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Selling Linux to AS/400 Shops? 68

cgh4be asks: "I work for an IBM business partner and each year we host a technology seminar for our customers, most of which have AS/400 backgrounds. I am the 'Linux guy' at work and have been chosen to give a 1 hour presentation to these IBMers about linux. So, my question to the Slashdot community is, what points and information should I touch on in this presentation to make it effective? I'd like to give some history about it of course, but the goal is to get them to start using it in their businesses."
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Selling Linux to AS/400 Shops?

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  • by Corporate Troll ( 537873 ) on Friday August 30, 2002 @06:22AM (#4168870) Homepage Journal
    My question is: why?
    AS/400 are decent machines with a good operating system. It has the virtue to "just work". I'm not really sure you would want to replace an AS/400 with a Linux box. The AS/400 is -after all- a proven and stable platform.
    I'm all for Linux, but not in this category of hardware.
    • So I'm a little biased -- I've never sat down and used OS/400. But I did read through a bit of documentation, and I was thoroughly disgusted with what the OS sounds like. All commands are typed in in caps, in condensed combinations of verbs, then become lower case?

      WRKSYSCTX is "work within the system context"?

      The directory structure was something like an Apple II, the languages available were from the *Dark Ages*, and the prices obscene.

      Why on earth would anyone *ever* want to use OS/400 over *any* variant of UNIX?
      • Why? Try tested, reliabile 24/7 uptime for mission critical applications. We use as/400 at my hospital for storing patient admission data, among other things. The command system is archaic, but it works, and it is extremely reliable.

        • Okay, my posts here are starting to sound like trolls, but I'm going to keep working at this point.

          I've heard about a lot of systems billed as being "reliable". Windows folks call Windows 2k "reliable" and say they never have a problem with their servers, that they've been up for months. Linux folks call Linux more reliable than Windows, and say the same thing about their servers. Ditto for the BSD guys, the Sun guys, and evidently for the IBM guys.

          So here's what I want to know -- I'll give you that the system is reliable, but that's only meaningful in the presence of unreliable alternatives. Are you claiming that an AS/400 box running OS/400 is more reliable than a BSD box, or a Solaris box, or a Linux box? I've never seen any of these just spontaneously fail or kernel panic...

          • To add to that, I'd ask why go with AS/400 when for similar cost and much better interface/usability, you could do a Linux or Sun cluster? Could the reliability of an AS/400 box really match a 10-box failover cluster on Intel or Sparc?
            • To add to that, I'd ask why go with AS/400 when for similar cost and much better interface/usability, you could do a Linux or Sun cluster?

              The easy answer is: the software was originally written for AS400 -- and moving it off would take time and money and risk having an unstable system -- at least until you get all of the bugs out.

              In time, moving to a comoditized system might be a good idea. but in the meantime, "you gotta dance with the one that brung 'ya".

          • You don't sound like a troll. I think you might want to read S390 vs Unix servers.

            To add to that I think reliability issue is in terms of operators not programmer / users. Jobs (think cron jobs) that are 30 years old have migrated from system to system to system with no porting and were configured automatically. Unix doesn't even attempt to offer this kind of service. Would you feel comfortable taking a BSD application and running it without having to chech on a Linix box? Would you be comfortable having people with a high school education and a few weeks training carrying out most day to day system administration tasks on multiple Unix servers (since you would need many of them to replace a single mainframe)? That's a very different notion of reliability than what Unix or Win2K even claims to offer.

      • Look, I never used a AS/400 either. My dad did and still is full of it. He still acclaims the elegance, the ease of use (relatively speaking) and the power of the filesystem. Actually the filesystem, which looks more than a database, is what did it to him. He feels seriously restricted on Windows (he didn't touch Unix, and the only thing he knows is that this network shares on our home-network are on OpenBSD) with it's puny filesystem.
        It's just what you are used to, what matters. I'd probably select a *BSD solution for any problem I get to solve because I'm a *BSD guy. You prefer Windows or Linux?'ll probably choose that.

        Beside, one large point people tend to forget is that AS/400 are used in enterprises, often with custom-made applications. The worth of the machine is mostly in those custom-made applications that matured over years and years. Porting those is either expensive or a titanesque task.
        And honestly? Do you think "ps -auxw" is anything less cryptic than the example you gave. If you answer me "yes", you are just biased because you have issued that command a million times. Try to think back to the day you first issued it and thought how neat it was....

        • Do you think "ps -auxw" is anything less cryptic than the example you gave.

          You make a good point -- I do take this for granted. However, this is also one of the more cryptic UNIX commands. Hmm. I think I should rephrase this. There are a lot of UNIX admins running around (compared to OS/400), so for better or for worse, a Solaris guy can get along pretty well on Linux. The commands are well-known by quite a few people.

          On OS/400, however, the situation is worse, even assuming an equivalent level of "crypticness" because many people have to learn the OS for the first time.

          The obvious attack against me is "Well, there are more MCSEs than UNIX admins, so UNIX also takes a penalty for being cryptic." I *agree* with this -- but UNIX is also being quite accomodating (because it has to be) to that majority of users, making available to them Windows-like environments like GNOME, and GUI administrative tools.

          So OS/400 should have to do *more* work to be appealing to the average admin than Windows or even UNIX does...and it doesn't seem to be that it does.

          Finally, I stand by my complaint that the programming environment is less than impressive -- the languages are really old. OS/400 programmers *might* just have have a deep love for COBOL or something, but it would really frusterate me.

