IBM puts its weight behind iSeries

IBM's proprietary iSeries machines have had a makeover to become cheaper and more friendly to Windows and Linux. Will users buy it, though?

IBM has beefed up its iSeries range of servers, saying it has increased the price-performance ratio by 80 percent in a bid to make them more competitive with Unix machines. The company has removed complex pricing structures, and will bundle more software, selling the systems as a consolidation server for other equipment such as Windows systems, Linux boxes and SANs. "IBM is continuing to invest in the iSeries," said worldwide iSeries product manager, Ian Jarman, adding that IBM will not let the iSeries "waste away against commodity servers." Although IBM does not quote revenues from its servers separately, analysts believe that iSeries hardware revenue is falling. This announcement may halt that decline, at least for now. However, observers may remember the company's failed attempt to promote the OS/2 operating system against Microsoft's Windows in the mid-1990s. "It's a top-to-bottom recommitment to this platform by IBM," said analyst Ian Bramley, managing director of Software Strategies. "The company is determined to make it grow and thrive." The revenue stream from iSeries hardware, and the shared technology with other IBM servers, makes this vastly different from IBM's Warp adventure, he said. The recent appointment of Al Zollar from Lotus as head of iSeries shows commitment -- and an understanding that software is key to keeping iSeries in people's minds. Former iSeries head Buell Duncan has moved to IBM's developer relations organisation, and will be promoting iSeries there, said Bramley. The announcement, covered in detail in Tech Update, introduces real-time capacity upgrade -- and downgrades -- on demand, and radically reduces the costs and complexity of the range's pricing. IBM has launched two new iSeries boxes, the i800 and i810, for small-to-medium businesses, and junked a horrifically complex set of enterprise machines and options. Now there are three machines, the i825, i840 and the i890, sold at flat prices, in two basic versions -- the Basic Edition and an Enterprise Edition, which includes an integrated stack of IBM middleware that could be worth £250,000 on a high-end machine. The stack includes WebSphere, Tivoli management and Lotus software. Each machine is an iSeries version of one of IBM's pSeries Unix systems, and the re-pricing aims to make the prices more equal -- partly by getting rid of the iSeries' much-hated "interactive features" pricing structure, which charged extra for heavy users of transactional services. The systems include a spare processor that users can switch on and off at will, paying around £700 a day to use it. It's the first time such upgrades have been reversible and is a gamble by IBM, because the processor would cost £20,,000 to buy outright. The machines can control Windows servers -- and even swallow them up into on-board Intel processors, and IBM expects iSeries users to managed their Windows machines in this way. Beyond that, a free processor and Linux licence could encourage the naturally cautious iSeries user base to try out open-source software.

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