Volume 20, Number 5 -- February 7, 2011

Does the iSeries Have a Victim Mentality?

Published: February 7, 2011

by Herman Woudenberg

Does the iSeries have a victim mentality? Does the whole IT industry have one? I am actually beginning to think the whole i community, which owns one of the most world's most advanced computers, is its own worst enemy.

The IT victim mentality was hammered home to me by Barbra Cooper, group vice president and CIO for Toyota Motor Sales USA. I was reading a review of a book called The CIO Edge, which was published last November, where she asked the question "You know why the perception of IT has suffered for 30 years?" Cooper rhetorically answered, "It's almost as if we've swallowed a victim mentality pill. You know, 'Poor me. People don't understand how hard my job is.' That kind of thinking is simply not acceptable if you want to be taken seriously by the organization."

The CIO Edge was written by Graham Waller, vice president and executive partner in Gartner's EXP program; George Hallenbeck, director of intellectual property development for executive search firm Korn/Ferry International, and Karen Rubenstrunk, senior client partner within Korn/Ferry's CIO practice, which places more than 100 CIOs annually.

The authors say that as they went about doing research for this book, one theme constantly reoccurred: high-performing CIOs repeatedly told them that you can't tolerate excuses for failing to deliver on expectations and delivering value. You can't complain about the pressures you are under or how your business partners do not understand IT or have a different view of the priorities. The best CIOs said that if you want to earn the same level of respect accorded other parts of the organization, you need to make sure you hold yourself, and your department, to the same standards.

Let's apply this thinking to the AS/400, iSeries, and now the Power Systems family running the IBM i operating system. (I still prefer calling it the iSeries.) I can list a dozen features that make the iSeries the world's most advanced system. However, there's just one feature, which if it was the iSeries only feature would still make it the one of the most advanced computers available today. The problem is that few iSeries people and non-iSeries people understand any of its advantages over other computer systems, let alone the one that makes it stand out above the rest. This one feature was described by Frank Soltis, the iSeries chief architect, in his book Inside the AS/400: "objects persist in a very large flat virtual memory called single-level storage."

I have been around computers a long time. I was an accomplished assembler programmer on a half a dozen computers before the IBM/360 was announced. I was there the day the IBM System/360 mainframe was announced in 1964, and I remember walking out of McCormick Place, where the local Chicago announcement was held, thinking I had just learned about the ultimate computer. Later, I was director of data processing during the installation of a couple of the System/360s. However, soon everyone realized that the IBM 360 had one deficiency, and that was that it lacked of virtual memory. Amdahl had implemented virtual memory on its 360-compatible computers. Digital Equipment had implemented virtual memory in its midrange VAX computers. I became acquainted with using virtual memory on mainframes and its tremendous CPU overhead. On all computers today, except for the iSeries, they must take disk drive IDs, cylinders, and sectors, and map them to a virtual memory address. Needed objects are copied ("paged in") from this disk address space into the virtual memory address space of main memory and have their address resolved to virtual memory addresses before they can be used.

For this reason, I also remember the day the System/38 was announced with single-level storage. It was revolutionary because now programs could be compiled and files could be created directly into virtual memory addresses. I understood all the advantages that programs could now be executed directly and files used directly without all the usual rigmarole of transferring them from disk storage to virtual storage before they could be used. Objects and jobs now had persistence, unlike the mainframe CICS environment. That was the day I set my objective to becoming one of the first people to install and program the System/38 so that I could be an expert. This became the means of my becoming an independent computer consultant. As a result, for most of my career I was a consultant for some of the world's largest banks on the Chicago Commodity Exchange, where they used the iSeries. I usually programmed the most difficult systems they had.

Last year, I was at a Unix/Linux cloud system presentation and a vendor was bragging about how its software allows cloud systems to share common code across jobs and that it gave jobs persistence to these shared functions. I was surprised that in a room full of people no one knew that these were standard features of the iSeries starting with the System/38 in 1980. However, I began to wonder how many iSeries people could explain the advantages of single level storage over virtual storage on other system. I find many non-iSeries people think these differences make the iSeries less advanced or deficient to other operating systems. Therefore they slam the iSeries because it is different, maybe a form of discrimination. I am beginning to believe this slamming is giving the iSeries community a "victim mentality" of hopelessness. If the iSeries community could explain the advantages of single-level storage over other virtual storage systems, then they then could show these people their idiocy and rather than being the victim, the world would begin to understand they are the victors.

I challenge anyone to Google "single-level storage" for an explanation that most people can understand.

The single-level storage virtual memory requires using extra bits on disk and therefore the iSeries stores data on disk in a different format from other computers. As a result, iSeries disks are more expensive than other disks and I think only EMC makes compatible external disk arrays these days. I just wish standard disk could be attached to the iSeries and that it was an option to compile programs or write data to standard disk storage rather than to virtual storage disk. PASE now provides the iSeries with a very easy way to add, often unmodified, AIX applications to the iSeries. PASE applications, just like AIX applications, interact with operating system functions through a "syscall" interface. It would be great if the disks could be unplugged from a Unix/Linux (AIX) pSeries computer and connected to the iSeries and start running.

As an example, with my first IBM System/360 installation, we paid $40,000 for a 1401 co-processor, the System/360 cost $700,000 and ran IBM 1401 object programs unmodified and it could even run compiled 1401 programs. Therefore, one Friday at 4 p.m., the IBM 1401 was shut down and replaced with a System/360 and the shop was back up and running by midnight without changing any of the 1401 programs. We had provided for being down the whole weekend. The only requirement was learning how to use JCL and the System/360 sort, which we had already tested on another 360 computer. Operations immediately started to run several times faster. For the first time in years, we no longer had to run 24x7. One weekend when we had shut down the computer, the company owner came in and found out that he did not have a key to the front door because it had always been open. It was a different world back then, even in the Chicago loop.

A similar example is Microsoft Word. Although Microsoft came out with a superior word processor, WordPerfect had 75 percent of the market while Microsoft only had 10 percent. That was until Microsoft gave Word the ability to read and write WordPerfect files and even run in WordPerfect mode. Now people could switch to Microsoft Word and still exchange documents with everyone that was still using WordPerfect. This feature soon resulted in the death of WordPerfect.

Herman Woudenberg is president of Commercial Software Services, a software development company located in the Chicago suburbs.

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