          You are right about the legacy custom apps, but that doesn't excite me about OS/400 -- it just makes me think "People *have* to use OS/400" rather than that "People *want* to use OS/400". It's the same frusteration I see when someone's written something for Win32 or the MacOS that I'd like to use on UNIX (or, occasionally, some other variant of UNIX).
          • I don't think I gave "the most cryptic" example, it was just the first that came to mind. Now 'grep' comes to mind. I still don't know what 'grep' means but I know it is a regular expression searcher. For 'ps' I at least know it means processes
            If you're problem is *learning* a new Operating System then you are just lazy. Honestly, I never ever touched a AS/400, but if you gave me a manual and an account on an AS/400 I'd be learning fast. Honestly, if you are scared of the command line, you are not on your place as System Administrator. Heck, you know...I'd love to be an AS/400 admin. Stable platform, not too much trouble (well, mayhem if something goes wrong) and you are a rare bird so you have a very good salary. How does that sound?

            Finally look at the AC comment. I didn't know it had that many languages but I knew that RPG, COBOL and Java are supported. I think a great many people want to work with the AS/400...and my dad is one of them.

            • General Regular Expression Parser

              now you know, and knowing is half the battle.

            • From The Jargon File []...

              grep /grep/ vi.

              [from the qed/ed editor idiom g/re/p, where re stands for a regular expression, to Globally search for the Regular Expression and Print the lines containing matches to it, via Unix [] grep(1)] To rapidly scan a file or set of files looking for a particular string or pattern (when browsing through a large set of files, one may speak of `grepping around'). By extension, to look for something by pattern. "Grep the bulletin board for the system backup schedule, would you?" See also vgrep [] .

              [It has been alleged that the source is from the title of a paper "A General Regular Expression Parser", but dmr confirms the g/re/p etymology -ESR]

      • Sorry, but it is impossible to pass judgement on OS/400 if you have no experience with it. It's a COMPLETELY different way of thinking about operating systems, and it's simply not comparable with Unix or Windows. I come from a Linux/Windows background, and I'm still trying to get my head around the /400 mindset after working with it for a few months. Oh, and the filesystem you don't like? It's DB/2. Think about how cool that is for a minute. It's easy to look at something different and immediately dismiss it as *wrong*, but we don't have that sort of ignorance here on Slashdot...right? ...right?
        • Sorry, but it is impossible to pass judgement on OS/400 if you have no experience with it. It's a COMPLETELY different way of thinking about operating systems, and it's simply not comparable with Unix or Windows.

          Fair enough.

          I come from a Linux/Windows background, and I'm still trying to get my head around the /400 mindset after working with it for a few months.

          That statement, though, also illustrates what I'm frusterated with. /400 is *not* all that accessable to most people.

          Also, there's plenty of good documentation and help for UNIX systems available on the Internet -- this is not true (unless I'm missing something) for OS/400. ...we don't have that sort of ignorance here on Slashdot...right? ...right?

          It's ignorance that gives us conversations. If we already all knew everything, there'd be no point in talking to each other -- Slashdot wouldn't exist. :-)
      • by Anonymous Coward
        The create account program is not working.

        Where on earth did you get the idea that commands must be typed in upper case? I've been working with OS/400 since before its announcement 14 yaers ago, and I've never keyed a command in upper case, unless the caps lock key was on. The system doesn't care.
        • Some of the (very little) bit of documentation on OS/400 that I could find on the Internet implied this -- not that one had to keep commands upper case, but that the system did so automatically. I'm used to an OS that distinguishes between case in commands, so this is a bit of a drawback for me.

          I could be wrong -- this is some of the only OS/400 documentation that I could *find* freely available. It was a chapter excerpted from a book.

          I was kind of interested in learning about OS/400, so I wanted to read up a bit about it. There was very little freely available information, though. This was terribly frusterating to me, because there's plenty of UNIX information available on the Internet.

          I hold IBM somewhat responsible for this -- it costs them very little to give out information to the Internet at large, and yet they do not do so. Unless you're a shop prepared to drop quite a chunk of change on propriatary hardware, IBM salespeople aren't going to be very interested in giving you information -- and even if I was, I'd want my evaluation of the system to be based on my *own* interpretation of what I can read about the system, not on what I'm fed by the salespeople ("99.99% uptime! Foo Technology! IBM 24/7 support!"). Oh, yes. IBM does sell (*very expensive*) classes/seminars (oriented towards training to perform specific operations, from what I've seen) to teach people about OS/400. So if you're willing to drop quite a bit of money to learn about an OS that you may not want to use, you can get some information. However, others end up SOL. And I'm in the latter class.
      • WRKSYSCTX is "work within the system context"?

        WRK = work

        SYS = system

        CTX = context

        All of the OS/400 commands are like this. Three character 'words' combined in strings of one, two, or three 'words' as in your example.

        There were exceptions. WRKSPLF for example,

        WRK = work

        SPL = spool

        F = file

        Note that WRK is always work. This is true for all of the three character codes. This made the commands easy to learn and remember. Contrast with *nix, where each command name has to be learned separately.

        And it is not in condensed combinations of verbs, it is verb noun modifier.

        As to the all caps requirement, are you sure that wasn't just a convention in the document you were reading to distinguish commands from the other text? OS/400 has no such restriction.

        Steve M

      • OS/400 commands are incredibly logical, as explained in another post above me. Once you learn the logic behind it, you can pretty much guess the name of the command you need. Try saying that about Unix. cat? grep? In what way do those names make sense?

        To make things even easier OS/400 gives you an abundance of assistance with command parameters. Type in a command and press F4 and you are then prompted with all possible parameters for the command. And the parameter explanations are written in plain english. The F4 trick works from anywhere, even within system utilities. If you need to change a setting, but don't know what options are available, hit F4 for a list. If you hit F4 on a blank command line, you will be given a menu that helps you find the utility you need. Very helpful.

        In addition, OS/400 has better online help than any operating system ever. If you type in a command and hit F1, you get detailed help for that command, written in plain, easy to understand english. Try saying that about man pages. Also if you are in a utility and you move the cursor over to something you don't understand, press F1 and you will get help on that component of the utility. Help on OS/400 is incredibly useful.

