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The AS/400, it's like Spa mineral water

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Rudi van Helvoirt

Picture this: you're sitting on a terrace somewhere in the Netherlands and hear someone order a Spa red. Chances are, however, the waiter will return with a glass and a bottle of some other brand. Isn't it strange, really, that you don't get what you've asked for? The good news is that there's always some sort of mineral water with bubbles. Nevertheless, the familiar slimline bottle with the jumping Pierrot will come to mind for many people. What’s in the name!

I was recently reminded of this when giving a tutorial about 'IBM i', which only turned into a feast of recognition when someone mentioned the term AS/400. By contrast, a PC, on the market since the early '80s, is still called a PC, with the specific operating system playing no role in this naming convention. For years now, we've been at a point where, in the case of IBM i, we see the operating system as separate from the underlying hardware: the IBM Power Systems. A name can turn out to be a persistent so-and-so, with many people struggling, as far as the AS/400 and OS/400 are concerned, with naming them since their introduction.

In the meantime, IBM is sending out the message that it is and will remain "IBM i", which is somewhat of a relief, isn't it? However, it seems to me to be just wishful thinking to one day envisage the use of the name AS/400 being a thing of the past, for the simple reason that when you hear the name AS/400, almost everyone knows what you're talking about. Even new customers who only entered the world of IBM i two years ago manage to use that name. Apparently, the AS/400 brand name is so powerful that everything that has come after it hasn't made it. Which in itself is worthy of congratulations.


As a first-time user, there are always remarkable experiences to relate. I would like to share a few of them with you. In 1988, the AS/400 was born. At the time, a Business Partner had received a B30 model from IBM. This Business Partner was sharing its computer room with a direct marketing company that had an S/38. To meet the demand, the company had bought a printer with more capacity. In the press, it was widely reported with much fanfare that this new printer had been successfully linked to the S/38. So my colleague and I subsequently decided to hook up this printer to the AS/400 as well. Not surprisingly, this wasn't a problem. Not to ridicule all the fuss, we agreed at the time not to mention this fact!

A case of water damage

Just when the roof of the computer room was being renovated, it only went and rained cats and dogs. The tarpaulin on the roof had collapsed in the morning and the floor was flooded. With the water still gushing down, I was called in. I was subsequently shocked to hear that someone had tried to mop the floor, foolishly completely forgetting about the danger of electrocution! At the time, the water in the computer room was more than a centimeter high. However, the AS/400 of the time, a model from the early 2000s, had a case that was shaped like a bathtub underneath, which kept the system dry. The AS/400 was therefore seaworthy. While the decision was being made to make a Full System Save and the system was being brought down, a manager walked in after some time saying that he couldn't use the Internet. The AS/400, however, had also been set up as a proxy server; this was something that had apparently escaped his attention, just like the case of water damage.


Nowadays, anyone who gets the idea to google the name "AS/400" will still come across this name all over the place. The use of the term "AS400" in colloquial language also doesn't seem to have been eradicated: in 2021, everyone still knows that you’re talking about a system that has been around for years, and that has a rock-solid reputation for reliability and security. I myself do my bit by continuing to say and write "IBM i" everywhere and at all times: sometimes, very occasionally, however, people just have to accept that it's a pointless exercise, and that it will never be possible to eliminate the use of the term AS/400! By the way, the “i for Business” logo has recently been replaced by “IBM i” in letters, after 13 years, I think.

Will this new logo succeed in eradicating the use of the AS/400? Who knows?

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