The Power of Software: One on One with Ian Jarman
May 17, 2010 Alex Woodie
There are few executives in IBM‘s Power Systems laboratory in Rochester, Minnesota, with the experience and knowledge of Ian Jarman, who today holds the title of manager of Power Systems software. During the recent COMMON conference in Orlando, Florida, Jarman took some time out of his busy schedule to speak with IT Jungle on a wide range of topics. Here are some excerpts from that conversation.
Alex Woodie: There seems to be excitement in the air over RPG Open Access. Can you explain IBM’s rationale for how it brought it to market, where IBM develops half the technology and leaves the vendors to develop the handlers? What’s the thinking behind that?
Ian Jarman: To make it open. If we said, “We have this new way to program without 5250,” and the extension of RPG is only through IBM, I think people would be upset. I think all the people that create value out there, these ISVs, would be turned off. So the more people adopting it and the more people promoting it, the better it’s going to be.
AW: Could you tell me more about how RPG Open Access came to be. Who is the big backer of that at IBM? How did it happen?
IJ: The requirement came from a number of places. We talked to the Large User Group, and the COMMON Advisory Council. But I think the strongest proponent of this was the ISV Advisory Council. They were saying, “We really want a more direct alternative that allows us to go to something without going through 5250.” Then there were a number of industry influencers and RPG gurus who were influential in supporting this. It was also strongly promoted and supported both by Rational, the Toronto team, as well as the Rochester team.
AW: People have been asking for something like this for years. So what really changed? Was it approved in the upper echelons of IBM?
IJ: No, it didn’t have to be approved at the upper echelons of IBM. When we looked at the investment that we were making in RPG and [asked] what could be the really key significant investments that we could make to demonstrate our commitment to RPG, this came up as an obvious candidate.
AW: A lot of your customers are still on OS/400 V5R3 or i5/OS V5R4. Before they move to i 6.1 or even i 7.1, their ISVs need to support i 6.1 with their applications. At what point do you start to worry?
IJ: If you look at the sales volumes of 5.4 versus 6.1, we’re selling more 6.1 today than 5.4. So we’re going through that transition. Obviously there aren’t as many people on 6.1 as there are previous releases, and that process has been a little bit slower this time around, not only because of program conversion, but also because of the economy, and moving releases and moving systems has not been everybody’s priority over the last couple of years with the challenges in the economy.
Obviously it’s important to have the ISVs. The ISVs are there. If you look at support for 6.1, I wouldn’t say it is 100 percent, but I think it’s practically there. If there’s somebody out there who still doesn’t [support 6.1], we’re prepared to go and work with them to help them get there. But we’ve largely gone through that process with the ISV team. We extended support for 5.4 and we haven’t declared when we’re going to end support for 5.4. We’re going to carefully monitor the market. Obviously 6.1 is a foundation for Power7, and as we introduce new lower-end Power7 servers, I think the move to 6.1 associated with moving up to Power7, is going to be compelling for a lot of people.
AW: The new hardware has a lot performance, and performance is no longer a limiting factor for you. So what’s the limiting factor? What are you focused on?
IJ: You’re right, the performance is not a limiting factor today. In fact this has significantly advantaged the people who sell new applications on the machine, with IBM i. Software is a significant value. And as hardware, in some respect, like memory, is more of a commodity today, it’s not surprising that the value has shifted to software. Actually I’m extremely focused on that. My job is manager of Power Systems software, and it’s a very significant and growing component of our overall Power revenue portfolio. That’s why we’ve invested in the branding, not only of the IBM i, AIX, and Linux, but also of PowerVM, which is the fastest growing software product on the platform today, as well as investing in PowerHA, which has both an AIX and i component.
AW: What work are you doing to get some the other Tivoli, WebSphere, and Infosphere products running in i/OS?
IJ: There’s literally thousands of products across Software Group. Some of the key products for us are WebSphere Application Server, WebSphere MQ, WebSphere E-Commerce, Lotus Domino, Lotus Notes, Sametime, and Quickr. These products are all running on IBM i. It’s never going to be the case that all the products run on IBM i. The fact is the key products that we really want on IBM i are there today, and are supported with the latest releases.
AW: Every Tuesday when I read iSource, invariably I see some WebSphere process server-type of product that runs on mainframe, Windows, Linux, Unix, NetWare, but not i/OS, and that happens time and time again.
IJ: But what you have to understand is we’re not actually looking to invest in all products of the hundreds and thousands of products we have in Software Group. We’re trying to focus on the products that we need as a complementary part of our IBM i portfolio. I’m not saying there aren’t some products out there that we’d like to have. But actually most products for us are there today.
AW: Which products would you like to have on i/OS?
IJ: There’s one we talked about in the Advisory Council, for example, like Lotus Connections. Some of these emerging products are ones that people are interested in.
AW: What about the ISV solutions? Do you have any concerns with key vendors moving away from the platform?
IJ: There’s always movement in the ISV market. If you look at some of the key indicators for support, we have very good relationships with SAP, Oracle-JD Edwards, Infor, and Lawson. This is an area that’s very difficult to generalize. But at some of the briefings I’ve done recently in Rochester, ISVs have actually been re-focusing on the i marketplace, because it’s the core value of their company. And actually in this period of financial challenges, it’s probably even more important to be looking at what’s driving your business, and focusing on those core values.