        You shouldn't dis an OS you know nothing about.

    • AS/400 are decent machines with a good operating system. It has the virtue to "just work". I'm not really sure you would want to replace an AS/400 with a Linux

      How about cost of hardware? OS/400 will only run on iSeries (the new name for AS/400) hardware. Sure, the hardware is top notch, but very expensive. Top end iSeries servers can cost upwards of $20,000. You can get a high-endish x86 box for a tenth of that cost.

      Another inhibiting thing with OS/400 is licensing. OS/400 is not cheap, and upgrades are not free. IBM is very strict with Client Access licencing. You need a licence to use many aspect of the OS which a linux user would take for granted. You even need a licence for 5250 emulator, which is the defacto terminal screen.

      The only downside I see is the abundance of RPG programs on OS/400, which would somehow need to be ported. I am not an RPG programmer, so I don't know how hard this might be.

      • This always comes back when we start to talk about servers here on slashdot. I'll state it bluntly: you cannot use a x86 as a real server. A x86 server is just a glorified desktop used to run sevices. To get a halfway decent x86 server you have to go for at least a quad-CPU, lotsa high-bandwidth RAM, preferably SCSI-RAID disks. For 1/10 of $20,000 you won't get what I call "decent". Do some searches, such a setup will cost a lot after a while.
        But it doesn't stop here. Imagine that nice little x86 disks of the RAID blows. Good luck on finding exactly the same model again! You will not find it. Buy a disk today, in one year that exact model of disk will not exist anymore. This is why you pay IBM so much for a AS/400 and it's support: to get you back working as fast as possible. These machines are not used to run a webserver where a day downtime is accetable or can be replaced with an identical box transparently. Besides: don't say "Compaq" servers...they suck at hardware support. They even didn't have the caddie for the above mentioned SCSI-RAID for a 2 year old server! I talk out of experience.
        You mention upgrades. Upgrades are quite frequent in the x86 world. I now specifically mean Windows which has the typical cost, but honestly, how many servers are there still running 2.0.x kernels for Linux. Upgrade cylces for AS/400 are slower, and you do not need to. They usually support server versions "below" the "current" version and they will not force you to buy new machinery. These machines, are bought for 10 years, your x86 box won't even last 1/5th of it.

        Granted for the licenses. But we talk about bussinesses with the money. Companies usually do not complain about Oracle licenses either. This is exactly the same.
        And the big winner for the AS/400 are of course the thousands and thousands of legacy application. And as for big bussiness-critical machines, the old adage of "if it isn't broken, don't fix it" counts double!
        Note: RPG existed for DOS, so I can assue it exists for Windows. Probably some looney even wrote an Open Source version ;-)

        • Open source RPG, 'fraid not. Oh how I've looked. The problem is that you would also need a DDS and probably CL compiler. Plus support for data areas and user spaces.

          None of the above is insurmountable but no one is going to write it, I've toyed with the idea but in the end decided against.

          What could be done is a new Linux shell ASS, 'AS/400 Shell' :-) More likely called QCMD :-(

          I've wondered if someone in Rochester doesn't have an emulator for AS/400 hardware similar to the OS/390 emulator. Have a copy of OS/400 for this emulator, ta da instant training environment.
          • Don't laugh... but just as you, I checked Open Source RPG implementation because my dad wanted the "feel" back on his PC. Didn't find a thing, but I did mention it in the hope someone would know perhaps somewhere to look.
            Yeah, an OS/400 emulator would be way cool. Perfect for low-cost training/testing/development.

              If your dad wants he can rent time on a real honest to goodness AS/400 at the above link. It's very reasonable rates and has all the tools he'll need.
            • Somewhat irrelevant, but I have seen some S/390/zSeries systems on a PCI card that are designed for development workstations. The cost, IIRC, was on the order of a new PC--$2k or so. I'd guess you could find iSeries too, but they'd cost as much.

        • But it doesn't stop here. Imagine that nice little x86 disks of the RAID blows. Good luck on finding exactly the same model again! You will not find it. Buy a disk today, in one year that exact model of disk will not exist anymore.

          We actually have 3 IBM xSeries servers here. All are SMP Xeon systems. All have RAID. When a disk fails, we call IBM and are sent a new one. Simple. I will agree that a DIY solution will have this problem, but I was never advocating running the shop on a homemade server.

          But my first point still stands. I wouldn't call a quad Xeon 700 with 4 gigs of RAM a "glorified desktop". IBM even sells these things to run Linux, if you prefer that to Windows. Granted it isn't in the same league as a Power4 server running AIX, but it is hardly a toy. For a business stuck with an old AS/400, the cost to upgrade to something more robust can be very restrictive. This is not an issue for large corporations (who tend to be the places using iSeries, anyway), but smaller businesses can get much more computing power by going the x86 route.

          I don't even know what I am arguing anymore. I am not advocating to replace all AS/400's with x86 hardware, but there are certainly instances where it is feasible.
  • What sold you (Score:4, Informative)

    by ObviousGuy ( 578567 ) <> on Friday August 30, 2002 @06:25AM (#4168874) Homepage Journal
    You must believe that Linux is a better choice for some reason. You're going to tell them that this young, haphazardly developed, upstart OS is a better choice than a mature, thoroughly architected, industry standard OS.

    I think you'd better tell us, rather than the other way around.
    • Re:What sold you (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Twylite ( 234238 )

      One person's mature standard is another's legacy nightmare.

      • Re:What sold you (Score:3, Interesting)

        by foobar104 ( 206452 )
        One person's mature standard is another's legacy nightmare.

        As usual, the specific comment that appears to disparage Linux sits quietly at 1, while the vague, practically meaningless comment that appears to disparage the commercial incumbent gets moderated up.

        While of course your comment is true, in the most literal sense, it's about as insightful as the old saying, "One man's food is another man's garbage." Okay, but... so what?

