AS/400 LUG Shares Chief i Architect’s “Why i?” Arguments
May 24, 2010 Timothy Prickett Morgan
Back when I started in this AS/400 racket as a newbie reporter who would never dream of asking a mean question of anyone and did not have much of a sense of the business world or how it truly used computers to get work done, I heard something that seemed like a timeless truth even in the late 1980s: No one ever got fired for buying IBM. And no one back then had to justify buying an AS/400. The back-end apps you wanted ran on it, it had an IBM label and a sophisticated, easy to use database and programming language, and hundreds of thousands of companies owned them.
Here we are more than two decades later, no job or platform choice seems to be safe, but it looks like the safest bet, based on revenue streams and the vast installed base of maybe 20 million servers and maybe 80,000 ISVs, has changed to no one ever got fired for buying Microsoft Windows. And the AS/400–by which I mean the Power Systems platform running the i For Business operating system here in 2010–needs to justify continued investment at most shops despite its long history of serving the companies that have deployed it. The AS/400 defined the mainstream in the late 1980s for midrange computing, despite being something of a technological freak, and is pretty much the only surviving platform from the heady days of the 1980s and 1990s of midrange platforms from Digital Equipment, Hewlett-Packard, NEC, and a slew of others that have gone the way of all flesh. And like the three remaining Unix platforms–AIX, HP-UX, and Solaris–OS/400, as embodied currently in i 7.1, is still hanging in there. I would say, and IBM would never admit, that all the best aspects of OS/400 have been used to make AIX good enough to beat HP-UX and Solaris, and both OS/400 and AIX were priced at a premium to generate IBM lots of profits instead of competing against Windows. IBM makes more money doing it this way, and that matters more to Big Blue than anything else.
I personally hate this strategy, since I wanted IBM to make the AS/400 compete with and beat Unix and then Windows, but you’ll notice I am not the president, chief executive officer, or chairman of International Business Machines. I am not even the guy handing out towels in the executive washroom in Armonk.
With a new wave of Power7 systems and i 7.1 software coming out, and the temptation increasing to spend money on the i box in your shop as the economy is on the mend, whether you like it or not, your shop is going to have to justify the existence of your i platform. And the AS/400 Large User Group, that exclusive club and private corporation whose membership includes the 110 largest i shops in the world, feels your pain. And the AS/400 LUG has reached out to The Four Hundred to help you make your case.
I got the following message from Lynne Benedict, the business analyst who manages the AS/400 LUG:
We spoke about 18 months ago for an article you published about the LUG. A few months ago we captured for public consumption a “Why i?” presentation by IBM i chief architect, Steve Will. It has since been published to YouTube and I wanted to pass the link to you to do with what you will.
Thank you for your time,
Well, what else would I do but tell all of you about it? The link to the “Why i?” presentation on YouTube by Will is here, and if you have YouTube blocked on your firewall at work, try this alternate streaming service. In case you don’t know, Will has replaced Frank Soltis, the creator of the System/38 and AS/400 architectures, as the chief architect for the i platform. Tough shoes to fill, of course, but someone has to do the walking. And as you will see in his presentation, Will knows his stuff. And, as you will see from this six-part, approximately one-hour production on YouTube, the case can be made for Power Systems i.
The presentation was put together last winter, ahead of the Power7 server and i 7.1 announcements and it is less vague than a lot of the stuff we see coming out of IBM concerning the i platform. I have criticisms of some of the claims that Will makes about total cost of ownership comparisons–as you might imagine–and as I have said many times, I want harder figures than the ITG studies that IBM commissions from time to time.
I understand that the integrated DB2 database has some self-management features that Microsoft’s SQL Server doesn’t and that means you don’t need a database administrator, and I also understand that the integrated storage management that comes through single-level storage means you don’t need a storage admin, either. But I also know that just like a lot of AS/400 shops have always had one programmer who is also the system admin, there are zillions (okay, millions) of Windows shops running sophisticated database-drive, Webby applications where the only person managing the entire collection of X64 systems is an MSCE.
Will started out the “Why i?” presentation by explaining something I have been saying for years, but you’ll never get Sam Palmisano to say: “It is important to note that IBM i has more customers than any other IBM systems platform.” Will went on to explain to the AS/400 LUG audience, “We sell to tens of thousands of customers and we have hundreds of thousands of customers active on this platform. They happen to be small and medium businesses in addition to large customers.” SMBs, by the way, that may not know or simply care about the platform they are using because it becomes transparent due to its reliability and stability. Like a good husband or wife, I would say.
“We’re out there,” Will said. “And we continue to get new customers because what tends to sell IBM i running on Power Systems is the same thing that used to sell AS/400s: the solution that the business needs to run.”
There’s two charts that kind of show the DNA of the AS/400 business in the presentation. Here’s the first one:
And the second one:
Will knew he was preaching to the choir–and to the front row of the choir, too, with the AS/400 LUG being his original audience–but he said he hoped the presentation had some interesting bits of information that could be used to make the case for the i platform. Things that people may not have known to help them build their case. I found this DB2 page interesting:
I knew that DB2 was fully compliant with SQL standards, but I had not realized it was the first database to meet all of the core SQL 2008 ANSI standard requirements. I have also not seen the self-managing features of the DB2 for i database explicitly laid out in contrast to those features lacking in Microsoft’s SQL Server–the self-adjusting query optimizer, automatic database index creation and maintenance, and automatic placement of data on disks (and now flash). This kind of hard evidence is what is always missing from the case that is made for the i platform. We need to see more of this, and precise–not vague–economic benefits tied to it. The database is key to the AS/400 and successor platforms, and it needs to be highlighted. “We’re keeping it up to date,” Will said, referring to DB2 for i. “It is not just an old database that we are continuing to run.”
And yes, I got a smile when the IT Jungle logo made it to the end of the presentation, where Will was talking about the “active and passionate community.” You bet my kids’ college tuition that I am active and passionate.