COMMON Prepares for the Power Systems Evolution
April 7, 2008 Dan Burger
Without the System i, what will become of COMMON, the largest user group dedicated to the OS/400 and i5/OS–and now the i for Business–operating system? It’s well beyond a pretty safe bet that COMMON won’t disappear. It’s a certainty. After all, it’s only the System i brand that’s been erased. The newly rechristened i 6.1 (formerly known as i5/OS V6R1) runs on Power Systems servers, along with Linux and AIX, so nothing changes as far as COMMON is concerned, right? Not exactly.
Randy Dufault, the president of COMMON, says there have been and will continue to be evolutionary changes in the organization that reflect the progression of the hardware and its operating system. And, according to Dufault, these changes are not based on reactions to the moves IBM makes. He emphasizes that COMMON has been proactive in the course of events and has been not only in step with IBM, but advising Big Blue along the way.
“COMMON and its advocacy channels have been working with IBM for a long time to define what COMMON needs in the platform,” Default says. “A result of that is what we heard [April 2]. We now have price parity with the other platforms and one part number when ordering. It changes the equation with the new moniker, but overall it raises System i and the things that are important to COMMON. Instead of System i being this specific piece of hardware, which is very unusual in the computer industry, it brings System i into a standards-based world.”
Product advocacy is one of COMMON’s most important aspects, Dufault says. Along with education, it is one of the top priorities of the organization. It is also one of the unique features of the community of users on the AS/400, iSeries, and System i platform. Although that community has been 100 percent devoted to one platform and now that platform is being merged into a single set of iron that also runs IBM’s AIX Unix and Linux, Dufault says, it is not like this is the dawning of a new day. He also points out that Frank Soltis, the chief scientist for the System i platform and the man considered to be the father of the AS/400, has been saying for years that in his opinion that the System i and System p hardware would likely merge. “It’s not like anyone was blind sided,” Dufault says.
“COMMON’s mission statement has mentioned AIX for at least two years,” Dufault says. “We have had a couple of initiatives to help folks with AIX. It is not necessarily in the mainstream, but it is something that our leaders recognized a couple of years ago. We have worked to bring more content that is germane to the members that are running mixed workloads. The new Power servers are going to make it easier to run those mixed workloads.”
Without a doubt, most COMMON members use the System i to run the applications that run their businesses. And as Dufault points out, there are no indications this won’t continue. However, this change to Power Systems provides the capability to run other workloads on that server and that transitions the server into more of a commodity. It allows the server to be a platform comparable with the rest of the industry rather than a server on its own little island, which is a plus when it comes to selling. Dufault says it will make the Power servers running the i operating system “an important place to put workloads without getting tied up in the issue of the System i hardware being separately priced and difficult to compare.”
Evidence of the System i users being interested in running anything other than i5/OS on their boxes has remained scarce. The message about moving more workloads to the box is often repeated, but the deployments of non-i5/OS applications can’t be described as piling up. Dufault says “changes happen over time,” but it seems the ice ages came and went quicker than this. Dufault counters by saying, “A lot of stuff that was hard to do is now becoming easier to do. That will lead to more adoption.”
Back to the topic of product advocacy, Dufault says the AIX community doesn’t have COMMON’s strong advocacy capability, like OS/400 and i5/OS have had, which comes from gathering the needs of members and consolidating them into coherent requests for improvements to the product. Becoming an advocate for AIX seems a bit like Ford owners relying on a Chevy owners’ group to be their advocate, but Dufault says, “We are looking into whether the Unix community can be served [by COMMON] in that fashion.”
Certainly this would provide COMMON with a growth opportunity and it may be that the merger of the System i and System p brands opens this door. “We would like to extend our community into that community of Linux and AIX on Power users and keep everybody talking and telling IBM what they need to do with this product set to make it better,” Dufault says. “Unix does not have a user group. We want to give that community support and representation like we do for the System i.”
According to the COMMON president, there is work going on behind the scenes and it has been going on for a long time. It’s just not visible yet.
“We are looking to find what those communities needs are,” he says. “COMMON is meeting the needs of the System i users, but I’m not sure what COMMON does is the right thing for the Linux and AIX communities. That’s what we are working on. The needs for advocacy, for education, and for community. Then you will see products and services to meet those needs. Will they be different than the COMMON that we are used to? COMMON is different from what we were used to. It has changed pretty dramatically over the past couple of years.”
A forecast that COMMON will change is probably accurate. It seems inevitable, given the new lay of the land and the differences between the System i community and the Linux and AIX communities. Dufault understands that this is not solely a matter of adding educational sessions. There will have to be some cultural changes within the organization if it is to become representative of all Power Systems users and, therefore, a value proposition for members regardless of platform history. This isn’t the new frontier. COMMON has ties into the AIX and Linux communities through its IBM connections and it does have members who are running Linux and Unix workloads in their environments.
COMMON 2008 Annual Meeting and Expo
As we report on elsewhere in this issue, the COMMON annual user group meeting took place last week in Nashville, Tennessee. Dufault reported the overall attendance was 1,800, including vendors and those participating in less than the full conference activities. This was comparable to the attendance figures at the 2007 event held in Anaheim, California, but Dufault noted that in Anaheim there were a higher percentage of single-day admissions. The IT Executive Conference held in conjunction with COMMON was sold out, and 41 executives participated. Exhibitors in the Expo area increased from 80 in Anaheim to 92 in Nashville, and Dufault also was pleased with the increased attendance at the Industry Special Interest luncheon, where 85 guests turned out to hear Carol Woodbury speak on the topic of PCI security specifications.