        Can you give an example of an AS/400 system being a legacy nightmare? I know a company that uses an AS/400 for their billing system, or some such similar app. While it's different and has to be learned-- as opposed to Windows or UNIX, which many people already know-- nobody there will go so far as to call it a nightmare. In fact, the reliability has been the subject of praise on more than one occasion.

        Can you back your assertion up somehow?
        • Re:What sold you (Score:2, Interesting)

          by ObviousGuy ( 578567 )
          the specific comment that appears to disparage Linux sits quietly at 1 :-) Well, I wouldn't say disparage. Linux is a young, upstart OS. And it's development is the result of a haphazard process that is shepherded by Linux, Alan, and the distro makers. Every distro is different, emphasizing the things that the makers felt was important.

          Now he's probably pitching IBM Linux (does it have a name?), so it's pretty trustworthy if only for the fact that a large corporate entity is backing it. However, why would a person switch away from systems that, as you say, is renowned for reliability?

          Linux has some really good features, but if the salesman doesn't know what they are, how can he convince anyone else?
          • Well, I wouldn't say disparage. Linux is a young, upstart OS. And it's development is the result of a haphazard process that is shepherded by Linux, Alan, and the distro makers.

            Yeah, I figured that's what you meant. That's why I said "appears to disparage."
        • Not even vaguely - this is a clear generalisation. I have no experience with AS/400. However, in my expierience, there is often a reluctance to move to new technologies, and the justification is often to cite them as "immature" and "unproven", whether this is or it not the fact.

          I would contend that Linux as an operating system - not all of the junk on top, just the basics - is a proven, stable and reliable system. It runs a significant number of high-uptime, high-volume hosts on the Internet, and has the support of three major vendors of top-end hardware (Sun, HP and IBM).

          On the other hand, I firmly believe that if a system works, and does what it is needed to do, don't screw with it. This is, however, completely at odds with the sales strategies of most IT companies.

          I am surprised that as an "IBM business partner" the article's author hasn't consulted IBM on how THEY are intending to push Linux to their customers.

          • Not even vaguely - this is a clear generalisation.

            Well, that's refreshing. ;-)

            I would contend that Linux as an operating system - not all of the junk on top, just the basics - is a proven, stable and reliable system.

            I don't agree, but my reason is pretty specific. The 2.4 series has been an absolute disaster as far as stability and reliability goes. The decision to make major changes to the VM system, among other things, to a point release of the kernel was unwise in the extreme.

            Now, that's not to say that Linux can't be made stable and reliable. I had a server at the office, for instance, that just sat there and ran peacefully for months and months, until the point where I literally forgot it was there. (It was running Conserver with some USB-serial devices.) But that was only after weeks of building kernels, downloading patches, trying again, and kernel panic after kernel panic after kernel panic. And all I was trying to do was to use more than one USB-serial device!

            If what you're looking for is an out-of-the-box Red Hat install on fully supported hardware, to run Samba or Apache/Tomcat or PostgreSQL or something, then I have no doubts that Linux will serve you well. But for anything more complex, I'd be very humble in recommending it. Because when it's right, it's right, but when it's wrong, it sucks.

            This is all, of course, in contrast to AS/400 or iSeries or whatever they're calling it now. The OS/400 operating system has been, in my extremely limited experience, a picture of reliability for years now. That kind of contrast makes it hard to talk about using Linux for the same jobs you'd choose AS/400-slash-OS/400 for. Of course, somebody upthread mentioned using Linux for low-cost development systems and AS/400s as the production platform, which sounds like a pretty good idea to me. Not replacing AS/400 with Linux, but complementing it.
            • And you were using Linux on these USB-serial devices because?

              Oh, yeah, OS/400 doesn't support USB and you didn't have source for Windows to modify the drivers for this purpose. So you wouldn't recommend linux for anything complex? But there might not be any other alternative, as in your example.

              Now, let me also state that I don't think that Linux is the only OS out there. There probably are a few things for which it isn't the best suited OS. Also let me state that doing "normal" type stuff, I haven't had any significant issues with the 2.4 kernel. I use Linux as my desktop and server OS and do development on it as well (at home). I do use USB for cameras and CF cards, but not for serial stuff. I realize that this isn't what you were doing but as I pointed out, you were likely breaking new ground.
              • And you were using Linux on these USB-serial devices because? Oh, yeah, OS/400 doesn't support USB and you didn't have source for Windows to modify the drivers for this purpose.

                What? No. I would have loved to have used Windows for this. But I only get so much discretionary budget every year, and a license for Windows plus the software I'd have needed was money I didn't want to spend, even though it would only have set us back a couple thousand bucks. (The fast majority of that, obviously, was the software I wanted to use.)

                Like everybody else, I chose Linux because I had more time than money. That situation has since changed, so we (just this week, in fact) replaced the Linux box with a dedicated terminal server appliance from Nortel. It's much, much better. But the Linux box got us through a lean time, and it was fine for that.

                I realize that this isn't what you were doing but as I pointed out, you were likely breaking new ground.

                Which is the problem really. I don't want to break new ground. I've got better things to do with my time than break new ground. If you're talking about something like a financial institution, or maybe a large manufacturing business, they've definitely got better things to do than to break new ground. Which is why I would never recommend Linux to anybody unless their needs were simple.
          • Re:What sold you (Score:3, Insightful)

            by sphealey ( 2855 )
            Not even vaguely - this is a clear generalisation. I have no experience with AS/400. However, in my expierience, there is often a reluctance to move to new technologies, and the justification is often to cite them as "immature" and "unproven", whether this is or it not the fact
            From roughly 1985 to 2000, the personal computer advocates and suppliers very successfully pushed the idea that "new is better" and "wizzier is better than dull". For better or for worse, that's the direction that many organizations took. An implicit assumption grew up in the IT industry (as opposed to Data Processing or Information Systems) that anything "old" (AS/400, S/370, etc.) was automatically obsolete and doomed. Some organizations were very successful with this way of thinking; many were not.

