Top 10 IBM i Product and Technology Trends for 2011
December 14, 2010 Alex Woodie
2010 has come and (mostly) gone, and the good news is the business outlook has improved. Compared to the dark days of December 2008, we are in a veritable wonderland of positivism. However, while spending is up and companies are plotting for growth, IT budgets are still guarded, and boosting operational efficiency reigns supreme. With those thoughts in mind, here are 10 IBM i product and technology predictions for 2011.
Cloud Computing and Software as a Service (SaaS)
SaaS and cloud computing may be the long-term savior of the IBM i platform. Many big ISVs that struggle to sell an IBM i package to customers that would prefer a “modern” Windows or Linux system are having success selling access to their IBM i-based applications through the SaaS delivery method. The key, of course, is having a modern Web interface; few organizations will shell out for a 5250-based SaaS accounting or inventory tracking product. Cloud computing, with its emphasis on massive data centers and dynamic movement of workloads, is still not an IBM i stronghold. Cloud platform providers like Google, Microsoft, and Amazon, run their cloud operations on standards-based X64 gear. But several companies in this space have business plans for selling generic access to IBM i resources. And considering the IBM i platform’s advanced virtualization capabilities, tremendous scalability, and superior manageability, it is an idea worth pursuing.
Web 2.0, AJAX, and Application Modernization Development
Business Intelligence and BPM
As the tip of the IT spear, business intelligence is a perennial contender in end-of-year, top-technology lists like this. After all, if each of your competitors this year adopted the same new BI and reporting solutions that were intended to give your business an edge, how are you going to differentiate your business next year? One obvious way: Buy the latest and greatest BI products in 2011, and use them to their fullest extent to better your business. The BI juggernauts (like IBM-Cognos, SAP-BusinessObjects-SPSS, Oracle-Microfocus-Hyperion, and smaller players like Microstrategy, Information Builders, Actuate, and SAS) spend lavishly on product development to keep their products on the cutting edge of innovation and in the minds of decision-makers. Expect some good deals in 2011 as the big dogs move to fend off attacks from successful upstarts like QlikTech, which went public in 2010 and is on a roll, and open source providers like JasperSoft, and Pentaho, and the Eclipse BIRT project. Look for Business Performance Management (BPM) products that offer features such as key performance indicators (KPIs) and Web-based dashboards to become more popular. IBM i-specific BI players like New Generation Software, SEQUEL Software, and mrc will continue to appeal to organizations that want to run or build BI for IBM i servers. And then of course there is DB2 Web Query, the Query/400 replacement that IBM says is selling quite well.
Free and Commercial Open Source Software
Commercial open source has become a huge, market-moving force in the IT world, and the trend is not bypassing the IBM i environment any more. While the early days of open source were characterized by programmer-enthusiasts (think Linus Torvalds and his Linux devotees), today’s open source landscape is covered with successful business plans and widespread adoption of open source software, which has gotten the attention of conservative IBM i types. Every Power Systems server ships with some open source, including the Apache Web server, and all of IBM’s development tools are based on the open source Eclipse project. Zend Technologies develops its successful PHP tools for IBM i in an open source manner. The open source MySQL database (now controlled by Oracle) is the only database that IBM recognized for this platform other than DB2/400. Commercial open source endeavors that have found success on the IBM i platform include SugarCRM, Talend, and JasperSoft. The free and open source delivery model is now being adopted by IBM i ISVs, such as CNX, which decided to give away copies of its Web 2.0 development tool Valence earlier this year. Then there’s the Renaissance Framework, an open source collection of tools for developing CGIDEV2-based Web applications distributed by CoralTree Systems. IBM also went open source this year with its EGL Community Edition software, which can be used to create a range of applications for IBM i. Other open source projects that IBM i shops will be hearing from in the future include MuleSoft, which develops an enterprise service bus (ESB); systems management software developer GroundWork Open Source, which bundles other open source components, like Ganglia and Nagios. And hopefully there will be some surprises in IBM i open source next year.
Document Management and CMS
With their well-documented return on investment (ROI) and environmental friendliness, document management technology will continue to sell well during a period of slow economic growth and heightened green consciousness. At the low-end, products that merge IBM i spool files with electronic document overlays for printing on cheap PCL laser printers will continue to do well. Many of these products will also automatically convert documents to PDF, and distribute via e-mail or archive to an IBM i or Windows hard drive. On the high end, document management will continue to blur lines with more sophisticated content management systems (CMS), such as those from IntelliChief, ACOM Solutions, RJS Software Systems, Vanguard Systems, Real Vision Software, and others. These CMS and workflow products are creating the virtual desktops where companies can work on electronic documents.
