iSeries ISVs Elated as IBM Opens Roadmap and Wallet
by Dan Burger
Heading into one of its most important weeks of the year--the annual PartnerWorld gathering of business partners--IBM hoped to juice up the iSeries faithful by infusing the platform's marketing plan with cash and a program to re-energize iSeries independent software vendors (ISVs). These ISVs have needed some help from Big Blue in a very tough small and medium business market for quite some time.
The idea behind the program is not new. From the beginning, the AS/400 has always been an application system and the applications--more than the features of OS/400, DB2/400, or RPG--were what brought customers to the platform initially and what kept them there for so long. Today, the marketing lingo for this approach is called solution selling. But, the truth is, while the AS/400 was the first big solution selling box, applications running on the modern iSeries platform don't sell like they used to on the AS/400, and they don't bring in as many new customers as they used to, either. The primary reason, some say, is that efficient 5250 green screen and its related transaction processing protocol. If you are not used to green screens, you probably don't like them. Applications in the 21st century need graphical user interfaces, and this is not a new idea. It's more than a decade old, in fact.
What is new is that IBM has backed off with its hardball approach to iSeries application modernization, where it only endorsed those products that followed the Java and WebSphere developer roadmap. More than all the money IBM is investing in this program, the most important aspect of the new iSeries Initiative for Innovation is the inclusion of third-party software vendors such as ASNA, BCD Software Int'l, LANSA, and dozens of others as viable options for application modernization, complete with IBM's blessing in the iSeries Developer's Roadmap and all of the benefits that it bestows. This is a breakthrough, and the fact that new iSeries general manager, Mark Shearer, pushed this through shows that IBM finally realizes that Java and WebSphere aren't for everyone--particularly in OS/400 shops that love their RPG.
Skeptics expect the iSeries Initiative for Innovation, which was created chiefly for this latest push for application modernization, will remain primarily focused on Java and WebSphere. They expect IBM to continue to push Java and WebSphere because those are the technologies that its own middleware and application modernization software rely heavily upon. However, by including non-Java and non-WebSphere options, IBM is leveling the playing field a bit so ISVs will get the same treatment and same incentives even if they take the third-party road to application modernization. Time will tell exactly how this will play out, but the idea is sound. Ever since IBM brought AIX and Linux to the iSeries, it has been talking about how the iSeries is introducing more options to make it more open. Opening up the iSeries Developer's Roadmap to other tools is an extension of that thinking.
"This is a move that was necessary to keep customers on the IBM platform," says John Siniscal, president of LANSA. "It is necessary to get people to modernize their applications. IBM recognizes the key to bringing life back into the iSeries is getting more solutions on the iSeries. They have to get the ISV community rejuvenated as part of the way to get that accomplished."
Siniscal says he has no indication that IBM will actively promote LANSA or other ISV options for application modernization. It will probably come down how hard the ISV pushes IBM for more than just the mention that it is included on the developer's roadmap.
Avnet, one of IBM's three master resellers for the iSeries line, has its own plug-in, if you will, to the iSeries Initiative for Innovation. Avnet partners with more than 100 application ISVs. These are companies with COBOL or RPG applications of their own or with exclusive re-seller rights to applications similarly developed. These ISVs are also iSeries resellers.
Brad Wilson, the iSeries ISV program manager for Avnet Partner Solutions' IBM Americas Division, is certain the ISVs are looking for development tools to help them modernize their applications. He says Avnet surveyed its ISV partners to better understand their needs. "On the application development side," Wilson says, "IBM has significant resources available to the ISVs." Avnet's role in this is to facilitate the linkage of ISVs, who need to modernize their apps, and IBM, who desperately needs them to do this as well for its own sake. And to enable the ISV to get the technical help it requires. Primarily this will be in the area of modernizing applications in a Java/WebSphere environment, but in theory it is supposed to take the ISV down the best path toward modernization, even if that is not a Java/WebSphere journey. The analysis of the ISV's options (presumably all the options) and determining the best route for modernization is a free service, says Wilson.
"In order for the iSeries to be a viable platform, it has to modernize and IBM does not have anything, outside of Java and WebSphere, that iSeries users can use in a practical sense to modernize with," says Anne Ferguson, president of ASNA. "IBM is saying it's OK to use the tools from the other tools providers. It is supposed to help them innovate and modernize."
In other words, this is opening up application modernization to technology that has been working for many iSeries shops for some time now and IBM is now putting its seal of approval on it by adding it to its iSeries Developer's Roadmap. For those who have criticized IBM for its Java-centric roadmap, this comes as quite a surprise. ISVs with non-Java modernization choices, the news is celebrated.
"IBM says its overarching strategy is to build an open community around the iSeries," says Microsoft's Tim O'Brien, who heads up the Midrange Alliance Program. "One year ago, if anyone had said IBM was going to endorse an open community around the iSeries that included Windows and .NET, they would have been asked to have their head examined."
As to how much support IBM will give to the third-party options to application modernization, BCD's Eric Figura, is pretty optimistic. "I can tell you that BCD WebSmart is in the IBM slide show presentation on the topic of modernization. IBM realizes it can't keep doing the same thing, forcing Java and WebSphere on everyone. That will cause people to leave the platform. They have been losing people. Implementing WebSmart does not pull customers away from the iSeries and IBM recognizes that and appreciates the support."
Wilson agrees that the biggest aspect in the iSeries Initiative for Innovation and its related opening of the iSeries Developer's Roadmap is the application modernization piece. In talking about the Avnet-partnered ISVs, he says some want to leverage WebSphere without doing a rewrite in Java. Some, but not many, will do a complete rewrite in Java. That's a very expensive and time-consuming proposition. What it comes down to, he says, is "the option that you take has to do with application itself, the industry it applies to, and where do you want to take the solution in the future."
The choice of options is also price sensitive, meaning that the expenditure to modernize can range from relatively inexpensive to what many companies would consider a ton of money. Wilson says Avnet is helping ISVs navigate through the application modernization process and understand their options and the economic ramifications of the choices they make.