The INS and outs of AS/400 server consolidation

IBM, with the introduction of the File Server IOP (FSIOP) board for the AS/400 signalled its drive for server consolidation by...

IBM, with the introduction of the File Server IOP (FSIOP) board for the AS/400 signalled its drive for server consolidation by allowing PC applications to be run under the covers of the AS/400. However, the current version, the INS (Integrated Netfinity Server), is only a 333 MHz single processor, which many users may consider insufficient to run today's processor intensive Windows applications, such as Terminal Server. What plans does IBM have to address this situation?

There have been three names for the AS/400 adapter that has on it an Intel processor and its own memory. Initially this was called the 'File Serving I/O Processor' (FSIOP), writes Nigel Adams. The name was clearly intended to convey the message that this device was to be used for an AS/400 to do File Serving for attached PCs.

There were a number of enhancements to the processor that was offered on this adapter. The second name that was given to this device was the 'Integrated PC Server' (IPCS). The renaming of this adapter was intended to convey the fact that it now had the capability to do far more than just file serving.

The most recent name change was to the 'Integrated Netfinity Server' (INS), and this change was more of a branding change, in as much as it was intended to show the affinity between IBM's range of Netfinity PC Servers, and the technology that we have on this AS/400 adapter. The latest version of the INS does indeed support an Intel 333 MHz Pentium II processor with a maximum of 1 GB of memory. It would be fair to say that this is not the most current of Intel processors, and if one scans the computer press you will certainly see adverts for PC Servers with processors that have much faster ratings. However, this is only part of the story.

Firstly, raw processor clock speed is only one element in overall system response time. We know this very well for the AS/400 itself - in complex business applications there are several elements which affect response times, and this is not just a factor of the processor speed. The speed with which data is read from and written to Dasd, the bus speed, the speed of data transfer across a Lan and or Wan, the amount of main storage available - all of these contribute to overall response time. The processor speed is thus just one element of overall response time, and exactly how important that element is will depend upon individual circumstances.

Secondly, it is true to say that it takes IBM time to develop and test a new version of the INS with a newer, faster Intel processor on it. Given the fact that the vast majority of AS/400s are used by customers for core line of business applications, and that as a consequence the overall reliability of the AS/400 is of critical importance, it is vital that any new hardware adapter is fully tested and reliable before IBM makes it generally available to customers. A delay in coming out with an INS with the latest Intel processor is, I am sure customers would agree, a price worth paying for ensuring that each new version has the sort of reliability that customers expect from their AS/400s.

Thirdly, and this is mentioned by the questioner, all iterations of this adapter have until now been single processors. Could not IBM improve performance by having an SMP version of the INS? I would by no means claim to be an expert on PC Servers, but my understanding is that SMP processors on these servers do not produce dramatic results in terms of improved performance, and certainly not the sort of benefits that we see from SMP versions of the PowerPC processor on the AS/400. However, there is no doubt that there are certain applications that would benefit from an SMP implementation of the INS.

IBM will be addressing the second and third points that I have mentioned above, and a Statement of Direction was issued early last year in this area. This announcement was to the effect that IBM will in the future be coming out with an SMP version of the INS. This SMP version will take the form of a standard IBM Netfinity PC Server, and this should allow IBM to address these two points.

Because this will be a standard Netfinity box, this will allow IBM to get the technology to market quicker than can be the case with internal AS/400 adapters; and because this is external to the AS/400, this will allow IBM to offer an SMP version. This SMP external version of the INS is not yet announced by IBM, and information about has only been issued in the form of this Statement of Direction.

However, it should be made clear that this does not mean that when this external version becomes available that IBM will no longer offer the internal version in the form of AS/400 adapters. The internal version will continue to be offered and will be enhanced. And there are several benefits that will continue to apply to the internal version - for example the floor space saving that results from these being standard AS/400 adapters that are located in the AS/400 towers; and the fact that the maintenance of these adapters is included in the maintenance costs of the AS/400 itself.

The external version will be an alternative, and will clearly be of particular interest to customers whose applications will benefit from SMP processors. However, the external version will offer the same fundamental benefits as are offered by the INS today - the easier administration, improved Dasd performance, AS/400 backup and recovery capabilities, for example - which make the internal INS such an attractive option today for AS/400 customers to run Windows NT.

In ending, though I want to emphasise the first point that I made above; and that is that even when the external SMP version of the INS becomes available, it will not change the fact that for very many applications the processor speed remains only a small part of overall system response times.

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