            Now however, for good or for ill, I believe that kind of thinking is going away. Just as one doesn't change out the foundation of a house without very good reason, organizations are going to need to see some demonstrable business benefit from changing out a working, stable IS infrastructure item. The argument that "its a dinosaur" will no longer be an automatic win.


            • Walk into the basement of the IMC at the EDS Plano campus. There's a hell of a lot of AS/400s chugging away. I don't doubt that a lot of folks decided that old systems were on the way out, but real DP shops don't toss a solid performer on a whim.

  • AS/400 units are database servers. Sure, you can get an web server, and a firewall on the unit, but they all run out of a database anyway. The neat feature of AS/400 units that I like is I can ftp to a directory, and upload files, and they are added to the database.

    Linux is much better in the other services that AS/400 units don't cover very well, but that they can cover. Such as firewalls, mail servers, file servers, and they could be used as a way to interoperate with winblows... oh, don't forget... if you get db2 for linux, you can run your database on linux and do an offsite remote sync up.
    • Interesting...can you explain this a bit more to those of us who've never seen an AS/400 in operation? After I upload a file and it's added to a database (a db2 database or some other hidden format?) is it queryable? Can I somehow "select uloaded files from sometable where upload_date between $thisdate and $thatdate" ?

      I know that Microsoft is planning to dramatically integrate database functions into the filesystem in an upcoming version of windows (Longhorn? Yukon? I forget)...but it seems that once again MS is not the innovators, that maybe someone did it long before them :))

      • The database on an AS/400 is not a separate service - it is integrated into the operating system. All files are treated, more or less, as database tables. Any file (in OS/400 terms, a "Physical File") can be queried at any time.

        To select files that were created within a specific timeframe, you would dump a list of files and their attributes in a given directory (IBM calls them "libraries") to a temporary file. This temporary file could then be queried as a database table, selecting files with specific attributes, such as a creation date within a given range.

        For some reason, IBM has a different name for everything. Here are a few rough translations:

        IPL = reboot (Initial Program Load)
        DASD = disk space
        Physical File = File/Database Table
        Logical File = Index/View
        Library = Directory
        • *Shudder*
          I remember being a young tapeape with some (DOS 6.0, Windows 3.11 and Windows95 at home) computing experience. An eject job hung and I was told to call the computer operator with the silo number and ask him to do his magic. I made the call and got an earful of "you trashed my job" that made little or no sense to me. At some point or another I made the uninformed suggestion that he simply reboot his computer to repair the hung job. I'm surprised I haven't lost all hearing in the ear that was pressed to the phone.
          It isn't just the names that are different - it's the whole damn way of seeing the world that's different.

      • It's been a while since I've touched an AS/400 (and my last gig involving them was 99% programming under its System/36 emulator with COBOL), so please take what I say with a grain of salt.

        If you uploaded a file to the AS/400 via FTP, I believe that it creates a physical file (PF). A physical file contains records and fields, but I can't remember if the physical file it created had one gigantic record with all the data in it or if it came up with some size for each record like 65000 bytes (anybody know?). If I intended to upload something I was going to use as a database (which I always did, because the 400 made for an expensive fileserver) I'd make sure the data was in a fixed width format before uploading, create the physical file on the AS/400 first (record layout), then upload the file 'over' the physical file. Downloading a physical file gets you the database back in fixed-width format as well, IIRC.

        Also interesting is the way the AS/400 (library) filesystem organizes things (disregarding the Integrated File System because I don't want to make this post longer). 'Libraries' function pretty much as directories, except that you can't nest them and there is no root 'library'. So if I was to refer to file 'FIL' I could call it 'FIL' (in which case it would be pulled from my current library) or 'BLASTER/FIL' (library 'BLASTER', file 'FIL').

        Physical files on an AS/400 also have things called 'members'. These are somewhat analogous to streams [] under NTFS (which nobody uses). Any physical file with data in it has at least one member. Members are used to allow you to store multiple sets of records in the same file -- query the first member in the file and you're working with one set of data; query the second member and you're working with another set entirely. I confess that I am not elite enough to come up with an example where I actually defined a physical file with more than one member in it outside of experimentation.

        However, I can come up with a real-world example of where they are in common use. Source code on an AS/400 is stored in a special physical file called a 'Source Physical File' (type SRCPF). Let's say that I just wrote a program (TESTPGM) in RPG/400. This program is stored in a source physical file in my library (BLASTER/BLASTER) as a member (TESTPGM). Each record in the member is a line of source code, date the line was created/changed, and a sequence number. Fortunately, if I want to grab a program from this mess using FTP I can do a 'get BLASTER/BLASTER.TESTPGM', and uploading worked similarly.

        My guess is that Microsoft would implement this with a little less rigidity. IBM's interpretation probably allows them to optimize things quite well, but does make some standard file operations tricky.

      • Reading the other replies really takes me back to the time I was working for an IBM Business Partner coding RPG/400 for a CRM system.

        What they neglected to mention was something I used to do quite often. Since everyting is actually a database, you can also create output as a database. You would almost always get the choice to receive output to *SCREEN, *PRINTER or *FILE. So if you e.g. needed to "grep" through source code in a few members of a PF, you could create a report (SQL query), enter your search criteria and the correct members of the SRCPF, and output the results to a *TEMP file for further analysis. Same goes for almost all other operations.

        Of course, it is much more trouble than it is worth, compared to pipes and stdout/stdin redirection in Unix like OSs. ;)
  • by Thackeri ( 203958 )
    It would be useful (I think) to focus on how Linux with IBM solutions would compliment their existing AS/400 architecture. It's not generally a great idea to suggest that they scrap their existing applications and move wholesale to another OS or hardware platform.

