Reader Feedback on Saving System i
January 8, 2007 Timothy Prickett Morgan
As you might have expected, Brian Kelly’s two-part article series, called Saving the System i: Fight Pervasive with Pervasive and Saving the System i: Fight Rather Than Switch, from late last year generated a lot of heated discussion and enthusiasm from the readership of The Four Hundred. Here’s a sample of the feedback, with Kelly’s responses.
We are a small Belgian iSeries business partner. We sell an application for real estate agencies. Our average customer has three users. A small machine would be great now we have very tough competition from Windows machines. We have a lot of interest in our software, but it is hard to sell if your hardware price is four times that of the competition. I told this to Kevin Patterson when he was in Belgium in September 2006 and he told me that IBM would make a machine based for five users and asked me what specifications we would need. I hope he keeps his promise and gives us the small machine.
Thank you very much for your response.
Many real estate brokers in the United States are in the same situation. The box is prohibitively expensive compared with the a la carte Windows alternative.
Once a company buys a piece of the Windows (the X64 server, let’s say), they are on a road to buy lots more–starting with a backup server and the associated “enterprise software” including the SQL Server database– to make the box whole before they even get to the application software. There is a psychological barrier for a company that has invested in a platform–even Windows–to back out, unless nothing works at all. Then, you’re right, the $20,000-plus solution is not going to be considered even after a failure because it just appears far too expensive to risk another failure. So, they try another Windows package. . . .
If IBM actually wanted to compete in this arena, it would have a worldwide new account manager and this person would make new accounts a priority in this business. And of course, in order to sell new accounts, your price points must be right. We can only hope.
I like the idea of having my own personal i5 running a Linux client and i5/OS driven server on the same machine. As an AS/400-iSeries developer for 14 years, it’s a familiar environment for me. So, I can see myself getting the most from my investment, assuming the price is right.
Thanks for the response. Hopefully IBM will hear our voice.
As you and I have discussed before, I think Frank Cary screwed up royally in the late 70s by deciding to play “me, too” in the personal computer marketplace. If he had had a particle of vision, if he had just bothered to read the name of his own company, he would have realized IBM was in the Business Machines business, not the personal machines business. If IBM had developed a business desktop, with the quality and reliability of a business machine, the industry would have been spared the last two and a half decades of trauma with hardware and software that doesn’t do what it says it does and has no reliability whatsoever.
Also, IBM would still be the dominant force in the industry and Bill Gates would still be working out of his garage.
Your article takes this train of thought one step further, and proposes a way for IBM to begin to correct its mistake. Alas, I’m afraid the current leaders of IBM have no more vision than poor Frank Cary. I hope your argument gets before the right people at IBM; unfortunately I have no optimism that will be the case.
Thanks for the reply. Why, when it is so obvious to so many, does the contagion never reach the hallowed corporate halls?
Bill Gates and both Tom Watsons ran their companies as entrepreneurs. Since Thomas Watson, Jr., IBM has run the company as a corporation with all of its entrapments magnified. The post-Watson IBM feared that it was dominating markets because Big Brother was watching. The company did not put in place practices to sustain and grow these markets. The deep fear of government intervention kept IBM docile and mouse-like while its competitors sharpened their teeth for another slice of IBM. Fear was the IBM corporate credo of the 1970s and 1980s.
While Bill Gates stared the government down, IBM’s fear almost brought the company down. Top management continues to have its own sense of personal fear. They are ever-terrified that a Buck Rogers or John Akers type event may force them into embarrassment or premature retirement so they shy away from anything confrontational–even with competitors. A little dose of Bill Gates or Thomas Watson, Jr. or Larry Ellison or Michael Dell or Steven Jobs or any of the other company leaders that IBM helped make billionaires would do wonders for Big Blue any time soon.
Just a short note regarding Saving the System i: Fight Pervasive with Pervasive“. I think it is a great idea, and would want one at work and home.
This is right on the money. I’m about to do a system replacement at home. I’ve considered switching to Mac. A system you described would cost me about the same as a Mac and give me twice the functionality. I’d be ecstatic and would be one of the first to pony up my own money for this.
Thank you very much for your response. Obviously I feel the same way.
Brian, you’ve hit the nail squarely on the head. This is exactly the type of thing that would bring new blood to the AS/400 world. It would allow for more people to do more development work as well as teach younger people how the system works. We all know IBM can do it.
Take for example the old P05 they introduced back in the late 1980s. It was small and fairly cheap (about $6,000 if I remember correctly). With today’s technology surely IBM could put together a system that fits a standard-size PC mini-tower case. Heck, I don’t even care if it’s as big as a AS/400 Model 270. In reality, it might need to be that big to offer a little bit of disk expandability. If they could do it even for $3,000, I’m in, although at that price, it better at least come with three drives and a RAID adapter.
Over the past 15 years, my personal development systems have been hand me downs or old worn out systems nobody wanted. My first was a C25, the next an F04, and now it’s a circa 1999 AS/400 Model 170. These have been good to allow me to do at-home development, testing and experimenting, but they always lacked one thing–being a current technology system running the current OS version. A little i would solve that problem.
I hope you get thousands of emails from people like me and you who want to buy such a system. In fact, during your survey you do next year, you should ask people if they are willing to plop down $2,000 right now as soon as the system is announced. Then, take that petition to IBM and see what its reaction is. I sure hope it’s good, because sometimes it almost seems like IBM wants to kill the system.
