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IBM AS/400 Turns 25: Will It Last Another 25 Years?

By Sean Michael Kerner (Send Email)
Posted June 24, 2013


Some server operating systems were built to last the test of time. The IBM AS/400 is one such system.

The AS/400 (Application System/400) was first introduced by IBM 25 years ago in June of 1988, and it's a system that is still alive and well today in 2013. Though the core server operating operating system that constituted the AS/400 is still alive, the name AS/400 as a product brand is not. In 2008, IBM rebranded what had once been the AS/400 as System i.

"Today we call it the IBM i, because the 'I' stands for Integration," Ian Jarman, Business Unit Executive, Power Systems Lab Services & Training at IBM, told ServerWatch. "The integration operating environment runs today on our latest Power systems and also on our latest PureSystems."

The original AS/400 operating system was a combination of IBM's System 38 and System 36 that were merged together. Jarman explained that the AS/400 was actually the name of the hardware platform, while the operating system was originally known as the OS/400.

The AS/400 operating system from its birth 25 years ago has always been an integrated operating system that includes an IBM DB2 relational database.

In Jarman's view, the biggest change to the platform occurred in 2008, when the IBM i operating system was brought together with IBM's AIX Unix operating system and Linux onto the same Power server systems. IBM AS/400

PHP

When the AS/400 was first introduced the concept of open source software didn't really exist. In 2013, open source is a reality and IBM i integrates with the open source PHP language to further extend the platform.

"One of the areas of strongest growth for new applications on the platform is PHP, as people use it to link out to web and mobile applications," Jarman said.

RPG IV

When the AS/400 first debuted one of the most popular languages for programming on it was the RPG IV. As it turns out, 25 years later RPG IV is also still alive and well, too.

Jarman noted that just as the AS/400 has been transformed over the last 25 years, so too has RPG IV.

"RPG is an incredibly efficient transaction processing language," Jarman said.

He added that RPG now works well with other modern languages such as PHP and Java.

"You can put a PHP front-end with an RPG IV backend," Jarman said. "That combination is very popular because people that come from PHP are able to very easily familiarize themselves with the new RPG IV."

AS/400, AIX, Linux

When it comes to the open nature of the Power architecture, the IBM i, AIX and Linux operating systems can all exist on the same server, at the same time.

The multi-OS nature of Power is enabled by way of the PowerVM virtualization technology.

"The vast majority of our IBM i users today are using PowerVM to virtualize their systems," Jarman said. "It's very common for people to run a combination of operating systems because that's the way they can drive the highest efficiency."

The Next 25 Years

While IBM is now celebrating 25 years of the AS/400, it isn't resting on its laurels. There is a planned IBM i 7.2 release set for next year as development and innovation on the platform continue.

One of the areas where Jarman expects IBM i to grow is on the PureSystems portfolio. The IBM PureSystems approach itself is an integrated, storage, compute, networking and applications stack.

"PureSystems gives us the ability to run IBM i and Windows workloads or Linux on x86 workloads very efficiently together," Jarman said.

From the day that AS/400 debuted 25 years ago to the modern day, Jarman stressed that a key component of the architecture is that it has a technology-independent machine interface.

"Effectively what that does is it protects you from technology change," Jarman said. "It's difficult to predict the future, except to say that in next 25 years the technology underneath IBM i will fundamentally change."

The promise of the IBM i is that it is able to change as underlying hardware changes. It's a promise that could see the platform survive for the next 25 years.

"I'm very confident given that we made a big promise of technology independence 25 years ago with the AS/400 and we delivered on that promise, I'm very confident that people will be running IBM i applications 25 years from now."


Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.

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