In one of the biggest server changes that IBM has made in recent years, the company has announced that its System i midrange machines will become part of a new product line that will support every operating system in IBM's portfolio except the ones for its mainframes.
In effect, IBM is unifying its System i and System p servers.
The customers most affected by the creation of the new Power Systems hardware line are System i users, many of whom run core business applications — often custom-built — on the venerable mid-range platform.
The newly unified product line will be based on IBM's Power6 processors and will support the operating system from the System i as well as Linux and IBM's AIX variant of Unix. In addition, IBM plans to release blade servers that can support all of those operating systems plus Windows.
As part of the change, IBM is trying to reassure System i users in particular that they will be able to move to the new hardware seamlessly. Making the change "will not be at all disruptive", says Mark Shear, vice president of marketing for IBM's business systems. He added that the current release of the mid-range operating system will run on the integrated platform.
But IBM rarely makes product changes without renaming things, sometimes in a confusing fashion, and it didn't disappoint in that regard here. The company is claiming a letter of the alphabet as the sole identifier of the System i operating system, which until now was called i5/OS. Starting Wednesday, the software will be known simply as IBM i.
The unified hardware path was forecast when the company began using Power chips in the System i servers several years ago. Over the years, some System i users have expressed concern about IBM's long-term support for the mid-range line and questioned whether the company was spending enough money on marketing and development of new support among application vendors.
Shear insists that IBM remains committed to the mid-range technology and that the switch to a unified hardware line will raise the visibility of the IBM i operating system among enterprise users. "We have a huge i client base that runs mission-critical applications on the [operating system]," he says.
Joe Clabby, an analyst at Clabby Analytics, says he thinks that the continued success of IBM i is dependent on IBM's ability to continue to entice application developers to support the operating system. As long as the company can do that, IBM i has a strong future, Clabby says.
For IBM itself, the decision to unify the System i and System p hardware lines means that it doesn't have to invest research and development dollars in separate platforms and can focus more on its operating systems and applications. "This eliminates an expense for them," Clabby says.