    The bottom line that they'll want to know is if it can save them money while offering an equivalent or (preferable) better service to themselves or their customers.

    Focus on integration, scalability, flexibility and IBM's commitment to supporting the Linux arena.

  • by Outland Traveller ( 12138 ) on Friday August 30, 2002 @07:00AM (#4168946)
    Our AS400 systems were very impressive-looking in a "I AM BORG" type way. They had great reliability and service, but they were older models, expensive to maintain, and didn't have very good performance. I suspect other shops are in the same boat.

    We started using Linux machines as development platforms. The AS400 guys could run db2 and other IBM technologies on Linux, which was a big win. The development stations were dirt cheap and for many jobs faster than the AS400.

    Eventually as that department became more comfortable with Linux they stopped placing every business application on the AS400s if a properly configured Intel/Linux box could do a cheaper/faster job without unacceptable risk exposure. It turned out quite a few applications fell into that category.

    The key is to have someone who has a deep understanding of linux and also can talk to the hardcore "mainframe" admins. There is definitely a culture shock to overcome. Imagine trying to explain Linux to someone who calls service for any task that might require opening a box, pays 10k/year license fees for a glorified tar backup system, and knows so many esoteric commands and proprietary-os arcana to make VAX and UNIX together look like kiddie toys. :)
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I work for the IBM AS/400 Support Center in Rochester Minnesota, and I have been involved with Linux for years. There are a few areas that you would want to touch on in your presentation if it is to people who have never seen Linux before.
    • Ease of setup - Walk them though a simple setup and show them how easy it is to setup and use. Once they are comfortable with the fact that they can set it up and it will just work for them, you'll have people who are more interested in your presentation.
    • Stability - There are some people who IPL their machine once a year. They don't have time for downtime. A lot of the folks I talk to are not pleased that Microsoft Operating Systems need constant rebooting and maintenance. Focus on how stable the OS is as a host and client OS platform.
    • Linux as a replacement for dumb terminals - A lot of people are replacing their Twinax with PCs because their users need Word Processing (now that Office Vision is unsupported) and a Web Browser. The fact that they could replace a $500-$1000 dumb terminal with a Linux PC that "just runs" like a twinax terminal does looks good for the bottom line. Also, instead of having to run around and install Client Access on everyone's PCs and setup printer sessions, they could use tn5250.

    On a separate note, I don't think it makes a lot of sense YET to run Linux ON the iSeries. The DASD is extremely expensive, and you could run a much larger system for less money on normal PC hardware. That being said, I have heard that Linux is now the firewall of choice on iSeries, so you may want to do some research on iSeries Linux applications.

    Good luck on your presentation.

    - Kurt Schroeder

  • by Bravo_Two_Zero ( 516479 ) on Friday August 30, 2002 @08:37AM (#4169320)
    Our AS/400s are actually new. The oldest one is only a year old. For us, despite our deep Unix and NT backgroud, Linux on an iSeries (there, I said it... the new name... blech) holds little more than sideshow value. For us, we have almost no investment in AS/400 admins or developers. We just add HP/Compaq servers if we want more Linux.


    We aren't a typical /400 shop. Someone like our parent company that has AS/400s everywhere (30+) probably sees a huge benefit to running several Linux virtual servers on an LPAR* or older single system. The key to stress is reuse of older systems. Some of the first generation RISC systems (F10s and the like) would make great highly-available Linux machines.

    What's more, a company with a large investment in the hardware has probably moved all but some development off of a depreciated system. The shops that have two systems still running V3R7 won't be interested.

    Part of the problem is that IBM doesn't really push economical LPAR-ing for Linux up front. In our case, they said "Sell you on LPAR? Well, if you aren't interested, we can't change your mind." Really, the Rochester salespeople are technically very knowedgeable, but they just don't "sell" sometimes. And, I can't go back and get the money now to do an LPAR "just for Linux".

    The other issue is that IBM (to date, anyway) doesn't push AS/400 to SAN connectivity, which increases the value of the AS/400 as the key system in your enterprise whether you run Linux on an LPAR or not. You could, in theory, run a fairly-sized enterprise with a handful of 8xx-series machines. You'd have an NT-based FSIOP (or Novell, if you swing that way) if you had a need for it. You'd LPAR a big box to carve out several virtual Linux machines to keep your development options open. And, you'd have great MTBF on the hardware (except for the problems with the 17GB drives... those die like flies). Back all of that with an enterpise-class SAN (Shark, EMC... no Hitachi or HP XP-series because they don't support the 520-byte block size), and you can snap whole systems from LPAR to LPAR and system to system. Then, you can use a CNT-like solution for data replication over IP to a disater recovery site because all your data is on your SAN.

    Sorry for the ramble, but I guess the point is that making the case for Linux on an AS/400 is part of a big picture. I'd say the cost-savings of having a handful of the same hardware in your computer room but the flexibility to run virtually any application is an outstanding point.

    * LPAR == Logical PARtition... it's similar to how a Sun E10k can be carved into separate systems at the hardware level. And, yes, lots of other companies have done the same thing. It's not new.
  • I've had a limited amount of experience with AS/400 shops, but all that I've visted have been the same.

    IBM likes to sell this box as a "no geeks required" system. They tell the business owner that the AS400's menu-driven system administration is so simple, he won't need expensive computer expertise on staff - the mail room guy can be the sysadmin.

    Consequently, there are usually no real professional computer people on the site at all. Instead, consultants from the local IBM biz partners are hired whenever the system needs more than trivial care.

    This is a gamble that sometimes works for the business - if they have a cleanly defined and implemented application, and a hardware support contract that includes regularly scheduled preventive maintenance (i.e. VACUUMING) they may save money over having a competent computer expert on salary.

