IBM Gives iSeries the On-demand Makeover

It didn’t take long for Big Blue to start retooling its iSeries line, did it? A week and a half after Armonk, N.Y.’s IBM announced that Lotus division general manager Al Zollar was taking charge of the server line, IBM Monday unveiled the transformation of its iSeries family, including new products, geared for on-demand e-business.

The systems vendor unveiled four new servers, including the eServer iSeries 870 and 825 models, which join the king-of-the-hill i890 at the high-end of the family. All three models are capable of running OS/400, Windows, Linux and Unix. On the small to medium enterprises front, the firm also issued a the iSeries 810 and 800 as new low-end machines. The iSeries 800 is a new single processor model, starting at $9,995. The new boxes will be powered by IBM’s vaunted POWER4 processors.

According to iSeries Product Manager Ian Jarman, the major point of attraction in the transformed server line, which looks to help customers save money and time by allowing them to scale if they need it, is the new temporary capacity-on-demand (CoD) upgrade feature for the high-end models (i870, i825, i890).

While many IBM systems feature permanent capacity-on-demand features, Jarman said the new “on/off” style of CoD allows customers to turn on processors when they need them, and turn them off when they don’t. As opposed to hardware sitting around, and going to waste, customers pay only for what they use. Customers can choose between the new temporary or standby permanent CoD.

While the smaller i800 and i810 servers don’t feature capacity on demand, they do have logical partitioning (LPAR), which is the division of a computer’s guts into multiple resources so that each set can be operated independently with its own operating system and applications. With this, Jarman said, Linux and Windows coexist on the server.

No less important in the revamped line is the integration of IBM’s WebSphere Application Server Express on all iSeries models. The company hopes to empower small and medium enterprises to build and manage Web sites is now supported on all iSeries models.

It’s also a major area where Zollar’s software expertise from the Lotus division will come into play, Jarman said.

Mary DeGiglio, Principal Analyst for the Robert Frances Group lauded IBM’s strategy, which she said is an aggressively-priced play in a time when the economic climate demands different pricing structures to accommodate cash-strapped IT departments who need the facility to operate, but can’t afford to go all out.

“Capacity-on-demand, which existed on the mainframe for a while, is an attractive feature,” DeGiglio told “But the iSeries is an excellent starting place because of the huge range of customers it caters to — from small-medium enterprise to the customers that boast into $2 or $3 billion a year in revenue. The temporary upgrade on demand is a huge boon to end-user customers and services provider.”

DeGiglio also said the fact that IBM’s server lines are not “independent silos of technology” goes along way in helping IBM make sure their machines evolve to meet customer demand. As for the software/hardware integration aspects, the “fact that they are offering WebSphere Express, Tivoli, and other products helps clients so they don’t have to go buy piece parts in another way of fulfilling their promise” for on-demand computing.

With the iSeries line metamorphosis comes the burden of pricing changes. For that IBM introduced simplified packaging and software pricing options. The standard edition supports e-business applications and includes the capability to run multiple operating systems, Capacity Upgrade on Demand and dynamic logical partitioning. The enterprise edition supports all of those and DB2, WebSphere, Lotus and Tivoli middleware, as well as training and services. This format also offers free processor activation for Linux on the iSeries 870 and iSeries 890, and an integrated IBM eServer xSeries for Windows integration.

The new IBM eServer iSeries models are slated to roll out Feb. 21.