IBM gives the iSeries more Power

IBM's Rochester-based iSeries division has set out its stall for 2006 with some new software, a faster processor and iSCSI compatibility

The iSeries got its annual refresh on Tuesday with the launch of a range of new systems based around a speeded-up Power 5 chip — the Power 5+ — and including a new entry-level system which IBM hopes will attract new customers to the range.

The company also hopes to attract new customers to the iSeries through a new card that offers iSCSI integration for the first time. It will enable customers to integrate IBM's xSeries running Unix, Linux and Windows systems fully into the iSeries range.

As IBM's mid-range workhorse, the iSeries is the company's best-selling range of systems, with between 4,000 to 245,000 customers in each of 150 countries. Almost half of these systems, 43 percent, are in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

IBM has upgraded its four basic iSeries systems, the 520, 555, 570 and 595. The main difference is an increased clock speed, with the Power 5+ running at 1.1GHz in the 520, 1.9GHz in the 555 and 2.2GHz in the 18-way 570. The chips in the 64-way 595 will continue to run at 1.9GHz and will offer even faster performance through other internal changes, IBM claimed.

According to the iSeries product manager, Ian Jarman, over 80 percent of the installed iSeries systems are the low-end, 520 model. "Our customers have typically come from the AS400 and are running green screens," he said. "Then, there is a world of more sophisticated systems running Unix, Linux and Windows and we are offering a step approach to bring those worlds together in one system."

It has been a frustration for IBM that so many of its iSeries customers have been wedded to the "green screens", and reluctant to shift to more sophisticated platforms. Many of these customers run small businesses, while some 16,000 banks (largely in the US) are also iSeries customers.

This means the entry-level 520 is key to the iSeries range. While Jarman needs to keep this traditional, conservative market happy with the progress of IBM development, he has the job of persuading non-iSeries customers that now may be the time to consider a move.

Adding support for non-iSeries systems through the new card is a step in the right direction, as is the addition of new software to better bind-in Linux, Unix and Microsoft applications into the iSeries world. The card will allow customers and, especially, partners to more easily add support to non-IBM systems, especially storage.

From IBM's perspective, the iSeries has much to offer the market. The iSeries has lacked a little glamour in the past; the company is hoping that a tweak here and a tweak there may be just what is required to give its workhorse a little more momentum.