    However, even when the gamble doesn't pay off - say, for example, that the business applications are poorly written and require constant tweaking by the consultants - the decision to use AS400 was often made by someone who is in a position to cover up the financial mistake; mid- to low-upper- level executives will usually do so to avoid damage to their chances of promotion (top-level executives, such as CEOs and COOs, are usually more practical).

    Situations like those I've described are booby traps for linux geeks. All general-purpose linux systems (including X-based systems) require some training and expertise to use efficiently. If there is nobody on-site with any "computer knack" at all, you can end up spending months customizing the system into useability (because the users may not be able to specify what they want, and you could easily end up using "trail of errors" to get a workable system that will satisfy them).

    It's easy to get frustrated by the apparent blockheadedness of people who honestly just don't *know* how to use the computer. Also, managers who have been engaged in subterfuge to hide bad computing decisions are usually suspicious and easily angered. Try to keep your cool and play it by ear.

    Your first step will be to explain what a filesystem is and how to manage storage of information in a hierarchical filesystem. You will be hampered in this task by the strange nomenclature used in OS/400, but hopefully most of the users will have some familiarity with PC filesystems and you can start from there.

    Good luck!
  • Three words... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Maledictus ( 52013 ) on Friday August 30, 2002 @10:54AM (#4170232)
    Specialization, specialization, specialization.

    Oh. And reliability.

    So four words.

    I cannot begin to describe how bullet-proof an AS/400 is. People simply don't believe me. One poster said that he knows people who IPL once a year. That's probably because it's *intended,* by the way - not because the machine hiccups. These suckers are the equivalent of cockroaches - they'll survive a nuclear blast.

    But other than reliability, you're going to have to go after custom software markets. And not the glamorous stuff - the boring flat database stuff. I work for a good-sized printing company. We used an industry-specific ERP on an AS/400 for years and years. We still use that same app - only we now use the Windows version.

    The AS/400 version was far less maintenance than the Windows version for various reasons - but the bottom line is the specialization. This isn't a couple of spreadsheets and a bar code wand out on the shop floor. This is much more involved than that and my industry type isn't the only place where this kind of software shows up. At the AS/400 mini-conferences I attended there were casino IT people, tool and die shops - even the car dealer I frequent has an AS/400 running industry-specific parts-tracking and job estimating software.

    Plus these are not necessarily companies that have large R and D or programming departments. Nor *should* they. There are a lot of companies that are similar in size to ours that have IT people, a geek or two, but no one that really has the time, wherewithal or desire to replicate industry specfic software that can be easily purchased (for around $20,000 for all of the modules in our app) and supported (for about $2,000 a year.) Yeah, the hardware is expensive, but so is my time or the time of a programmer to create something that is customized for us. And oddly enough, I do have other things to do...

    If you were selling Linux to me as a replacement for an AS/400, I'd first ask you what software is out there that will run my kind of manufacturing plant. I've already been down the "take some general software and customize it" road. It's a dead end.

    If the answer is that I have to hire someone to write it or come up with something on my own or that you'll gladly look into consulting with my company on our specific needs, I'll hang on to my Black Beast, thankyouverymuch.


    You need to judge what is cheaper, continued maintenance of your AS/400, or the cost of paying a team of programmers to convert your programs to another language and the initial cost of your new linux servers.
  • Whatever you decide, prepare yourself to a fight. As a former AS/400 lackey, I can tell you that "Silverlake" partisans have the same ideological zeal toward the AS/400 that a lot of uses have toward Linux.

    They are both "underground" systems (meaning not meanstream, though linix is becoming, blah, blah...), and so you're going to go up against people who are very commited.

    Of course, maybe if you really want to, just get Linux to run on the Hardware and make the transition a little friendlier?
  • I'm in a similar position. I've recently started a new AS/400 job and am trying to make my fellow IT workers aware of Open Source. I've used the IBM mid range since the mid 80s and Linux since '97.

    It all depends on your target audience.

    If it's AS/400 techies then show them X apps running on the AS/400 with remote Xterms. Show them a small beowulf running on one Iseries. Show them DB/2 on Linux seemlessly intergrated with DB/2 on the AS/400 etc etc _Show_ them tech.

    If it's manager then comapre it to Windows, do not threaten the AS/400 that's a losing battle in their minds. Tell them about support, costs, stability availabilty of staff, lack of lock in etc. You could then go on to talk about consilidation on the AS/400. Most AS/400 people love the machine it's simple to program and operate. Linux cannot win that battle, programming on Linux is hard by comparison.

    In short it's a hard sell. Most AS/400 shops have AS/400 and Windows skills. The closest you'll find to unix skills is the network admin who last touched AIX in '94.

    It will take another 2 years before we'll know if AS/400 users are going to embrace Linux. I would love to run Linux in my company with a bunch of Xterms rather than PCs. It would save the company $$$
  • A good book (Score:3, Informative)

    by jbolden ( 176878 ) on Friday August 30, 2002 @04:35PM (#4173277) Homepage
    In addition to many of the good recommendations you are getting below I'd recommend:

    Unix for the Mainframer []

    While this is more directed at MVS and not OS/400 the first chapter could end essentially being your 1 hour talk. A great example is the difference in Unix speak between: command, script and application. The underlying philosophy here is one of an interactive environment where small non-job specific programs (commands) are put together for job specific tasks (scripts) and that these are distinguished from customizing large systems (applications). Just explaining the pros and cons of this model will be insightful and will take up a good deal of time.

    Incidentally in terms of the cons as a Unix guy you may not have thought about these. Here is a pretty good anti-Unix pro mainframe article which will help you see the other side S390 vs. Unix servers [].

    Anyway hope this helps
  • First things first: Don't bother slamming the AS/400. They probably know the system far better than you do. This includes all of it's bumps and SMOOWTs (System Malfunctions Or Other Wierd Things). You'll only be doing one of two things:
    1) wasting time covering things they already know, or
    2) hitting an open wound and pissing someone off.(... or both)

    What they called you in for is to know what Linux can do for them. If you really want to impress them, I'd say try and be candid. Say both what it can do, and what you should not (currently) be used for (I'm sure there's a few of those).