Data and Network Security
IBM i servers are blessed with superior out-of-the-box security compared to Windows and Linux, but no platform can be completely immune from the rapidly evolving cyber threats. Like business intelligence, security is another product category that never stays still for long, and 2011 aims to be another banner year for bunker-building. If 2010 is any indication, next year you will continue to hear a lot about the latest advances in encryption, tokenization, data masking, compliance, and strong user-profile management. IBM has made implementing encryption easier with DB2 Field Procedures in IBM i 7.1, but so far only two IBM i security software vendors–Linoma Software and Townsend Security (formerly Patrick Townsend Security Solutions)–have announced plans to support it. Expect to see more vendors support Field Proc in 2011. You can also expect to see more powerful and easy to use security information and event management (SIEM) software, as organizations struggle to absorb and react to security alerts. IBM i shops that process credit cards will also devote a fair amount of time to PCI, but luckily, PCI version 2.0, which was unveiled in October, doesn’t appear to impose a big new compliance burden on IT mangers and auditors. Cloud computing and SaaS providers, however, will be burdened with security concerns and the perception that customers’ data is not safe. Organized crime will continue to find ways to exploit and profit from weak network and data security policies and procedures.
Hosted DR/HA, and D2D
One of the most widely adopted cloud applications in the IBM i community may be data vaulting and hosted disaster recovery (DR) services. By sending their data over the wire to companies like Vault400 and SafeData (which was recently acquired by Data Storage Corp.), IBM i shops are getting rid of their tape drives and tape-based backup processes, while keeping data safe from outages and disaster. The Seagate subsidiary i365 (formerly EVault) is making a business out of licensing its data vaulting technology to data center operators, who in turn offer vaulting services to customers–a franchise model that appears to be spreading rapidly. More IBM i shops are also expected to invest more in hosted DR and high availability (HA) services next year. Vision Solutions and Maxava both have data center partners who offer their DR and HA software to customers through a hosted model; SunGard Availability Services and IBM BCRS will also do well at the higher end of the market. The disk to disk (D2D) and virtual tape library (VTL) appliance market should also expand next year, as IBM i shops look for all-in-one devices that can satisfy backup, encryption, replication, and data de-duplication requirements. This market is expanding; ExaGrid added IBM i and DB2/400 support to its disk-to-disk (D2D) appliance just three months ago. Other D2D vendors supporting IBM i and DB2/400 data include Unitrends , and Crossroads Systems , EMC, LaserVault, Tributary Systems (which acquired D2D product from Gresham Storage Solutions), and Quantum.
The easiest prediction is this: Tremendous momentum behind smart phones will build in 2011. But here’s what you might not know: IBM i developers will venture into the space like never before. Today’s super powerful and capable smart phones–like the iPhone, the Android phones, Blackberrys, and even Windows Mobile 7 phones–have allowed mobile applications to live up to the hype that started over a decade ago. The crucial difference is, instead of writing mobile applications with limiting technology like wireless application protocol (WAP), mobile applications today are simply normal Web apps, with their screens tweaked slightly to fit onto smaller devices. Since IBM i developers are already moving toward Web interfaces with their RPG, COBOL, and Java apps, it’s a relatively minor leap to make those interfaces available on a smart phone. Tool makers like looksoftware, LANSA, and mrc are leaders in enabling mobile app development on IBM i. Application vendors that have embraced mobile app development include VAI, Jack Henry and Associates, and Kronos. IBM is also enabling mobile apps with its Lotus line.
Ten years ago, if you had heard the term “social networking,” you may have thought it meant meeting at the local Elks Lodge, or perhaps gossiping at the water cooler. Today, the phenomenon threatens to rewrite the rules of the Internet, and has spurred a so-called “third wave” of Web innovation (and possibly Dot Com Crash 2.0, according to some). But there’s a reason that Facebook is valued at $35 billion: it delivers hundreds of millions of eyeballs to advertisers every day. Social networking sites like Twitter, LinkedIn, and others also present new opportunities for developers of business software, although exactly how social media is best utilized remains to be seen. IBM is driving social networking hooks into its Cognos and Lotus Notes product lines, while SIEM vendor Q1 Labs now scrolls social media websites for sensitive information. The best social media opportunities may reside in more people-oriented applications, such as CRM. To that end, both Salesforce.com and SugarCRM are making use of social media.
Licensing and Updates
There are big changes afoot in how business customers buy and use software. Companies are more hesitant than ever to plop down a big chunk of change for a perpetual license to a product they may ditch in three years. Instead, subscription-based pricing, where a customer pays in, say, 12-month increments, are becoming more popular. Advantages of this approach include diluting the customer’s risk that they won’t need the software in a few years, and bringing more recurring revenue to the software vendor. It also paves the way to the day when software is treated more like a service than a digital commodity (which is another reason vendors push service oriented product architectures). Vendors are also being forced to adapt to customers that install updates less frequently than in the past, which is a result of smaller downtime windows and fear of disrupting the stuff that works. In response to this, vendors are making updates to products–bug fixes, tweaks, and new features–available in a more a-la-carte fashion. The classic product cycle, which sees one or two minor point releases every year and a major new version every couple of years, is another vestige of the way things once were. Instead, quicker release cycles and more customer feedback–hallmarks of the agile development method that is taking hold–will become the norm. IBM i customers and vendors are on the trailing edge of licensing, update, and development trends, but these forces will become stronger in this community in 2011.