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Alice, Gulliver and AS/400 Networking

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Recently, I purchased a copy of Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels and reacquainted myself with that classic. I am fascinated by Gulliver changing size as he travels. First, he’s a giant in Lilliput, and later he turns up mouse-sized in the giant kingdom of Brobdingnag. Then 139 years later, Lewis Carroll picked up the same theme in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, in which Alice changed sizes—normal, then small, then big, then small again—to enter Wonderland (where she also grows and shrinks a lot). Size changing is interwoven into Western fantastic literature and you can see it in such diverse works as L. Frank Baum’s Oz books, and the classic science-fiction movies “The Incredible Shrinking Man” and “Fantastic Voyage.”

This idea also permeates the very core of our computer systems. Moore’s law, which states that processing power doubles every 18 months while cost holds constant, is a classic Gulliver/Alice/late-night horror movie example. We take something big in terms of processing power and shrink its physical dimensions, desktop footprint, and cost. The big becomes small and fairy tales become reality.

IBM follows this archetype just as well as anyone else, performing some unusual shrinking acts in two very large AS/400 networking enhancements. What is IBM’s Server Consolidation strategy, if not another shrinking act? Want to pack multiple Windows NT servers into a single AS/400? That’s no problem with Windows NT Integration and the Integrated NetFinity Server (INS, formerly known as the IPCS). Want to shrink the number of physical AS/400s in your organization? You can squeeze multiple AS/400s into a single black box via OS/400 V4R4 and Logical Partitioning (LPAR). To make it sweeter, you can manage your “virtual” AS/400s through the Operations Navigator’s Management Central function.

And what about AS/400 Client Access Express for Windows (Express client), IBM’s next generation Client Access, whose predecessor had five major releases since 1996 and multiple service packs for each release, producing at least 25 different product versions along the way? Along comes Express client, and IBM’s feature-bloated Windows 95/NT client suddenly becomes tiny.

This same analogy can also be applied to Windows NT, Novell NetWare, and other networking products that are currently producing new betas and new versions. When a product becomes too big, too rich, too complicated, or too behind the times, the software life cycle demands that the manufacturer retool, rethink, and reissue the package in a smaller container that can be marketed as new. The fact that so many products—from

Express client to Microsoft Windows 2000 to Office 2000 to NetWare for SAA 4.0—have reached this point at the same time speaks volumes about the computer industry.

With so many vendors issuing new products/betas simultaneously, I wonder why this is happening now. Does our industry now run on the same product maturation cycle so that all networking products warrant new releases today, in spring 1999? It’s curiouser and curiouser that we’re experiencing a product upgrade explosion just as our shops are preparing for that highly anticipated train wreck called Y2K. Perhaps there’s some secret paradigm shift at work that’s forcing our AS/400 network vendors to retool or die. Whatever’s happening, it’s also forcing AS/400 networking managers to evaluate new options at a time when their main hope is to survive January 1, 2000 intact.

But—with all these new product releases as Y2K approaches—one thing remains unchanged. The cardinal rule of networking is still in force: keep the network going. It doesn’t matter what hot new technologies are available if the network isn’t available come January 1st. We must not be distracted when a clearly defined problem must be solved. Batten down your networks first. Look at new products later. Otherwise, it might be your organization that shrinks. And it won’t be Wonderland that’s waiting for you this time.



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