IBM's iSeries Rejuvenation Efforts Begin to Bear Fruit
by Timothy Prickett Morgan
The AS/400-iSeries line of computers is approaching its 17th birthday this month, and that is as good a time as any to take stock of the iSeries Initiative for Innovation, which Big Blue launched in February as a multi-prong technical, marketing, and sales push to get independent software providers and tool makers fired up about the iSeries platform. IBM has been busy, just trying to get a handle on the key ISVs in the market and what they need.
IBM is pushing the iSeries on two different but intertwined fronts: nudging application providers to modernize their applications and update them for the iSeries platform and bringing in a large collection of tools that can be used to modernize applications as well as allow the iSeries to work cooperatively with other platforms. As the list of stories at the bottom of this one shows, we have gone into exhaustive detail about what the "iII" or "Triple Eye" program (pick the abbreviation or nickname you like best, or make up a better one and send it to me) is about. So we won't get into a lot of detail except to say that IBM is pumping hundreds of millions of additional dollars into co-marketing and co-development to try to boost the OS/400 platform and help ISVs get current.
What IBM wanted to show off today is the progress it has made in a mere 90 days. According to Mark Burns, the manager of iSeries solutions enablement at IBM, in 2004 the company identified the key 3,000 or so ISVs who had been major players in the iSeries market, and in launching the iSeries Initiative for Innovation, IBM wanted to bring the same high-touch contact that the top 400 ISVs have always gotten from Big Blue to the remaining members of the 3,000 club. To that end, in the past 90 days, all of the ISVs in the Americas region and in the Europe/Middle East/Africa region have been contacted and many have been surveyed about their support for the iSeries. The surveys of ISVs in the Asia/Pacific region are under way, and Burns says he expects them to be complete by the end of the year. Of those surveyed, the specific requirements that 1,600 of them have on the iSeries platform have been gathered in great detail, which gives IBM's ISV support organization some idea of how they might propose co-marketing and co-development efforts in conjunction with the ISV.
Ironically--depending on your sense of irony--some ISVs have their application niches, their one, two, or three dozen customers, and they believe that they have a pretty good handle on their business and where their applications and their customers are headed; in short, they believe (either rightly or wrongly) that they do not need IBM's help. So the Triple Eye program will never get full penetration on the 3,000-strong ISV list. But, with 400 ISVs already pretty much in touch with IBM and another 280 having already engaged with Big Blue in the past 90 days for an assessment on how they might work with IBM to improve their applications and better market their iSeries wares, this is pretty good progress. Burns says that IBM's goal is to get 500 different ISVs to go through the Triple Eye assessment process, which is free. By the way, since February, 55 ISVs have modernized their applications under the Triple Eye program and another 126 have enhanced their applications with a tool on the broadened iSeries Developer's Roadmap. The services IBM is offering include training, testing facilities for applications, and even a "solutions factory" for taking applications and modernizing them with WebFacing. While IBM's WebFacing and HATS legacy application modernization tools and many other third party tools are no-brainers in terms of what ISVs are looking for, Burns says that many ISVs are also looking for help in other areas, such as content management, which is a bear and a half and is something that all companies with an online presence have to cope with. IBM is trying to figure out the best way to weave these requests into the application modernization program. "As we go through these assessments, we're going to make course corrections based on what people ask for," explains Burns.
The upshot is that by the end of 2005, IBM could be approaching something on the order of 1,000 key ISVs dedicated as much as is practical in a diverse server platform world to the OS/400 platform. This would be a dramatic improvement, to say the least. It remains to be seen if getting the next 1,000 ISVs on board is probably, or even necessary. Smaller ISVs play their niches, and there are a lot of them. They are probably not exactly trusting of IBM, either, which has largely ignored them over the past decade or so, focusing on the big application software providers that could bring in the big deals and the big headlines--and usually on big Unix or Windows iron, too. IBM has thankfully figured out that the iSeries is an asset, and one worthy of some investment, which is a big part of what it needs to compete.
Beth Hoffman, a senior software engineer at IBM who has been involved in many of the ISV assessments that IBM has performed to date, says the small ISVs in particular are pleased as punch to be getting some attention from IBM. The assessments are scheduled to a half-day in length, and have many IBM and ISV experts on the telephone and participating in Web meetings; IBM allows the staff to do follow-up consulting, too, in case ISVs have other questions. The small ISVs, according to Hoffman, are examining a wide variety of technologies to modernize their applications. Many times, what these smaller ISVs are looking for are tools that help them take their large, monolithic RPG and COBOL applications and break them into more modularized components. One of the hot tools for this work is called X-Analysis, which was created by English tool maker Databorough and which is also a ServerProven application on the iSeries.
IBM has also made progress on the tools front, according to John Quarantello, the iSeries executive in charge of the Tools Innovation program, on of the three pillars of the overall Triple Eye program. (Applications, Tools, and iSeries innovation are the three pillars, the latter being a means for the OS/400 community to tell IBM what they want in their future iSeries platforms.) Back in February, IBM had 60 of the 180 vendors in the iSeries Tools Network as members in the Tools Innovation program, and as of this week, that number is up to 78 and they have 156 tools qualified in the program. And Quarantello expects to drive that to a little over 100 by the end of the year.
Within the next 60 days, the iSeries Developer's Roadmap will also be given some subcategories that will make it easier for ISVs and end users to identify specific solutions to specific problems they are trying to solve. Right now, IBM has over 80 different tools in a category labeled "improve your productivity," which makes it very hard to search. This sounds like a small matter, but it isn't if you are one of the 78 tool vendors who are getting buried among products that are not even like yours.
One thing that will not be added to the Tools Innovation program, however, are tools that are explicitly and are only used to move applications off the iSeries platform onto other kinds of machines. "We want to have partners move people to the iSeries, not away from it," explains Quarantello. That said, IBM is being pragmatic, and knows full well that many customers want to do cooperative processing between OS/400 servers and Windows boxes that use .NET technologies from Microsoft. Such companies are not being restricted--even if they join Microsoft's Midrange Alliance Program, which seems to be trying to take away business from the iSeries (even though Microsoft and its partners do not say that). But just as IBM has to face the reality of mixed environments, so does Microsoft. "In the past, IBM ignored .NET and sort of hoped it would go away," says Quarantello. "It's not going to go away, and now we are interested in promoting .NET integration even if we are not going to promote .NET itself. We are just trying to help customers who use iSeries and .NET technologies."
Sorting out where IBM hides its information is sometimes a challenge, so here are some useful links:
To find out more about the iSeries Initiative for Innovation, go to
To learn more about the Application Innovation piece of the program, go to
ISVs can request an assessment and enter the Application Innovation program at
The iSeries Tools Innovation site is at
To see the IBM and partner tools on iSeries Developer's Roadmap, go to
The enrollment form for iSeries Tools Innovation program is at
The enrollment form to get ServerProven products highlighted on the iSeries Developer's Roadmap is at
Big Blue Pumps Big Bucks into the iSeries
iSeries ISVs Elated as IBM Opens Roadmap and Wallet
Re-Energizing ISVs Is a Tough Chore for IBM
Momentum is Key for iSeries Initiative for Innovation
IBM Assures Us the iSeries Tools Innovation Program is Growing