Q&A With Colin Parris, IBM's Power Systems GM
Published: June 11, 2012
by Timothy Prickett Morgan
Just ahead of the COMMON midrange conference back in early May, Colin Parris, who had been vice president and business line manager for the Power Systems line, was named general manager of the division, replacing Tom Rosamilia, who was GM of a combined Power and System z mainframe division. Parris, whose background is in software and research, takes charge of Power Systems when it has vanquished its Unix and proprietary rivals but is looking for a way to expand Power-based computing in the enterprise.
(Rosamilia, as The Four Hundred previously reported, has been named vice president of corporate strategy and general manager of enterprise initiatives, reporting to new IBM CEO Ginni Rometty.)
At COMMON, Parris and long-time AS/400, iSeries, and IBM i product manager Ian Jarman, who in February was named analytics marketing manager for Power Systems and System z at IBM, sat down with me and Dan Burger to talk about all things i. Here's the first part of the interview.
TPM: The very first thing I always want to know whenever I talk to you or your predecessors is this: How's biz?
Colin Parris: Let me just use the word "well." We did well. So far, we have only released numbers for the i through the third quarter, and i grew in the first, second, and third quarter, and this is the first time that happened in roughly about two years. Power has grown well, and i grew well in the first three quarters. In the fourth quarter, I think things slowed down for the entire industry a little bit. It could be the macroeconomic things that are going in Europe, some in the United States. But the first three quarters were quite good.
TPM: Talk to me generally about what's selling. I assume it is the low-end models, which got the Power7 refresh in October.
Colin Parris: The low-end models are doing very well.
TPM: And those low-end Power machines are still the dominant shipment box for the IBM i base?
Colin Parris: Yes. The thing to consider with the big machines is the refresh cycle. When the big players refresh, they do so every two or three years. The low-end is steady. We see steady growth in the low end for IBM i, whereas I see cycles of refreshing at the high end, just like with the mainframe.
Colin Parris, general manager of IBM's Power Systems division.
TPM: Because Power Systems controls the operating systems for its machines, can you give us a sense of how many people are participating in the Technology Refresh updates for IBM i 7.1?
Ian Jarman: We can tell you that generally that from the time after we announced the withdrawal of IBM i 5.4 the refresh mechanism is understood. In a session yesterday, we had a show of hands on which customers were on which release, and clearly the majority of them are on IBM i 6.1 and 7.1.
TPM: Is there still a large base of OS/400 V5R3 and IBM i 5.4 out there?
Ian Jarman: There's always a big base of older clients out there.
TPM: Assume it is a dominant portion by number, but not by revenue or other metrics. And that is true of other operating systems, too. Every vendor gets this pyramid, with a third of your base active and two third of it is not. Solaris is no different. AIX is no different. Every base I have ever seen has this sort of shape to it. It is not 80/20, I don't think that is being generous enough. I assume IBM i is no different.
Colin Parris: No it isn't really. We see the same thing. People have an amortization period over which they move their machines. What we find is that people don't throw these older machines away. They just keep them busy doing something else.
TPM: But don't they run risks using old V5R3 machines? I mean, people used Windows 2000 Server for too long, too. I mean, I did that at my own company for several years because if it isnít broken you don't try to fix it. But don't you run a security risk?
Colin Parris: I think they do. If you talk to them about vulnerabilities, they ask you one question: Show me the exposures. And if you can't cite exposures. . . .
TPM: What can be done to encourage them to move? You and I and Tom Rosamilia, your former boss, have sat here and talked about this before. I keep thinking that you now have live partition mobility and you have everything you need to do a proper cloud with IBM i, that this is the way to move these customers ahead.
Colin Parris: We can do a couple of things to help them. One large issue is the ISVs. The customer's biggest fear is that if they move, the ISV has a new set of licenses, and the costs are higher and they pay higher maintenance. So what we have done with some of the larger players is we have gone in and done deals and given them a break for the transition to move across. We have put in migration rebates that we can do so you can move over, and we give other incentives to balance the financial part of the equation.
The financial part of the equation is a big piece. The other thing that we talk to the ISVs about is the fact that, as Infor, for instance, will tell you, they have a whole new set of capabilities--a new way to modernize, a new way to add features--and that sparks some interest with them. So it is a combination.
Dan Burger: In the meeting yesterday, it sounded like those ISVs are some of the reasons why customers are not making the move, and in some cases they were alluding to the fact that the ISVs were not prepared for them to make that jump.
