The Official 2008 TPM System i Wish List
January 14, 2008 Timothy Prickett Morgan
It is the beginning of a new year, and a time when IBM is not only readying a new line of Power-based servers and an improved i5/OS operating system, but also rejiggering its Systems and Technology Group to do a better job chasing server sales among small and medium businesses and to preserve its strength in the enterprise server space. Before the concrete is poured into the 2008 forms, it is probably a good idea for all of us to give Big Blue a sense of the things we would like it to do with the System i product line.
I’ll go first, because I feel like it this year. In years gone by, I have sometime asked you to send me your AS/400, iSeries, or System i wish lists first and then put mine together, sometimes I go first and you riff on what I say. The process is fun as well as enlightening, and I hope that many of you will send me your own personal Wish Lists so we can provide input to IBM and its partners.
So, here goes my list, in no particular order since this is stream of conscious, after all.
1. Fix the product naming conventions. With the System i product line being split between Business Systems and Power Systems, and the System i and System p divisions not really in existence any more and the System i and System p brands presumably being readied for a walk to the pasture, now is the perfect time to start over and get all of the product names right. (Yes, I know you are nearly choking on your tongue laughing at that statement. With Cisco Systems owning the IOS brand and Apple Computer sticking a baby “i” in front of every device imaginable, the “i is for Integration” thing is not really working any more. Unless you want to do something like this: “i sold the AS/400 business to Steve Jobs, so now it can succeed.”
Having said that, I still like my idea from what seems like a zillion years ago, when I said that IBM should do it this way: The operating system is i/OS; the integrated database is i/DB and the MySQL variant being readied for the System i box could be called i/MySQL. The Web application server with the integrated Apache Web server is i/WEB. The 5250 protocol is i/GREEN, which is funny considering how expensive the 5250 Enterprise Entitlement features were and how efficient the 5250 protocol is for transaction processing (and therefore green in the power efficiency sense). The Java virtual machine and related features could be called i/JAVA. The integrated PHP engine on the box could be called i/PHP. The complete set of compilers for the platform would be called i/CODE. You got the idea instantly.
You could use a branding campaign that centers more on community, capitalizing on the notion of “we.” But then again, Nintendo is already doing that with the Wii game console, so forget that idea, too. Doing the “you” or “u” thing sounds too much like a command from a vendor, and “they” sounds like something you are not involved with. “It” works somewhat because of the “information technology” thing, but maybe trying to coattail on a pronoun is not a good idea at this point.
IBM could use the Power name in all machines based on Power processors, but then again, Dell has been using the PowerEdge brand for more than a decade. Why help Dell out?
We used to call it the “Application System/400” because 40 came after 38 (from the System/38 mini) and 400 came after 390 (from the System/390 mainframe). Now, we have a new division called Business Systems, so presumably we could start calling machines “the BS/515” or the “BS/570″and really start being honest about it. . . .
But seriously, before IBM renamed the Power-based server divisions the Business Systems and Power Systems divisions, it should have thought about using the new division name as part pf the product names. In that case, IBM’s low-end System i machines would be stuck with the “BS” moniker, bad for obvious reasons, and bigger System i and System p machines would have the “PS” name. This has already been used for Personal Systems–an abbreviation that has cooties at this point, after the failure of the PS/2 line and the OS/2 operating system. That said, for all I know, IBM is planning to use the BS and PS monikers on Power6-based machines this year. Stranger things have happened, like eServer and Magic Box. Midrange Systems doesn’t mean anything any more–or at least not anything that doesn’t invoke the image of green screens and punch cards–so that is out.
It is surprisingly easy to come up with bad ideas, isn’t it?
The right answer is probably just “IBM System/variable.” Use System/z6 for all mainframes based on the forthcoming quad-core z6 mainframe processors, System/p6 for all machines based on Power6 processors, and System/x6 for the equivalent generation of X64-based machines. (Basically, you force the System/x to mean something that it doesn’t. Or, IBM could make its own Opterons and rebrand them and make it work.) Then the operating systems are z/OS, i/OS (pay Cisco a royalty to use it, or get the IBM hired gun lawyers at Cravath, Swaine & Moore to get a judge to say it is different from IOS because of the lower case i and a slash), and u/OS (formerly known as AIX Unix and just for fun, make it an amalgam of AIX Unix and an Ubuntu Linux runtime). That leaves z/WEB, i/Web, and u/Web for application servers; z/CODE, i/CODE, and u/CODE for development environments; z/DB (DB2 mainframe), i/DB (DB2/400), and u/DB (DB2 Universal Database for Unix and Linux). IBM could license Windows and create a w/OS and a w/DB, too. Or, it could just call those Windows 2008 and SQL Server 2007 and take the money.
I am not thrilled with this scenario. Please, come up with something better before IBM prints stuff up for the spring System i announcements.
2. Bring user-based pricing across the System i product line. This one seems pretty obvious. No one wants to think about software pricing any more in a world where the number of processors is ramping up, virtual machines are springing up everywhere, and it is increasingly difficult to nail down what programs are running where and for how long. Unless IBM wants to price all software on its systems based on the amount of main memory they use over time–which is about the fairest scenario I have heard to date on the software pricing issue–then pricing to the value each user presumably derives from having access to programs is the next best thing.
