1976 - it's the path not taken, the thing that works for business but not IT - and today's costs (although the data is actually from 2004/5) reflect that.

This is the 20th excerpt from the second book in the Defen series: BIT: Business Information Technology: Foundations, Infrastructure, and Culture

Note that the section this is taken from, on the evolution of appliance computing, includes numerous illustrations and note tables omitted here.

The iSeries data center tour

This is a tour of a data center built around an IBM iSeries mini-computer. The important things to note here are:

  1. The degree of centralized processing control;

  2. The focus on delivering packaged applications with only minor local tweaking; and,

  3. The high reliability, and relatively low overall cost, of the system.

Scale and Budget

This particular data center serves about 860 in-house users, 400 customer points of service, and 200 remote users in a wholesale distribution business. About 740, or almost all of the in-house users other than those in Finance and Marketing, use IBM relabelled NCD smart displays. In addition there are 109 Windows PC users running Windows 2000 Professional in the finance and marketing groups and eight Macintosh users in the advertising and flyer development group.

What's a smart display?

A typical smart display has a powerful graphics engine and runs Java/OS, Windows, PDS (Postscript display system), or X clients, often concurrently. There are no moving, or user accessible, parts and typical MTBF (Mean time before failure) ratings are in the 300,000-hour range.

A smart display is distinguished from a Microsoft thin client because applications run only on the server with no client side licensing required.

From both the user and corporate perspective these things are tamper proof, highly secure, and essentially failure free.

The typical smart display uses a high resolution screen (usually 17 or 21 inch) and can show simultaneous applications from multiple hosts - including concurrent Windows, Unix, or iSeries hosts.

The remote users, mostly sales and support people, have company owned Thinkpads running Windows XP/Professional. The remote locations, which are generally in customer sites, usually have a Windows 2003 server on a T1 or comparable connection, and a dedicated firewall appliance linking the Windows server to the customer's local area network.

More Terminology
A LAN is a Local Area Network - meaning a network restricted to a single work site whether that's an office or a campus. By extension a WAN is a wide area network joining several LANs.

"T1" is an North American telco designation for a single cable provisioned to carry up to 24 concurrent telephone conversations but usually applied to equivalent rate data communications. Since a phone conversation has a digital equivalent rate of 56Kbits per second and requires an 8KBS control channel, a T1 provides for transmission at the rate of 1.536Mbs (=24 x 64) or about 192K characters per second.

North American data transmissions ratings go all the way up to OC/3 - about 173M characters per second. The comparable European designations start at E1 =40 phone line equivalents or about 2.5Mbits/sec.

The 1970s ISDN (integrated services, digital network) technology puts a digital signal in place of the analog phone signal and comes in increments of 56Kbits/sec. but can use the 8Kbs control link as well. Thus an ISDN link described as "2b+c" has two 56K channels and a shared 16K control channel to deliver 128Kbs in throughput.

More modern ADSL/SDSL services are upgraded versions of ISDN using similar wiring but broader spectrum spreading to achieve much higher throughput - usually in the range of 1MBS to 8MBS depending on the user's needs and budget.

The company has just upgraded to the latest iSeries and is willing to share critical cost information. The company has had four AS/400s on lease from IBM since 1996 and has added disk and memory to these over time.

The current upgrades were triggered by the expiry of that lease agreement.

As part of the new agreement AS/400 peripherals purchased from IBM during the lease period are being returned for credit on the new gear, thereby reducing the list price to a total of $4,213,896.72, pre-tax.

The new machine is a fully configured iSeries Model 890-0198 and includes:

  • 32 x 1.3GHz Power4 processors;
  • 192 GB of memory;
  • 6.5TB of disk storage (10K RPM, 17.54GB disks, RAID 5 in 22 enclosures);
  • Continuation of the company's IBM licenses, including OS/400 V5R2, DB2, RPG, and dozens of other tools or utilities;
  • Some networking gear to replace the previous token ring switches which are being returned as part of a switch to TCP/IP; and,
  • Lotus Domino Server Release 5.0.10 for iSeries for 2,500 users

In addition the data center has:

  1. Two racks of five PC servers each running Microsoft Terminal Server under Windows 2003 Server to provide Windows software services to smart display users; and,

  2. Two racks each containing four PC servers running Windows 2003 server with small business services to provide shared services support to the 109 Windows 2003/XP desktops.

Remote laptop users connect to the system over the internet using software encryption clients licensed from Cisco and are served through Lotus Domino running on the iSeries.

When asked why the company used the iSeries instead of another architecture, the director mentioned history first, saying that his company had enjoyed a long and satisfactory relationship with IBM. In addition, his justification for the decision to buy a new Model 890 instead of renewing the old lease or experimenting with another architecture included:

  • The competitive advantage that can be gained by faster introduction of new services via centralized systems;
  • High-quality service delivery;
  • Good cost ratios;
  • Low total cost of ownership;
  • Fast delivery of applications and service change;
  • Centralized management and deployment resulting in lower error rates and "fix it" costs;
  • Ability to support all applications in one place but run them everywhere;
  • Safe implementation of new technologies - including Linux on iSeries;
  • Scalability and security, enterprise wide;
  • Equal access to important applications, regardless of client device type;
  • Elimination of system configuration and software installation problems;
  • Easy-to-use desktop and menus;
  • Reduced help desk calls.

Some notes:

  1. These excerpts don't (usually) include footnotes and most illustrations have been dropped as simply too hard to insert correctly. (The wordpress html "editor" as used here enables a limited html subset and is implemented to force frustrations like the CPM line delimiters from MS-DOS).

  2. The feedback I'm looking for is what you guys do best: call me on mistakes, add thoughts/corrections on stuff I've missed or gotten wrong, and generally help make the thing better.

    Notice that getting the facts right is particularly important for BIT - and that the length of the thing plus the complexity of the terminology and ideas introduced suggest that any explanatory anecdotes anyone may want to contribute could be valuable.

  3. When I make changes suggested in the comments, I make those changes only in the original, not in the excerpts reproduced here.