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IBM revamps AS/400 line

Big Blue goes to work on its high-end business computer offerings, consolidating two product lines and dropping an older chip.

IBM has revamped its high-end business computer offerings, consolidating two product lines and dropping an older chip.

IBM is also improving software and taking steps to make the AS/400 proprietary systems more open by using Java technology. The AS/400 line is designed for traditional business needs such as handling inventory, payroll, banking, or distribution. IBM's installed base of AS/400 systems worldwide is nearly 500,000 machines.

IBM will announce tomorrow that it has merged two categories of the AS/400 line, the 6xx series for handling transactions such as database applications and the Sxx series for use in more active client/server environments. The two lines will become the 7xx series, said Kathy Slouinski, product manager for IBM's AS/400 division in Atlanta.

Companies will be able to upgrade the 7xx series to handle a heavier server load by plugging in new add-in circuit boards, Slouinski said.

IBM also has completely dropped the "Apache" PowerPC AS50 chips in the AS/400 line, replacing it with the newer "Northstar" chip that IBM designed. The Northstar chip, introduced in 1998, has been used on the high and low ends of the AS/400 line, but now will be in use across the whole line, Slouinski said.

IBM's chip making arm is now concentrating its PowerPC chip designs on high-end servers and mainframe-class computers while Motorola focuses on Apple Macintosh chips.

IBM also is improving its OS/400 operating system to version V4R4, adding better security, more efficient handling of the Internet's native tongue, and improved Java technology. However, people upgrading their systems to take advantage of the new hardware won't be required to change from the older V4R3, she said.

In addition, at the lower end of its AS/400 line, IBM is adding a two-processor version of its model 170, she said, giving companies more room to grow without having to take the big step up to a 7xx system.

To make the proprietary AS/400 systems more open, IBM is focusing "tremendous resources" on getting Sun Microsystems' Java technology to run on the system. Java, with its promise of being able to write programs regardless of underlying hardware, will make it easier to develop software for the AS/400 machines, she said.

"We have to learn to work and play well with others," she said.