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Mainstream press speaks: Money makes vendors listen

iSeries alternative: Coulda been the 3000?

TattoomarreseWhen HP chose to step out of the 3000 marketplace, changing its thousands of companies' futures, the vendor cited the uphill battle to sell a non-standard IT solution. Platforms not Unix or Windows simply were not going to provide a safe ecosystem, HP said. This week IBM announced news that begs to disagree.

Successor to the AS/400 marketplace, the iSeries, IBM says, is coming off a “milestone year” for the  platform. The vendor claims that the integrated solution most like the HP 3000 had its “highest level of growth in nearly 10 years.” Soon you'll see why, if you're a football fan: IBM will air an iSeries commercial during this coming weekend's Steelers-Broncos playoff game. Not long afterward, new POWER5 Plus i5 servers are expected to be announced. IBM says it's going to intensify its efforts to market the iSeries this year.

It's safe to say that like the 3000 community, the iSeries users wear their hearts on their sleeves, so to speak.

While that IBM solution got a fair bit of notice in our NewsWire special editions of 2002 and 2004 — and some persistent advertising from COBOL transformation shop PIR Group in those issues — we were puzzled about the lack of takeup for this 3000 alternative. (For the record, PIR Group has said it will be interested in supporting the HP 3000 conference of 2006. We also wrote up Flax Art, a former Ecometry site, as one of several 3000 customers gone the way of Big Blue.) Some of that resistance might have come from companies still smarting from long-ago wounds at the hands of IBM's mainframe-centralized culture. But a lot of the hesitation might be chalked up to the general slow pace of migration. Things are picking up this year. The iSeries could pick up some more 3000 business, among those companies dissatisfied with the Unix or Windows choice. After all, it's about the target applications, not the environment, right?   

The 3000 customer who's fond of the past — and that would be a lot of them, considering their migrate-or-homestead options over the next three to five years — looks at the iSeries success and perhaps scratches their head. Could it have been the 3000's fate to have a resurgence, if only HP had stayed a course?

For those interested in history, the difference between the two markets was mass. At its fattest the iSeries and AS/400 group could count close to a half-million installations. It hasn't fallen off much, by most estimates. The HP 3000 never grew beyond 70,000 systems, and now it probably counts 15 percent as many. Analyst house IDC reports that the installed base was at 23,000 a full year after HP said it was pulling its MPE plug, in 2002. Critical mass is something measured differently at different vendors. There's companies in the 3000 space who would kill for 20,000 customers. HP just wasn't one of them.

But as for the HP argument that the only thing with legs is a Windows or Unix solution, well, IBM is making some sweet profit off disagreeing. Its mainframe business also has strong loyalty. And while the iSeries servers will run IBM's Unix as well as Linux, that strong 2005 didn't come in on the back of companies using something other than i5OS, the successor the OS400 environment. Nothing Unix-like there.

The vendor is introducing its new OS functionality on Feb. 1 in a Webcast. If you're pining for a look at how a "non-standard" environment is making enhancements in 2006, you can sign up for the noon Eastern event at http://iseries.pentontech.com/t?ctl=1E616:1243BD