Formerly known as the AS\/400, IBM's iSeries servers have a faithful following. But Big Blue is committed to expanding interest in the midrange servers, now built on the same Power processors as its Unix-based pSeries. Network World Senior Editor Jennifer Mears caught up with Mark Shearer as he ended his first year as general manager of the iSeries to find out where the venerable server is heading. Here's an edited transcript of their discussion:What's unique about the iSeries? It allows our clients to run IT with much smaller staffs. I have visited multibillion-dollar companies running their entire ERP applications with a staff of two or three people. The fact that the database is pre-integrated, the security systems are pre-integrated, the storage management is pre-integrated and automated allows you to be enormously productive with IT staff. People say that as many as 70% of IT budgets are going to the cost of labor in managing the IT infrastructure. What's happening in the industry is that productivity in IT is becoming a real business issue. And the cost of running some industry-standard server environments is getting to be prohibitive, so the idea of a simpler, more pre-integrated system is coming back in vogue.What's IBM doing to expand awareness of the iSeries? There is an entire generation of IT professional that isn't familiar with even the concept of a more turnkey pre-integrated system, the kind of system that was prevalent 20 years ago. We launched a multimillion-dollar marketing campaign this past year, really the first campaign of this size in over a decade, to begin the process of educating our clients and prospects on the capabilities of the current i5 system - things like the ability to integrate Unix applications, Wintel applications, Linux applications into an i5 operating environment. We're going to extend that [in 2006] by reaching out to universities. There are more than 280 universities worldwide that are planning to include basic business computing concepts and iSeries in their curriculum. We're also hugely focused on the solutions marketplace and [independent software vendors] and helping ISVs better understand how the combination of their solutions and the i5 platform can add value to businesses.How is the work going with ISVs? In February  we announced a program called the iSeries Initiative for Innovation, which is all about getting older applications modernized to take advantage of the latest features of the iSeries. It also is about attracting new ISVs to the platform. Since we launched the program, we have more than 430 newly modernized applications, and we have more than 200 new industry tools available for the platform that can help clients with Web applications, for example, or take advantage of RFID or security technologies. What is really interesting is we've seen software solution providers port to i5 OS for the first time and by doing so bring dozens of new clients to the iSeries platform. For example, the Bank of Utah recently replaced its Unisys servers with an iSeries platform because application provider ITI enabled their applications to run on i5 OS. Really as a result of that, more than a dozen banks in the United States have moved to iSeries for the first time.IBM's zSeries has its Java engine to enhance Java applications. What do you have planned to boost performance for those types of applications on the iSeries? The iSeries is unique in its ability to run multiple open operating environments concurrently, so you can run Java next to Linux applications next to core database applications on i5 OS. Going forward, we're going to continue to improve the economic-value proposition so that it is more attractive to re-integrate Unix applications, reintegrate Wintel or Linux applications and enable the i5 system to manage multiple operating environments. In things like WebSphere and Java, we're going to continue to work on improving the performance and price performance of those applications throughout our product line. We'll make the pricing a little bit more granular.ISeries now runs on the Power5. Are you looking at the Power5+, or what's the road map? We'll be fully leveraging the Power5, Power5+, Power6 and technologies beyond.In your visits with clients, what are they concerned about and asking for? The biggest requirement is the need to continue to strengthen our high-availability offerings around the iSeries, between IBM and its business partners. Clients are re-integrating infrastructure and running multiple operating environments on a single platform, and their business applications need to be available 24\/7.So how will you be addressing that? In every release of our operating system going forward, we will materially improve the high-availability capabilities.What are some other areas where you will be updating the operating system? We are planning on introducing native support for PHP, which is a very popular scripting language. Once again, that should enable thousands of applications in a native i5 OS environment.