IDC and i: Next Time, Can You Talk to Some Real i Shops?
October 6, 2008 Timothy Prickett Morgan
As part of Power Systems general manager Ross Mauri’s open letter to i shops around the globe last week, IBM pointed to a new white paper put out by IDC to espouse the virtues of the i platform. Now, I know a lot of us have complained about the lack of marketing for the AS/400, iSeries, and System i platform, but there is another–and potentially larger–problem: a lack of critical thinking and empirical data that shows, beyond a doubt, the quantitative as well as qualitative benefits of the i platform.
This IDC report that Mauri is pointing to, called IBM and i Power Systems: Leveraging Virtualization in the Datacenter for Flexibility and Business Continuity, is supposed to help you make the case for this platform. I have been at this job a long time, so I have complained, year after year, general manager after general manager, that Big Blue didn’t give its resellers any data to show the AS/400 and its successors were easier to use, easier to program, and offered a lower total cost of ownership. Past IDC whitepapers that IBM has trotted out sometimes danced around the issue, making apples-to-oranges comparisons that made me grumpy. Sometimes IBM used other consultancies to make a case it wanted to make, and I picked apart the data, then, too. Well, this time around, this IDC report is not even trying. IBM, if I were you and you sponsored this research, I would ask for my money back.
You can take a look at the report at this link on the IBM site and see for yourself. Jean Bozman, the author of the report, is a 20-year server watcher who is research vice president in charge of enterprise servers at IDC and who spent nearly a decade as a server beat reporter for IDG’s ComputerWorld trade rag before jumping to the other side of the IDG house to consulting. In all of my interactions with her over the years, I have found Bozman to be smart as a whip, generous with her time, and a very careful listener.
I am utterly baffled by the puffiness of this whitepaper, which is supposed to talk about the virtues of the Power Systems i platform. And not just at large enterprises, but at the midrange shops that make up a large portion of the revenues and the majority of the customer base. And I blame IBM for this. Even if IBM did not compel the creation of this report and IDC did it of its own volition, IBM should nonetheless be investing in research reports that show the substantial economic benefits that come with using the i platform. (My assumption is that there are some. There certainly used to be, and the absence of hard data is particularly suspicious to me.)
The report spends a lot of time on server virtualization, something AS/400 and successor shops have had in production for what? A decade? We get it. And not only do we get it, we have been through a virtualization-driven footprint crunch that Windows and Linux have not even started to see yet in real numbers–but which is coming as inevitably as the day after tomorrow–and that Unix platforms have been living through for the past several years as virtualization has matured on these platforms.
The vast number of i shops don’t have “data center challenges” like those outlined in this report, like power and cooling, because they do not have data centers. The very interesting IDC chart you’ll see on page 5 of the paper, which could be the most famous graphic in IT since I must see it three or four times a week as I talk to platform vendors, shows how power and cooling and systems management costs are outstripping new server spending. Well, yes. But most i shops could give a care about power and cooling–unless you are talking about the several thousand shops using Power 570 and 595 machines, which do have these issues. People are not worried about how many watts their Power 520 is burning. I am not saying the greening of the data center is not important, but this is not as big an issue in IBM midrange as other matters, such as how the i platform competes–or doesn’t–with Windows, Linux, and Unix alternatives.
Here’s what I want to see in a whitepaper:
First, show us some trend data that details how AS/400 and successor platforms have delivered performance scalability over time, and at what price. Now, compare this to Windows, Unix, and Linux platforms. (This all sound familiar to any of you long-time readers of The Four Hundred?) Show how IBM has closed the gap, and where it needs to do some work, on price/performance. And what the heck? Let’s use real benchmark data instead of some smart-alec’s estimates that are done on the back of the envelope because there are no relevant benchmarks done on the i platform any more.
Second, say the obvious. It is always cheaper to go with what you know, and what you know how to do well. This matters. Show that a small manufacturing company with homegrown RPG code is doing as good a job providing functionality for end users, and with good quality of service, as a shop using a Microsoft ERP suite running on the Microsoft software stack. Get 10 real customers in each group doing real work on real platforms, and watch them for a year and measure downtime, cost of outages, product feature rollout, and so forth. Then watch them for a second, third, and fourth year. I am convinced that plenty of RPG shops are doing cool things on the Web with a plethora of really great tools. Things that are just as cool as Winders shops are doing in the same industries and in approximately the same budget range. Which is next to none, if I understand midrange shops correctly.
Third, let’s get some real-world virtualization examples and show how PowerVM is better, cheaper, and faster than VMware‘s ESX Server, Microsoft‘s Hyper-V, and Citrix Systems‘s XenServer. Which one has lower overhead, and which one can support more partitions? Don’t talk generically about high availability and disaster recovery, but show how even small i shops can have virtualization and clustering that is rugged and better than the alternatives in Windows and Linux–virtual or not.
Fourth, talk about the long-term commitment that IBM is making in terms of people and money that will make the Power Systems i combination compete–and compete well–against Windows to maybe gain market share in the SMB space.
And finally, talk to some real i shops. Do surveys of them, and find out what they are thinking and wanting and waiting for.