Q&A With Power Systems Top Brass, Part Two
May 16, 2011 Timothy Prickett Morgan
Q&A With Power Systems Top Brass, Part Two
The editorial team from The Four Hundred had a pow-wow with the top brass in the Power and z Systems division within IBM‘s converged Systems and Software Group at the COMMON midrange user group meeting in Minneapolis. Last week we gave you the first half of the meeting, where all kinds of things were discussed, and this week you get the second half, with more things jawboned and bandied about.
Tom Rosamilia, who was tapped to run both the Power and mainframe lines at IBM last August, had been running the mainframe line before that July 2010 reorganization and was in charge of the WebSphere line of middleware within Software Group before that, sat in on the meeting. As did his lieutenants, Ian Jarman, Colin Parris, and Linda Grigoleit, and I brought along ITJ editors Alex Woodie and Dan Burger to sit at the round table.
Jarman has been the product marketing manager for the AS/400, iSeries, and System i lines for many years and was tapped to be the manager of the entire Power Systems systems software lineup two years ago. Parris was in charge of the systems software development labs for Systems and Technology Group until last August, when he was named vice president and business line manager for the Power Systems business, working directly for Rosamilia. Grigoleit is the program manager in charge of the Power Systems Academic Initiative, which tries to build bridges between IBM and colleges and universities to make sure people have the Power Systems skills that companies need.
Because this was a long interview, we broke it into two pieces. I did most of the yakking at the beginning along with Rosamilia and Jarman, but other people dove into the fray in the second half of the interview.
Alex got us started talking some more about the program conversion necessary to move applications from i5/OS V5R4 to IBM i 6.1 and 7.1, which was touched on a bit in the first half.
Alex Woodie: With program conversion, you guys have a lot of customers on 5.4 that haven’t made the jump yet, either because their independent software vendor hasn’t certified yet. . . .
Tom Rosamilia: That’s less true now, based on what you have just heard.
Alex Woodie: Can you share some numbers? I am hearing stories of customers being stuck back on these older OS releases because their vendor has not made the jump.
Timothy Prickett Morgan: Me, too.
Ian Jarman: In our Solutions Select program, which includes the big five and other major ISVs–they are all there [on the new releases] and have been for some time. If you would go around the Expo here at COMMON and ask if vendors support i 6.1, they would all say that they do. There may be a couple of outliers there.
Today, I would not say that it is not that the ISVs don’t have the solution; they probably do. Where they might still have a challenge is that they say: “I support 6.1, but it is in my latest release.” A client might be on 5.4, our older release, and they might also be on an older release of that ISV program. One of the challenges is moving an operating system and moving potentially their applications to that latest release.
That’s generally what I am seeing today, and it has changed over the last 18 months. And 18 months ago, you’re right, Alex, at that time there were some ISVs that were still behind. I can’t say that it is 100 percent, but it is our view that it is very close today that support these new releases.
Colin Parris: I have heard exactly the opposite from many clients. Many clients are saying to me, at least, that I don’t want to make the jump because of the ISVs and the higher licensing costs when they make that jump. Many are sitting there on 5.4, saying to us, please stay longer because I have lower licensing costs.
Alex Woodie: Is there anything that IBM can do to address those ISV licensing costs? I have heard the same thing. In many cases, they have gone to CPW pricing, so even if the customer has gone down a software tier, from P20 to P10 for instance, but these new boxes have just so much CPW that they are getting hit real hard.
Colin Parris: Well, maybe if you go to the higher licensing costs but do it on a smaller box, you are much better off. Some people that had Power 550s before can go to Power 740s now and so the overall value equation becomes better for them. But I think, overall, with the ISVs I am talking to, they give you more value in their newer versions. So there are advantages to moving on, but companies just don’t want to incur that additional cost.
Alex Woodie: There’s nothing that IBM is looking to address with program conversion or price with the ISVs?
Tom Rosamilia: There’s not really anything we can do to approach somebody on price. Customers will have to approach third parties on price. We go to jail if we have those conversations.
Dan Burger: Are there any numbers that you can provide about the Solution Edition program? The number of ISVs, how that’s growing, what your expectations are?
Ian Jarman: We don’t provide individual sales numbers on any products.
Tom Rosamilia: Well, we gave you some today, come on . . . .
