Enterprise Toolbox: Changing Perceptions

Each week our team of experts in the Test Centre of Computerworld's sister publication, Infoworld, examines technologies and how they will affect your business. Quite often we find plenty of marketing hype and products that do not always measure up to your business needs. We enjoy separating hype from reality. You might think of us as the "hype-busters" of technology.

This week we examine IBM's AS/400 platform, recently renamed the AS/400e. As you might have guessed, the "e" signifies support for e-business. Actually, the AS/400 has been e-business-ready for several years, but it's nice to see the marketing folks at IBM finally catching up with the platform's technological advances.

Our experts from the test centre and InfoWorld Review Board (made up of our freelance writers) examined the newest release of the AS/400 and its operating system, OS/400, and expressed frustration at how under-marketed this platform is. After more than 10 years of advances and a metamorphosis into a beefy e-business server, most people still view the AS/400 as a legacy platform.

This is a shame because the AS/400 is a multifaceted server capable of fulfilling myriad business needs regardless of the size of the enterprise or the tasks that are thrown at it. And the AS/400 continues to be one of few platforms that can simultaneously support legacy, client/server, and Web-based computing.

Review board member Scott Steinacher took a look at what kind of ROI you might expect to gain by adopting the AS/400. He found the costs low when compared to the software and hardware capabilities of the platform, which stand out favourably in many ways when measured against competing servers.

Next, we looked at the new AS/400 models. These servers can be configured to meet the requirements and budgets of businesses both large and small. IBM has enabled technologies that let you run both Unix-based applications and Windows NT and Windows 2000 applications within your AS/400 environment. You might use these technologies to consolidate servers, reduce expenditures, or to improve business process integration.

IBM has long been known for its hardware advances. We examined the copper chip and Silicon-on-Insulator technologies that have been added to the AS/400 in this release. The AS/400 is the first server platform to implement these technologies, which IBM anticipates will provide a hefty increase in performance.

Senior analyst Tim Fielden examined the new version of OS/400 and found strong improvements in Java and integrated business-intelligence tools. Logical partitioning also has been enhanced in this release. This support allows you to split a single physical AS/400 into separate multiple-server configurations that can operate independently to run different parts of your business or interact with key business partners. From what we experienced during our testing and analysis, the AS/400 appears ready to provide some stiff competition for its server rivals. You may not hear about the AS/400 as often as you might hear about other platforms, but just ask any of your colleagues who have worked with the platform and I think you'll hear a positive response.

Has your view of the AS/400 changed, or is it still a legacy platform? * Please send your comments about this column to maggie_biggs@infoworld.com and david_beynon@idg.com.au

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