User Feedback Credited for Inspiring System i Development
July 30, 2007 Dan Burger
Last week was a big news week for IBM‘s System i product line. Announcements about the pending release of the latest version of its operating system, V6R1, the availability of Power6 processors in its servers, and the creation of enterprise-level and SMB-level divisions for marketing its systems created some fireworks that caught the attention of many System i community members. We knew the system upgrades were coming. We just didn’t know when. The high-end and entry-level split of the System i line came as a surprise.
Change is good. It is also inevitable. Like it or not, you can either get onboard or get run over by the train. But really, what’s not to like?
The dual-core Power6 is a powerhouse processor that is making its way into the System i sooner than anticipated. It will be available in a System i 570 by mid-September, and available throughout the entire System i lineup by February 2008, if the rumors we hear are correct or if IBM doesn’t change the plan. Not coincidentally, the introduction of V6R1 will occur in 2008 as well–and probably near the rest of the Power6-based System i machines.
New servers and new operating systems seldom have an immediate impact on sales in the System i installed base. It’s not likely that Power6 and V6R1 will be any different. What’s important to keep in mind is the direction these new products are taking, because eventually the innovative technologies do work their way into widespread distribution, at least within the existing ecosystem.
For instance, take note that the soon to arrive System i 570 packing Power6 chips will only be available with one variant of the i5/OS operating system. Currently there are two versions: Standard and Enterprise. The Standard Edition does not support the 5250 green-screen protocol commonly used by RPG and COBOL applications. How many of you are interested in an offering such as that? My guess is that it’s not many. The Power6 version of the Systems i 570 will have full 5250 capacity and DB2/400 integrated. The single version of i5/OS V6R1 will not have all the bells and whistles that the current Enterprise Edition has built in; however, there will be no shortage of either bells or whistles. They will simply be packaged and sold individually so no one pays for features they have no intention of using. Sounds customer friendly, doesn’t it?
The idea of being customer friendly brings me around to a press release IT Jungle received from COMMON last week. It plays up the fact that IBM has been very proactive in gathering input from its System i user base. Because COMMON is the largest System i user group in existence, you would expect it to have some sway with how things get done at Big Blue. Over the years, COMMON’s influence has waxed and waned. Certainly more than one reason exists for this, but perhaps the biggest is that IBM has, at times, chosen to downplay and even ignore its AS/400 and iSeries customers and the products that were most important to them.
Credit Mark Shearer, the top executive in the System i business unit for nearly three years, for changing this. And credit COMMON for its involvement.
The user group deserves some credit for several years ago forming the COMMON Americas Advisory Council, a group currently consisting of 17 members who funnel product ideas from the users to the executives in Rochester. The group gathers ideas, primarily from the ranks of its membership, prioritizes those ideas, and then presents them to IBM in the form of suggestions for new products and feedback on existing products. Face-to-face meetings between the council members and IBM executives occur twice a year. The council members share information internally via twice-monthly teleconferences.
The COMMON press release quoted Shearer as saying, “The members of the System i user groups [including local user groups] were the inspiration for many of the product features and enhancements we announced today [July 24]. This is a community that knows the unique value that the System i platform provides to clients and they help IBM determine how it needs to adjust and improve to support changing technology needs.”
No one would argue that the users know the product better than anyone. Most would agree that IBM is much better at listening to its System i customers and making some necessary changes. Some would say IBM needs to do more listening and make more changes.
I contacted COMMON to find out if someone would comment more specifically about suggestions from users that went up the chain and resulted in new products or product enhancements. For now, COMMON doesn’t want to go into those details. As much as anyone would say was written in the press release and attributed to COMMON president, Randy Dufault: “COMMON has always taken a leadership position in delivering System i product requirements to IBM and continues to do so as the collective voice of its members. This presentation of our members’ needs to IBM has influenced the development and release of new System i solutions over the years that benefit the entire System i community, including the delivery of PHP and IP telephony to System i.”
I suspect that more details regarding the role of customer feedback will eventually be released and commented upon. The COMMON Americas Advisory Council is a good device to have in place as a channel of communication between the users and IBM. You can find out more about the council at this link.