Migration: Birds do it. Bees do it. Shops with AS/400-Ds and 3090-Es do it. Let’s do it. Let’s pull the plug! This increasingly popular song is a cheerful one in some circles but not in others. The difference of opinion is easily explained, particularly because there are so many examples at hand. On September 23, […]
Migration: Birds do it. Bees do it. Shops with AS/400-Ds and 3090-Es do it. Let’s do it. Let’s pull the plug! This increasingly popular song is a cheerful one in some circles but not in others. The difference of opinion is easily explained, particularly because there are so many examples at hand. On September 23, the San Diego Union reported that one of the most carefully planned migration schemes in Switzerland is to end. For 77 years, the Swiss Army not only defended its country and broke its nails trying to open up pocket knives (which, thoughtfully, come with their own nail files) but also managed a flock of more than 30,000 carrier pigeons. But now the birds will be mustered out and their 266 caretakers will be retrained. According to the press account, about 7,000 of these creatures were in the direct care of the army, while an additional 24,000 birds were cooped up by private contractors whose efforts dovetailed with those of the coo corps. The cost of this avian defence measure had risen to $465,000 a year. Even in wealthy Switzerland, this is not chickenfeed.
The Swiss birds were able to manage round trips of up to 500 miles, which is a lot of distance in the Alps, while carrying microfilm or tape recordings of soldiers yodelling their commands. The final effort of the birds and their colonels to retain their perches involved a new and more difficult migration path. Rather than the traditional two-point migration, the pigeons were being pressured to learn a three-way path. In announcing its cutback, the Swiss defence ministry did not dwell on the degree of success its minions had achieved toward perfection of the three-point strategy. The complex strategy may well have overtaxed the pigeons. Migration can do that. One of the New York’s leading experts on Switzerland is Linda. She used to live there. Linda also happens to be a famous cabaret singer who has for some years been working up the courage to abandon her day job as a dental hygienist. Do not for a moment think that this last occupation is in any way a compromise. She is able to work out of a very nice office above Gucci on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue, which is more than we can afford. Linda says that the Swiss are kind to animals unless the animals happen to be overdrawn at the bank. For instance, dogs are allowed in restaurants. In return, some of them peddle brandy and perform heroic rescues on ski slopes. So even if the army was willing to pay the bird bill, the Swiss might not have tortured their pigeons with migration schemes that nature never intended. Here is the final score: the birds are undoubtedly happier that the Swiss Army is ditching its forced migration scheme; ditto the bean-counters in the defence ministry. Among the unhappy are bird handlers who had hoped for job security and big cheeses in the army who liked telling people that they knew all about the military situation because a little bird told them. A complicated migration plan is also affecting IBM’s AS/400 base. IBM has gotten a bee in its bonnet. PowerPCs will go into everything, like paprika in Hungary. So now the AS/400, which must support hundreds of seats, will have the IQ of a PowerPC Macintosh.
By Hesh Wiener
As IBM prepares its next serving of silicon paprikash, it has had to deploy new system software. Users are currently being pushed through a staging version of OS/400 and soon will be hauled to yet another one. Now, the AS/400 has a built-in relational DBMS that is very attractive but fragile. Bugs in OS/400 are like fleas in India. So lots of customers are, understandably, kind of nervous. Hewlett-Packard, which simply cannot tolerate the suffering of AS/400 users forced into three-point migration, has decided to perform a great act of mercy. It is offering an alternative migration path. AS/400 users who switch to an HP system equipped with AS/400-like software will get a price break of 30% plus coddling from special migration support teams. The support may help IBM’s mid-range customers adjust to the loss of fear, uncertainty and doubt. Hewlett-Packard
can afford this sweeping gesture because IBM walked away from the desktop printer business, a market niche that now provides Hewlett with only slightly more revenue than IBM gets from disks. But of course that will change. Soon HP’s printer business may dwarf IBM’s disk business. IBM has responded to the Hewlett challenge. It proclaimed that the PowerPC is the technology of the future. We agree. And we are confident it always will be. Meanwhile, IBM’s AS/400 product development team in Rochester, Minnesota, which once actually had a clear strategy, will scramble to produce computers that are about as likely to make technical and economic sense as did the Swiss pigeon corps. AS/400 customers who have not outgrown their older machines with stable software aren’t upset by the migration mess; they can wait for IBM to perfect its contraption and map out a navigable migration path. But AS/400 users who need more power now are not all going to like IBM’s ideas very much. Some will flock to Hewlett-Packard, maybe more than just some. Even in the segment that ought to be a cinch for IBM, the personal computer market, the PowerPC notion is little more than a lark. This month, as IBM trots out new personal computers under the old, soiled IBM PC banner, there should have been two distinct product categories: systems that you can use, based on real and ersatz Intel chips, and PowerPC models that mainly promote health by increasing the circulation of warm, dry air in the office, but IBM chickened out of the latter. When they do arrive, PPC PCs are expected to have one important application: a talking head that welcomes you to the machine. There has not been a more important message since the launch of the Voyager satellites in 1977. Even now, the missiles migrate through deep space broadcasting bird calls and heartfelt greetings from Earth in the soothing voice of Kurt Waldheim. Perhaps this wonder will not be made public right away. Even, say some wags, if that means begging Apple for a Mac OS licence and porting advice.
This won’t make image-conscious IBMers too happy. But that’s life. Personal computer buyers are, apparently, a lot more finicky than mainframe buyers. A lack of software did not delay for a minute the announcement of IBM’s 9672 E machines. Whatever and whenever IBM does show off the PPC PC, we are doubtful it will provide the one environment 250,000 customers really need: a single-user graphical version of OS/400. The fact that more than 5m terminals are attached to AS/400s and not one of them shares the software personality of its host must not look like a marketing opportunity for IBM. And it probably isn’t. It’s the kind of thing that is best left to other firms that must face the marketplace, companies lacking the benefit of Gerstner’s Eight Principles and Several Cronies. Only misguided and struggling outfits like Hewlett, Sun, Novell, Microsoft and Compaq, among others, foolishly believe that clients and servers ought to be stifled by boring consistency in their architecture or software. Pay these firms no mind. Their ideas are obviously for the birds.
From the October 1994 edition of Infoperspectives International, (C) 1994 Technology News Ltd.