    If it was me, I'd start with a quick history of Unix/Linux.. how Unix was Pseudo-Open Source in it's early days and how the closing down of Unix led to the founding of the GNU foundation which opened up the way for Linus to write a kernel with the promise of all those GNU utilities to populate the hard disk.

    I'd probably cover off a couple of the popular OS licenses (GNU & BSD at the least).. Let them know the downfall of the GNU license (Don't canibalize the source unless you want to free your own), and the advantages (everybody is a potential support person).

    At that point, you could probably go through a quick Hall of OS fame (Sendmail, GCC, SSH, Apache, MySql/Postgres, Perl, The Web.... [Remember that Microsoft is Still using BSD code in NT's TCP stack, and IE started out as the Mosaic web browser]).

    Some other things you might go through are stability, ease of use/installation (network installs are the way to go, and faster than CDs) and, of course, the ability to fix almost anything that you really want to fix -- or farm it out to someone else (distributer) if you've got more money than time.

    The next thing I can think of is to do a quick overview of some of the various Linux distributions [] available -- big ones, little ones; general ones, specific ones.. If nothing else, it shows off how you you can customize Linux for anything from word processing to firewalls.

    After that, you might mention a couple of areas where you see Linux as a possible boon directly within the company (probably underlaying why they really want to hear from you).

  • I am one, so I've got some perspective here. The AS400 (iSeries these days) is a great back office business system and database server. It is less impressive in the web connectivity department. Linux, on the other hand, is GREAT! as a firewall, as a web server, and if you could demonstrate an efficient way to connect php to an AS400 server program, you've got a dynamite solution to a mission critical problem. I think it's possible using sockets (not ODBC - that kinda sucks). I just haven't had time to figure it out yet. You could also mention about Samba and replacing Win2k Server with a $US65 alternative if your audience is captive to the evil empire (who isn't?).
  • linux is not meant to try to replace machines such as the AS400s using just one ix86 machine.

    the idea is, to set up redundant pairs of linux machines made to do one or a few tasks.

    10 linux machines can offer great uptime via the use of clustering, mirroring and fallover support.

    run a Database on one pair(2), the firewall, email, and DCHP, DNS, etc on another pair(4). the third pair for file serving to the local network and FTP(6), the fourth pair for the Web server(8), and the fifth pair for other various stuff, like samba(10).


    just run all services on one machine and do some clustering with fallover and round robin to access resources.

    linux is very very good at this, and cheap. an AS400 is a single machine most likely, that requeres routing maintainance and equipment failure which means downtime. Their is not another machine to pick up the slack in most circumstances. AS400s are expensive to support compared to a linux system.
  • Well, I work in a mainly Win + as400 shop. I frequently bust the as400 programmers' chops that we will have to put linux on the as400 soon.. Well, of course it is very clear to me that this is not going to happen any time soon, but it is nice to see them giving me these strange looks of the type "That Linux is NEVER going to touch my 400" ::-) Well, anyway.. My 2 cents. A while ago we used to have a fairly simple app: basically what people use php+mysql, we were using java+as400. Well, to tell you the truth, the as400 sucked big time in running a webserver + java servlet container (it took about half hour to reload the application, which was nothing too big). In addition to that, when I showed some interest in learning the as400, or maybe querying against as a database, the as400 guru was almost going to kill me, telling me that I am never going to touch the as400 either (obviously, I was one of the enemies: a Linux fan, some knowledgde of windows). Although I don't know much about as400, I have a lot of respect for it, especially for crunching data + the fact that the whole thing is a huge database. I am not sure whether maybe our as400 is kinda old, but again, the as400 dude wanted to kill me again for wating to run queries against the as400 (since there is quite a lot of data locked up inside) with the argument that "queries will kill the as400 performance". With all due respect, these two precedents kinda put me off big time: if it is a big database, why would it suck if I run queries against it??? In general , my experience was that especially the as400 zealots have a big problem with attitude though. Anyway, as it was pointed out earlier, linux is not going to substitute, but maybe complement - IF the as400 guys have a bit of an open mind (otherwise they tell you to go fsck yourself cause they can run everything better on the 400).
  • Who's talking about replacing the AS/400 with Linux? You can run Linux right on an AS/400 now. You can run a Linux webserver right inside the box, directly connected to your DB2 database or whatever legacy application or data you want to serve. You can run an additional Linux firewall to protect access to both your webserver and your AS/400. These Linux servers can also be backed up right along with your AS/400 and if necessary restored completely with a single command. You can develop your Linux applications on an Intel desktop and drag and drop them right onto the AS/400, ready to use.

    The base operating system of the AS/400 is case insensitive, the commands are printed in all caps in the documentation so that they can be easily recognized. However the AS/400 recognizes multiple file systems including case-sensitive ones. You can even design your own if you like.

    If you're hooked on Unix commands try typing QSH on an AS/400 command line and you will find yourself in a Unix environment.

    AS/400 are rock solid machines. Our three systems (consolidated from 6) have not been down in the four years I've been here, through three disk failures(hot swap replaced) and a complete power outage of the data center.

    You can purchase a bare-bones AS/400 (iSeries) for about $7K. That said, a system like that won't get you much further than your average Intel box, but they scale up rapidly. For the $20K mentioned you can get a fairly good performing system. If money is no object you can spend $1M+ on a 32-way system capable of running 128(or more) virtual linux servers.

    For iSeries (AS/400) info try:
    or better yet:

    For Linux on iSeries go to: linux /

    Scott Ingvaldson

"Kill the Wabbit, Kill the Wabbit, Kill the Wabbit!" -- Looney Tunes, "What's Opera Doc?" (1957, Chuck Jones)