Ian Jarman: What we can provide is a list of ISVs that are participating, and it is very broad. This goes well beyond the top players–SAP, Oracle/JD Edwards, Infor–and there are a lot of regional players, in Europe and in Italy in particular. So we have very strong participation in the Solution Edition program.
The whole point of this is to provide an entry Power 720 and Power 740 solution that is very targeted at attracting new clients to IBM i. So if you talk to the ISVs, they are very positive about the program.
Dan Burger: Are you at a point now where you think that the Solution Edition is topped out, or is this at a half-way point as far as how many ISVs might ultimately joint the program?
Ian Jarman: That’s difficult to say, but I would certainly say that we have got the majority of companies we want today. I don’t know that it would be productive to have 3,000, for example, because in this type of program, it is not just them signing up on the Web and saying they are doing something. To join the program, they have to put marketing plans in place. They have to be working with IBM. They have to demonstrate that they are integrating with that Solution Edition and provide new capability like simpler deployment.
Dan Burger: Does that equate with a certain level in the partnership scheme of things?
Ian Jarman: Typically they would be in the Solutions Select group in PartnerWorld. They don’t have to be a Premier Partner, and the requirements vary by geography. If you look at Italy, for example, there would be smaller ISVs in that program.
Timothy Prickett Morgan: The sales have been good for the Solution Edition. I talked to Guy Paradise, who manages that program, a few weeks ago about Oracle’s JDE efforts and Alex talked to him about the program in general back in January.
Alex Woodie: It just seems like it might be the best thing going for the platform right now. You go up against Windows with a $6,000 box and a $10,000 software solution.
Tom Rosamilia: And as you heard [during the COMMON keynote], we did sell out of our Power 720s and 740s in the fourth quarter of 2010. And we didn’t do that by simply not making enough boxes. We actually had great interest, but we were not as good at gauging the interest. I didn’t really want to sell out. I always want to sell as many machines as I possibly can. Not having an entry system prior to that, it was sort of a resurgence in this space. I am encouraged by what we are seeing with the 720 and 740, and in the first quarter of 2011 as well, where we see dramatic interest.
The numbers would be interesting in this case, but it is a little bit artificial in that we were going from a place where we hadn’t been for a while to see great numbers. We had pent up demand and an easy compare.
Having said that, I am encouraged by what I am seeing in terms of the overall marketplace because while we can talk about product transitions, all of this was available last year. Midrange servers were available in the first quarter. We’re wrapping now on that, and I can’t comment on the second quarter, but the first quarter had some degree of wrap in it–not at the high-end, obviously, or at the low-end–but we are seeing continued demand.
I can also say that were are seeing demand around our migration offerings, helping people move off of HP-UX and Solaris. While we moved another 210 clients in the first quarter, I don’t know what the second quarter number will be. But what I can tell you is that we are growing the bandwidth because we have to keep up with demand. So demand is growing from where it was in the first quarter and we are trying to find new skills that can help us do these migrations. These migrations happen every day–they’re not going to happen in one day–but every day a customer decides to get off of HP-UX on Itanium or get off of Solaris on Sparc, and they are having to make a decision and I want to catch them when they are deciding because if they decide to go do it on Linux on Intel, then we are talking about yet another migration that I have to convince them to do. And they are probably going to do that unless they hit some kind of a problem. On the other hand, if we catch them, and unless they run into a problem, they will probably be with us for five or ten years. It could be 20 years. So I really want to get them at this architectural decision point.
Timothy Prickett Morgan: Can you catch IBM i customers who are making a similar architectural decision? Let’s face it. When a lot of companies merge or do acquisitions, when the IBM i platform comes up against Windows/SQL or Unix/Oracle, and it often doesn’t win. Is there a plan or a desire to capture these customers and get them to use DB2 on AIX at the least if they are leaving the OS/400 fold?
Ian Jarman: If one of our large customers were making an application decision, we would naturally be tightly connected with them.
Timothy Prickett Morgan: The large customer, I am not worried about. It’s the small one I worry about because those guys are making decisions without much hand-holding from IBM and their partner is their main interface into IBM. I don’t know how many OS/400 and i customers have moved over to Windows, but they are making that same transition you talk about with HP and Sun Unix customers. They have RPG applications on this side and a Microsoft Windows-Dynamics stack on that side, or whatever, it doesn’t matter what it is. First of all, you don’t want that guy to go, but how do you handle it when it looks like he might?