Here’s the point to remember: If you price any piece of software low enough, you probably can make it up in volume to a certain extent. If you price it too high, people will restrict usage to the programs they buy to only key people. Lower prices are probably not only better for sales and margins for software vendors like IBM, but they discourage pirating and they also increase the likelihood that a large number of users become dependent on a product. It is a kind of lock in. Look at Windows and Office on the desktop. How hard is it for you to move, even with the advances in OpenOffice?
3. Actually unify the product numbers and prices on the formerly independent System i and System p products. In short, IBM needs to stop overcharging System i customers for processors, base operating system functions, main memory, disk drives, and other peripherals. Stop pretending these are different platforms, and a DIMM is not a DIMM and a disk is not a disk. How many more of those 200,000+ OS/400 and i5/OS shops can you afford to drive into the arms of Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard, IBM?
4. Make the new IBM servers look cool. I got my first iPod last fall, the iPod Nano G3, which my wife gave me in red with my name and phone number engraved on it. This is an extremely sexy little machine, and despite the fact that I am no great fan of Steve “I Am the Smartest Man in the World” Jobs, Apple does fine work and he is to be commended for not alienating the people who actually do product development at the company.
Let’s face it. Servers are pretty ugly, and hot and noisy, which is why we hide them in data centers and data closets and under desks. I think any kind of machinery can be made attractive. I happen to like the brushed aluminum and brass grille cases I made for IT Jungle’s own homemade servers–which are made from high-end picture frames and stock aluminum parts I bought at Home Depot, with lots of screws to give it that turn-of-the-century look. I threw in some blinking lights and used plexiglass for the top and bottom of the case so you can see into the guts of the machine, too.
When I walk into the Apple Store in Soho, I want these desktop machines and laptop machines just because they are so elegant. My point is, why not have servers that are attractive enough to be put on display? That is a kind of advertising and marketing, too. How much did I just help Apple by mentioning the new iPod Nano? Not as much as that 1-2-3-4 song by Feist, of course–which also put this Canadian songwriter on the charts–but you get the idea. Let people trick out their data centers, and don’t make it cost extra. Make light and color and sheen all part of the product.
5. Make OS/400, DB2/400, and the RPG and COBOL compilers open source. I said it before, and I will say it again. If these products are as good as everyone says that are, and are merely limited from exposure in the market, then put some or all of the software out as an open source platform. If the software is tied as tightly as I suspect to Power-based iron, then very few people will have the skills to port it to other architectures, even if they have the desire. Look at Solaris on Power. Not even close, and it has been in development for two years. But look at all the good public relations and street cred that Sun Microsystems attained by taking Solaris 10 and its related tools open source–not to mention the 12 million licenses of Solaris that Sun has pumped out in the past two years. Sure, very few of these are in production, but millions of developers are playing with Solaris now who might otherwise have gone to Linux or Windows.
6. Native .NET Support on Power. I know there is no way Microsoft will ever come to terms with IBM to recreate a variant of the Windows platform that runs on Power processors. But the next best thing, as I have explained in past articles, would be a native .NET runtime environment (perhaps based on the open source Project Mono .NET code) that can take code written using Microsoft’s tools on Windows machines and execute it on a System i box against a DB2/400 database.
7. Open i5/OS University. I said this five years ago, and we still need it today. I want IBM and the key hardware reseller and application partners in the i5/OS and OS/400 ecosystem to create a free and open university that will provide a System i education to a few thousand newbie programmers every year in the Western economies where most of my readers pay taxes. To qualify for that education, newbies will have to agree to work for IBM, resellers, or ISVs for a set term–perhaps one year of work for every year of education. IBM, resellers, and ISVs agree to provide these people salaries based on the prevailing wages in the market at the time to make it fair. We still need junior programmers and administrators for the day when the experts all retire, and no matter how hard they try, colleges and universities won’t do the training because they can’t attract the students. A free education with a guarantee of a job if they do well in the courses ought to kill two birds with one stone.
8. An affordable i5/OS development platform. If IBM won’t port i5/OS and its tool stack to X64 processors, then it is going to have to create an affordable i5/OS development machine. We have been over this many times in this newsletter. Get it done. Nerds learn most of their stuff on their own machines and on their own time. Get a cheap 64-bit Power machine in the field with the i5/OS software stack and restricted to application development.
9. Don’t even talk to me about System i marketing. Well, unless you really need to for medicinal purposes.
10. Finally, things I asked for over the years and eventually got. I asked for user-based pricing on the OS/400 platform so many times over the past 18 years I can’t keep track of it all. But the i5 515 and 525 got us on the right path. I asked for blade servers that supported OS/400 when IBM first started selling its BladeCenter machines in 2002, and starting soon, the JS22 blade running i5/OS V6R1 will be a real product and IBM can deliver an integrated, hybrid blade platform that appeals to SMB customers. I have been asking for IBM to take the governors off the AS/400, iSeries, and System i machines, and over time, IBM has drastically reduced its fees for the 5250 green-screen protocol. But unfortunately, the high price for 5250 capacity that IBM was trying to charge over the past decade did a lot of damage to the business. I asked for rack-mounted OS/400 machines, and we finally got them in 2004, but we also need cool tower servers that SMB shops with relatively modest computing requirements need.
So, now it is your turn. Hit that Contact button above and let me know what you are thinking. We are all waiting eagerly to hear what you have to say about what IBM should do with and for the System i platform.