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IBM redesigns, renames iSeries for SMBs

IBM's iSeries product line is reincarnated as System i5 and aimed straight at small and midsized shops.

IBM is giving its iSeries product line a new name -- System i5 -- and introducing enhancements aimed at further simplifying IT operations for small and midsized businesses (SMBs).

The company said today that its new System i5 line can help SMBs cut costs associated with deploying Java applications, ease their transition to service-oriented architectures and provide them with new on-demand capabilities.

All four models of the System i5 line -- 520, 550, 570 and 595 -- will come with a Power5+ microprocessor, starting Feb. 14. This dual-core "system on a chip," said IBM, runs at speeds up to 2.2 GHz, and shows up to a 33% increase in performance over the current Power5-based iSeries models.

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The company is also announcing a new version of its integrated operating system, i5/OS V5R4, that promises to allow more flexibility to run Linux, AIX 5L and Microsoft Windows applications on the same system.

Bob Djurdjevic, president of Annex Research Inc. in Scottsdale, Ariz., said the most significant news for SMBs in today's IBM announcement was the company's new Accelerator feature.

For $13,500, companies that already use the AS/400 iSeries can add the Accelerator, a feature that allows companies to run Web-enabled and groupware solutions on the same system as their core business applications.

In a briefing of the System i5 advancement, IBM product manager Ian Jarman said the cost is comparable to the deployment price on a robust Windows/Intel server solution. "So it's a good deal in terms of price and performance, but secondly it is integrated on a single machine, so you don't have the cost and management of a second server," Jarman said.

Djurdjevic agreed. "It brings the latest technology, like Java, within reach of the midrange customer. That's not insignificant. Every new technology gives you better bang for the buck. You either get the same power for less money or the more power for the same amount of money. Some of that was not accessible to these customers until now," he said.

Growing with SMBs

Tom Moore, vice president and CIO of Baker Distributing Co. in Jacksonville, Fla., a wholesale distributor of HVAC and refrigeration products, recently tested the 550 iSeries with a dual processor. "The 400 series has so much power that you can get in at a good price at the low end -- and you have so much upward mobility that you can max the durn thing out if you want," Moore said.

Baker Distributing, with 195 branch locations in 17 states, is a subsidiary of the publicly held Watsco Inc. in Coconut Grove, Fla. Moore, a longtime IBM customer, said he ran the 550 when the company consolidated all its buildings to a single data center. To make matters more complicated, a sister company, Gemaire Distributors LLC, also in Florida, was operating out of Jacksonville for a week after it was forced to evacuate because of hurricane damage. "We had significant fear of what could happen if we could not support our stores, or support Gemaire's stores," Moore said. But, he added, "It went great."

Today IBM tried to sweeten the deal for new customers of the System i5 product line. The IBM i5 520 two-way model offers a new on-demand feature that enables companies to switch on a second processor ($1,800) temporarily to handle peak-season use, or permanently to support business growth without paying for managing a second server.

Analyst Mike Kahn, a longtime admirer of the iSeries, said the product line's midmarket focus means that it is often overlooked by the technology community. "This is the most underrated, undiscovered thing IBM has," said Kahn, chairman of technology advisors The Clipper Group Inc. in Wellesley, Mass. "IBM has been cranking up the investment on this platform and the midmarket.

Kahn said he believes the key to System i5's success, before and after these improvements, is its ease of use. "You don't have to be a systems programmer to manage the set of applications. But it is a good-to-great platform depending on your needs, with a very high level of virtualization so you don't have to worry about the physicality of the hardware," he said.

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