There’s No i in Future, But Is There a Future in i?
May 5, 2008 Neil Palmer
Editor’s note: IBM hosted its New Power Equation merger of the System i and System p server brands at the COMMON midrange user group meeting in Nashville, Tennessee, a little more than a month ago, and Neil Palmer, a long-time midrange expert and member of both COMMON and the Toronto User Group, prepared a statement, chock full of criticism and questions, to read to the top IBM brass. He didn’t get a chance to get the whole thing vocalized at the meeting, so we are giving him a chance to speak his mind, on your behalf, in The Four Hundred.
He began by referring to the April Fool’s spoof that “Cervantes” wrote for Four Hundred Stuff, saying IBM was changing the name of the platform back to the AS/400 and was going to start promoting the box, and then took it from there.
If what was printed in Four Hundred Stuff from IT Jungle yesterday was true, I’d have nothing to say, but I’ve heard what Mark Shearer [former System i general manager and now vice president of marketing and offerings for the Business Systems division at IBM, which is a marketing unit] just said, and I also heard what he said at the opening session. I’ve been on the AS/400 ride and at COMMON for more than 20 years, and I really want to believe it all, but 20 years is long enough to know that whoever is up on stage from IBM is just playing to this crowd.
The two biggest growth areas in IBM lately seem to be shipping reorganization charts and new names, and although some of your new organizational names have very catchy abbreviations, like the one for Business Systems, when it comes to product naming, your competition has always had you beat. I find it ironic that our IBM keynote speaker at COMMON opened with a chart on history, including the quote about those who do not learn from history being doomed to repeat it, and yet here we are again with another new name, chosen with no regard for the costs this constant rebranding has on your business partners and customers. Mark, did you not learn anything from the eServer rebranding–the biggest marketing blunder since New Coke? A mistake I thought you had already acknowledged in 2005. And now we have POWER = Painfully Obvious We Endlessly Rename.
Our system (and I say our because we, as a user community–and I’m including the IBM developers in Rochester, Toronto, and other labs here–have always taken far more pride in ownership of it than IBM Armonk ever has), our system was always defined by the operating system, OS/400. Or it’s poorly chosen successor name i5/OS, and now the latest, “i.” How unique. Google i and you’ll get over 8 billion hits. Apart from yet another new name, there’s nothing announced here that seems System i specific. At COMMON’s opening session, you referred to the operating system as the “secret sauce.” Is there a future for our “secret sauce” or has it passed its “sell by” date?
I really want to believe that there is a “next 20 years” as Mark said at COMMON, but looking back at the past year, we’ve seen the i5/OS development budget progressively chopped from around $130 million to around $28 million. There’s no real money for marketing our system, as is self-evident. Frank Soltis, one of our system’s key developers, has had his travel budget slashed to practically nothing and IBM’s internal Blue Pages directory lists him as being in the “Systems & Technology Group, System p.” After years of forcing him to try to market this product with one hand tied behind his back, you fired Malcolm Haines, one of the most passionate advocates ever for our system. In Rochester, Helene Armitage (in charge of software development in Rochester) referred to IBM “doing a VSE on it” when speaking about i5/OS development, and many of the chefs for your “secret sauce” have seen their kitchens closed. Moreover, several managers, like John Reed, have abandoned ship because they don’t want to go down with the iTanic. Postscript: Soon after COMMON, Soltis’ travel budget was reinstated–one small victory, I suppose. 🙂
When Tom Jarosh took over as AS/400 general manager, he was told by chairman Lou Gerstner to keep this thing alive for as long as possible–in other words, to milk the cash cow but provide it with minimal sustenance. In December 2006, Tom stated that the System i was “on life support.” At an internal IBM meeting in the United Kingdom last spring, Anil Menon of STG marketing said, “It is wrong to say that the System i is dying. . . . it’s already dead.” About three months ago, Bill Zeitler mentioned something about the System i being reincarnated. Remind me again what the prerequisite for reincarnation is? Even the System Handbook and System Builder are being killed. What better way to announce to your business partners that our system is dead?
IBM should invest or divest. I dream of our system being owned by a company like Apple, which genuinely believes in being different rather than just talking about it. Who believes in integration, no viruses, and in making things effortless? Who’s proven they know how to market a product that has many of the same attributes as our system?
I’d even accept one final renaming, to the iSystem. It seems to me our system has the same fate as OS/2 and VSE. Saying otherwise would even be a challenge for the Iraqi Information Minister. I want there to be a “next 20 years.” Can you say anything today, and back that up with firm proof and actions, to stem the impression the future for our system is to be left alone in a retirement home, living on a Social Security budget, quietly waiting for the end to come? The gauntlet is down, IBM. Prove me wrong.
Neil Palmer started out his IT career as a part-time System/360 computer operator in 1972 and moved over to the System/3 platform in 1975 and never looked back, evolving his skills as a software engineer on the System/3X, AS/400, and successor platforms and participating in joint COMMON-IBM task forces and committees that have provided input to the evolution of the midrange platform. He has been a member of COMMON since 1988, immediately in the wake of the original AS/400 launch. Palmer can be reached at email@example.com.