IJ: We always like to see people investing in IBM i. It’s interesting that when people . . . extend their applications to run on other platforms, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re moving their customer base off IBM i. This is one of the interesting things about Oracle and JD Edwards. I think initially people expected Oracle to do exactly that, take customers from JD Edwards and move them to Oracle. And the fact is that many of those large customers said, “That’s very nice, thank you very much. But if you were to make that change, we might make a similar change and consider somebody else.” So when companies make forced marches anywhere, customers usually make the right decisions for their business, and they’re often to help the ISV understand why they’re running the current solution base that they’re running.
AW: There’s a perception among some of these ISVs that Power Systems is old technology. It’s just there. How do you fight that?
IJ: Practically, if anybody says that Power7 is old technology, they’re incredibly misinformed. How they can make that claim is bizarre. I’m not surprised that people make these kinds of claims. But it looks pretty weak frankly when people say, “OK, yes we support all of our applications from the System/38.” But that’s actually a good thing. We haven’t thrown everything away. We’ve given people upgradeability. Yeah, we could have started again and thrown everything out. But actually on balance, the people here at COMMON realize we’re investing in new technology, XML in the database, PHP, Open Access, iPhone connections. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t support applications that were written for the System/38 and System/36 environments. I’m kind of proud of the fact that we can do that and invest in new technology at the same time, because of this: Nobody else has been able to do it.
But when people throw around the old insults of the AS/400 is old technology, they’re surprisingly misinformed. One of the things that I like about being on Power today is there’s a new confidence in the IBM i community, because we’re riding on what’s quite obviously one of the key breakthrough technologies in the industry today. To exploit Power7, you don’t have to move from PA-RISC, and you don’t have to have to recompile. You just run like you always have. So it really feels good to be in Power today, because of the momentum that Power has in the industry overall, because of the crushing pressure that we’ve put on Hewlett-Packard and Sun Microsystems in the Unix market, and we’re riding one of the industry’s two main technology trains, being Power and Nehalem X86, and we’re riding it extremely well. We’ve absolutely confounded the critics and the people who said the AS/400 is dead, or whatever it might be. And shocked them, I think, that today we’re on the industry’s leading, highest per-core-performance processors.
AW: You’ve done an awesome job in the R&D and development of the products.
IJ: I think you’re beginning to feel that confidence in customers. I get a lot less questions at this conference about that, as much as “What can I do with Open Access?” I’m not hearing so many of the questions that you heard three, four, five years ago. Those have really been put to bed. I really haven’t had so many of those types of questions right now.
AW: Like where’s the marketing?
IJ: Actually I haven’t heard that.
AW: Well I’ll ask it then.
IJ: Absolutely, I can tell you where it is. It’s in our Smarter Planet for IBM. Which has driven IBM to be recognized as the number two brand in the world, alongside Google and Apple, as respected brands. So this Smarter Planet campaign has had a huge impact, and everywhere you go in airports and everywhere else, you’re going to see IBM. And we’re brining that down to a product level through the Power Your Planet campaign, and Smarter Systems for a Smarter Planet, so that we can link the marketing with that broader IBM advertising and marketing spend.
AW: So there’s not going to be any specific i campaign?
IJ: We do specific things for IBM i. But I don’t advertise IBM i at the Super Bowl. It doesn’t make any sense. It would be a waste of money and a waste of time. So what we’re trying to do is focus our marketing spend on marketing that can generate activity and sales in our market, and advertising in an airport doesn’t drive individual products. When you look at our products in the airport, for example, they’re typically not focused on an indivisible product, although there may be some of those. But we’re focusing on the brand. The next thing I’d like to focus on for example is advertising PowerVM, rather than any individual operating system.
AW: At least you guys have been consistent, because that’s been the approach for years.
IJ: When you look at competitive ads, you can get frustrated. But long term I think this is why IBM as a brand is so very strong, because trust, integrity, these types of long-term attributes of IBM that are very clear to our customers. If you look at the 2,300 customers who have moved through the Migration Factory over the past four years, to Power from Sun and HP, I think they’re coming to us because of that trust. And they see that we have a consistent roadmap for Power, and one that they apparently trust more than the roadmaps for Sparc and the roadmap for Itanium.
AW: But most of those customers moved to AIX.
IJ: Yes that program is largely focused on AIX, although not exclusively. There have been i customers migrating in that program.
AW: How many net new IBM i customers have you gotten?
IJ: We don’t really track that number, because it’s practically impossible to track net new customers at this point. Somebody who has not bought from us for 10 years, for example, is essentially a new customer if they buy a Power7 machine.
AW: How important is the Asian market?
IJ: In general, growth markets are a big focus for IBM overall. If you look at growth markets, they include Easter Europe, South Africa, Latin America, Brazil, as well as ASEAN countries, and China of course. Not only in China, but in the greater China region, the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, and so on.
We’re not only selling in China, but also investing in China, in the country, in the community. We have a long standing research and development lab in Beijing, as well as developer labs, so research is base research, our development labs for systems and software in Beijing and Shanghai. Specifically for IBM i, we have two components for our IBM i development team that Dave Nelson manages: one in Rochester, and one in Beijing. And the growth that we have in China is one of the reasons that I spent five months out there last year. We’re investing strongly not only in the three main regional markets–Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou–but also in 30 regional offices around the country. So there’s a long way to go as China develops and grows, and IBM is very well positioned there because of our broader investment in China.