For example, it seems like about seven or so years ago you could purchase a development box at 50 percent off list price. Whatever happened to that? A friend of mine bought a Model 150 for I think around $4,000 and we both thought that was a great deal. I heard they killed off the developer discounts a few years ago. When is IBM going to realize that it takes developers out there to create nifty do-dads and gadgets and applications that will attract more customers to the platform? I hope it is a day I will live to see, sometime preferably in the next few years.
Thanks for your article. It woke me up and made me realize there really are some other forward thinking people out there.
Big Blue actually downplayed its own PC innovation in the 1980s for fear that the PC area would be another area of domination at a time that the Justice department was looking at the company as a monopoly and was in the middle of a long lawsuit against the computer technology dominating Big Blue. Those were the days.
Bill Gates learned a lot from that episode–and decided as we all know to do just the opposite of IBM. There was no cowering and gnashing of teeth in the Microsoft camp. They moved forward as always everyday trying to win the day–no matter who cared.
It amazes me that chips similar though somewhat different from the Power chips in our own Big i’s are now used in the xBox360 and a derivative chip is in the Nintendo Wii and a supercomputer version of the chip, the Cell Power chip, is in the Sony PlayStation. IBM Power versions are in all of the front-line game boxes.
How is it that IBM did not do just a little coaxing to get something like “PowerPC inside” on the outside of these units? How about no press and no fanfare at all?
Wouldn’t it be nice if IBM had a press conference to explain that the Power chips in these machines are the some chips as used in one of the company’s most powerful systems, the System i. Free press about something that everybody’s kids are interested in.
They say marketing is the first thing to go. . . .
This is the most insightful article I’ve seen you write. I agree with 95 percent of it. You fail to mention the fact that iSeries professionals resist change violently and that they have a difficult time adjusting to new tools and languages and most important do not invest in employee education, preferring to acquire new skills via OJT or from a book. The end result is the abdication of the technology leadership within an organization.
Here is the good news the larger corps that often show up at the tech conferences that I’ve attended (Costco, Toys-R-Us, Nature’s Bounty, All State, First Data Corp., Gannett, Social Security) are all using i5s as the corner stone of their future Web applications. The reasons for this are the same reasons for choosing iSeries in the past. Reliability, scalability, and the most secure system on the planet.
I’ve heard from a former instructor that taught WebSphere-related classes for IBM education and this is what those some of those customers are saying to him.
It sounds great! But, somehow I do not see IBM doing it. Not because it does not make sense, but because it does. I have begun to think that IBM is not interested in “saving” the AS/400 line of machines.
I do wish all of us luck. Maybe someone at IBM Rochester will see this and actually make waves until it gets done. Wouldn’t that be great?
Thanks for a great article.
Thanks for your encouragement.
Until there is no longer hope, I perhaps hopelessly explore the possibility that the IBM culture is just devoid of exciting ideas so when I get one, I give it to them. So far, not much luck. . . But, maybe one day. So, I try. There are a lot of sharp people still in Rochester, but they are bridled too tightly.
It should be pretty obvious that students are learning to program on PCs because schools and students can afford them.
Your description of the Little i is very appealing. Just keep the governor off so people can really see the power of the machine. Cap it to one user, but let the processor do its job. Now that would be a desktop I could use. No more hassles with trying to get a hole in the firewall to gain access to a System i from home. I wonder what I could build if I had unlimited access and could just tinker?
Wow, Brian, that hurt! As a current Sungard HTE customer, I have seen the Windows Creep for several years now. HTE used to be an “AS/400 Only” ISV, but its user group meetings that I attend each year have been shifting focus to the Windows platform. This is the kind of stuff that makes me sick to my stomach, but I feel powerless to do anything about it.
When I started my career on the System/38, I always thought the Windows platform was mediocre at best. Great for entertainment and gaming, but not a serious contender for business applications. Well, I guess marketing rules (as pointed out in your article), and we have all become accustomed to mediocrity, even in business. I sure hope IBM gets its collective head out of their collective toy box, but I am not going to turn blue holding my breath. I guess they figure on beating the cash cow until it takes its last dying breath! The Borg are here, resistance is futile, and Bill Gates will be laughing all the way to the bank!
A new career is on the horizon, but it may not be in computing. . . if Winderz is all there is. Is that all there is in the future of computing? If so, we will all lose in the end!
I tried to get Sungard to fight for a new System i in Wilkes-Barre, the town in which I live and in which I have a good relationship with the mayor, being his neighbor and having worked on his campaign.
Unfortunately, his administrator and the former finance guy from the past administration had friends who liked Windows and their relationship with the mayor was better than mine. The iSeries people of Sungard told me they would not make a call on the account if they wanted Windows. They were not going to fight it. They suggested the Windows product.
I feel your pain. My city is still struggling to get anything working other than the brand new Dell client PCs. The new Dell servers spin and provide a nice look, but no function.
In my experience with IBM as an SE in the field, once a company or organization makes the switch, unless the decision maker owns the company, the company will cover up the mistake and accept mediocrity for five years or so before the project can be revisited. Sometimes, after time passes and nobody can be blamed, a company is willing to change, but most often, the bugs they get are looked on as better than the risk of a failed new implementation.
Once they are lost, it is tough to get them back. IBM’s turning over its whole business to third parties turned off the new account engine for new AS/400-type machines almost completely. It is too difficult for ISVs or business partners of any kind to sell new accounts, so they don’t–plain and simple. Nor does IBM. In fact, no IBM or IBM partner even holds new account prospecting seminars anymore to try to discover customers. It costs too much to convince small businesses and organizations to go with IBM when they already think Windows will do them fine. Somehow, as expensive as it may be Microsoft is always holding seminars and I keep getting invited. Maybe I should go so I can learn about all these wonderful Winderz things.
Thanks for your reply.