IBM is refreshing its entire i5 product line and re-branding the iSeries as the System i5 -- which includes an upgrade to the new Power5+ processor, a move to virtual tape and better integration with Windows servers. Big Blue is also offering its capacity on demand feature for its 520 models to give smaller shops more flexibility.
The new operating system, V5R4, features new ways to integrate with other platforms, including Java and Windows, as well as some other tools. This is the largest release since V5R3 was launched in May 2004, coinciding with the announcement of Power5.
All models of System i5 are getting Power5+ chips, aside from the iSeries 595. Back in October of last year when Power5+ came out on the pSeries, IBM was tight lipped about when or if the iSeries would get the upgrade.
Clay Ryder, president of Union City, Calif.-based Sageza said that the performance gains were definitely significant, but he could see why IBM wouldn't want to focus on it with so many other features being released.
"Every year we expect computers to do more with less. It's a chip upgrade, but it's not a big architecture switch. It's a nice slope on the increment, but it's nothing new," Ryder said.
Capacity on demand, Accelerator for 520 editions
Another new feature for the System i5 isn't entirely new either. IBM has long had on-demand processing available for its larger iSeries boxes, but now Big Blue is offering it to the SMB market on the 520 editions.
IBM is adding a feature called Accelerator to its smallest iSeries boxes. According to Jarman, this will allow small companies to add an application, such as Lotus, to their iSeries boxes that will run alongside traditional apps. It prevents them from having to buy another server.
Also new for the 520, the capacity on demand feature used on larger machines is now available on the 520 Standard and Enterprise editions. It will allow companies to turn on a second processor for $1800.
"These upgrades are targeted at the traditional iSeries customer, the SMBs," Jarman said.
According to Ryder, the new on-demand processing capability for the 520 boxes is a differentiator for IBM with smaller customers and he expects that flexibility to be a selling point.
Windows integration, BladeCenter product preview
One of the recurring themes in this launch was better integration with Windows. The company is improving the iSeries' integration with Windows for databases and storage management. And that's something Ryder said iSeries pros should get behind.
"The iSeries is really good resource for managing Windows. Better integration is great," Ryder said. "Anything that brings the iSeries into the Windows space is a good thing. It's underused by the platform."
And on the hardware side, IBM is offering a product preview for attaching more Windows servers to iSeries machines. A new iSCSI Host Bus Adapter (HBA) for System i5 connects xSeries systems and BladeCenter products via Ethernet cables and switches. It requires an iSCSI HBA in each xSeries or blade server and supports Windows Server 2003.
IBM claims the integration will allow shops to exploit the iSeries virtual storage and to streamline communication between Windows & i5/OS applications with virtual Ethernet.
"We're providing a SAN for these Windows servers. Many people find the iSeries cost effective to manage storage," Jarman said.
In addition to better integration with Microsoft, there are a number of other features:
Dan Reusche, a Search400.com expert and a senior systems administrator at Think Federal Credit Union in Rochester, Minn. said his shop is shop isn't taking advantage of Web services yet, but enhancements to RPG are always good. "We're happy any time IBM is investing in RPG."
And while he sees a lot of potential for the new release, he's not eager to kick the tires yet. "We didn't get to [V5R3] until late last year. We let the release mature before we put it on. Any new release is going to have a few more bugs in the first six months."
More features for this roll out include auditing across networks so if someone scans your open TCIP ports, that event would be logged. There is increased hardware storage protection ensuring the security of the microcode layer -- IBM is providing ISVs that use the microcde APIs to work around it. The platform is also implementing RAID 6 for the first time.
Also, there is a new feature that will help make it easier to save and store spool files. This is important for compliance regulations. Many companies create thousands of spool files. And though spool files aren't an issue at Reusche's company, he thought updating the spool file process might be huge for other iSeries pros.
Lastly, IBM is offering virtual tape on the platform, allowing you to back up to disk, saving on tape volume and helping rapid backup. Reusche said the move to virtual tape could be very significant for his shop and many users if it sped up the backup process.
This release comes at a major turning point for the platform, with a strong sales rebound in 2005. But revenues nosedived in the final quarter of last year and a lot is riding on this release over the next few months.
"Since this announcement was rumored for a long time, the iSeries really took a hit in Q4." Ryder said. "The holiday season makes it a short quarter. Throw on top of it that something better might be available in five weeks and all of the sudden sales guys are calling and no one is answering the phone."
Ryder said if Q1 2006 is negative, then it will be time to ask if the upward trajectory of 2005 is over.
Let us know what you think about the story; e-mail: Matt Stansberry, News Editor