Ian Jarman: Our view is extremely limited at this point because our nearly all of our ISV community--I can't say 100 percent--support our latest releases of the software.
Dan Burger: When you were talking about financial incentives that you can provide to be the carrot would be a wash?
Colin Parris: I can never promise to make it a wash because I have no idea what any particular customer is running. But the ISVs I am talking to want the transition, and for two reasons. If you keep these old versions around, you have to support them and that's an issue. I used to do software development, and the other thing is that with every old version you find bugs that you never found before. You didn't run something for four years and then finally in the fourth year something unusual happened, such as a memory leakage. So they want to get you off those old releases. The second thing that ISVs know is that if I can get you onto new releases, I have new capabilities that will track you to other things.
Plus, the way that money works with the ISVs is that you get a stream. The stream as you buy a newer block of licenses goes on for another four years at a higher level, and that stream revenue is what an ISV uses to do future development. So all the ISVs want to move people forward.
TPM: Is the problem bad behavior--bad behavior is strong words, but I will us it anyway--on both sides? You get companies during the Great Recession and maybe even before the recession started who stopped paying their application maintenance and now they have to pay the after license charges to get current on maintenance again. And the ISV looks at the customer and says, look, you didn't help me pay the bills all those years, and you want to jump back in now after you cut me off for four years and get all the benefits that everyone else had to pay for? That isn't fair. And at the same time, the customer explains that they had to do what they had to do to stay in business during the recession. That strikes me as the real problem.
Ian Jarman: That's why the advice that we give to customers is that maintenance is really important to them, and it is not just important to IBM and the ISVs, but also to our clients because it is what is providing the security and the safety and reduces exposures and so on. That is why we always advise them to be on software maintenance for IBM i and for the ISVs.
Colin Parris: My view, and maybe this is just my background in software, is never go off maintenance. That's just my risk profile, and maybe other people have different risk profiles.
TPM: I want to shift gears a bit and talk about iNext. It looks like iNext is kinda scheduled for 2014, and we've heard late 2014 maybe early 2015.
Colin Parris: That's the approximate timeframe for it. We have to look at what other things we are doing with the platform at that point in time. In 2010, we moved to a strategy IBM calls "performance redefined." And rather than just looking at technology, we want to look at how we increase service delivery capability, how do we manage quality of service, how do we manage IT economics. We took a much more client-oriented view rather than the performance view we always had. So what we have been doing is slowly morphing the portfolio to match that view and find ways to deliver that value.
The interesting thing about the new PureSystems is that a lot of the ideas in the machine were ideas that IBM i embodied before. And I think that is a profound thing. Tom and I have been fighting assiduously to bring back that focus on i. Oracle helped us, actually, by doing their Exadata and Exalogic boxes, because they had an integrated system. And we knew what was going on, and so a few years ago we started the PureSystems effort, which was called Project Troy and various things internally. It was based on the idea that if you could simplify the system and reduce labor costs, there would be a whole realm of people in this midmarket space, and probably even in the large enterprise space, that would pick it up. So what you see here with PureSystems is the next evolution that is directly influenced by what we have done on IBM i before.
TPM: My observation is that for operating systems in general, everybody is trying to stretch them out because nobody wants to do a major version upgrade any more. Even if there isn't an incremental price for a an OS version upgrade, which used to be the problem, now the problem is no one wants to recertify and now everyone wants their OS supplier to do the updates to be compatible with new hardware but without breaking compatibility in the runtimes. My guess is that Technology Refreshes will get you several more years easily because you are not going to make major architectural changes in either the OS or the underlying hardware. It seems to be a smart way to do it.
Colin Parris: That's the view we have, and that is what our clients have been telling us.
TPM: So has Power7+ taped out and is there new hardware coming down the pike some day?
Colin Parris: Power7+ comes this year.
TPM: And what about Power8? Is it still predevelopment and whiteboarding, or is it at the next phase in development?
Colin Parris: Power8 is moving into the next phase, and this is something I will be quiet about because we are doing a number of different things with Power8. Power7+ will come out at the end of this year, and if you think about the cadence, Power8 will come out some time after that.
Parris Named Power Systems GM, Rosamilia Moves Up
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Palmisano Hands The IBM Reins To Rometty
IBM Taps Software Exec For Power Systems Marketing
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Q&A With Power Systems Top Brass, Part Two
Q&A With Power Systems Top Brass, Part One
IBM Puts Power Systems and System z Server Under One Manager
IBM Reorganization Tucks Systems Under Software
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