Colin Parris: We start with the ISVs, and we have discussions with folks like Infor, which knows when that transition is about to take place. And they would actually prefer that the customer stay on IBM i. So part of the Solution Select play for them is that we go in to the next level. If you can get to the Infor 6.1 or 7.1 level, there is a Java-based framework that they have created that allows much more modernization. That allows the client to go back in when they are making that jump to, say you have to use a Windows platform and say no you don’t, we can modernize what you have here and attach where you find a need.
Infor also does an interesting thing. They will give you the ability to stay on IBM i. They give you a coupon and it says that they can transfer the application onto Linux or Windows any time the customer wants. Stay on IBM i now, stay on the Java framework, but you have a free coupon to make that jump. If you don’t like it, move across. What tends to happen is that the IT manager goes back to the CEO and explains that this is not an outdated platform and that there is a new mechanism for modernization, a free coupon to move platforms, and a lot less business risk. And then the IT manager asks the CEO, “What do you want to do?”
That has worked. The CEO tucks the coupon in his pocket, he knows he can move, but he is comfortable with IBM i.
That is why I am very bullish about this Solution Select program. They understand the value that we bring, and in many cases there is a time to value component. They have ways of getting images and licenses very quickly onto systems and bringing these things up.
So that one is going to play out well for us, and that’s the way we catch them, rather than through the hardware angle.
Tom Rosamilia: The app drives a lot of it, so capturing as many of the solution providers as we can is good. I will say something more about business partners, and this is more on the hardware side. We have had an active recruiting program. Some of our competitors have done nice things for us by alienating their partners by going direct in a lot of cases. We’re doing active recruitment of former Sun and former HP partners, and they are anxious to work with Power. This is something we are rolling out in Europe especially, but also here in the United States.
Timothy Prickett Morgan: How are blade servers doing? We haven’t talked about blade servers with IBM i for a while. There were some difficulties in using the Virtual I/O Server, which is a bit alien for OS/400 and i shops, but then IBM preconfigured blades and made it a lot smoother. So how are blades doing?
Ian Jarman: We have very few IBM i customers on blades compared to the traditional integrated server, and I think that reflects the fact that most of our IBM i clients are at mid-sized companies and they are looking for that full integration in terms of storage and so on. Our blades are heavily dominated by AIX and Linux.
Tom Rosamilia: But even there, we just made an announcement for a new set of blades in March that will be available in June. To me, these are game-changers in terms of the competitiveness of our blades. You can read into that as you like, but I think that out of this quarter, we will be in a very competitive position with our blade technologies–for any customer, IBM i or otherwise.
Timothy Prickett Morgan: Are there any conditions under which IBM i customers would prefer blades? They are generally not into high-density computing. They run their boxes in a small data center–or a data closet, or in some cases under their desks.
Colin Parris: For some of our larger customers, it might make sense at some future time.
We have changed some of the management software that allows you to manage between racks and towers and blades, so now customers who want to go into the blade form factor will have the ability to do so in a manner that is seamless. I agree with you that IBM i clients are not that into blades, but we have some large customers who are being forced to look into blades because they do need higher density. The new blades we have hit a much better spot, because of the improved system management capabilities.
Timothy Prickett Morgan: This is the Systems Director Management Console, which was announced last month.
Alex Woodie: Have you made any progress working with Oracle on the MySQL situation?
Ian Jarman: Just to refresh everybody there, we still believe that there are a lot of people using MySQL on the platform, and as we told you earlier, very few people were buying support from Oracle for MySQL. And that was the reason they withdrew support for that program. The capability is still there, people are still actively using it, and we expect that to continue.
Timothy Prickett Morgan: Has anybody offered to do third-party support for MySQL on i? I realize that third-party support is the kind of thing that Oracle tends to get kind of antsy about, so it may not be a good idea. Can IBM work with Oracle to offer a supported option?
Ian Jarman: People today–which is common with many open source programs–are getting support from online communities. If you talk to people who do this, I don’t think there has been a dramatic change since that announcement was made.
Alex Woodie: There’s speculation that you might work with Zend Technologies or with someone else to get third party support. Do you think there needs to be a professional support program?
Ian Jarman: That’s certainly something that we are continuing to look at, and Zend, because they are the other player in this open source area for us, would be a logical candidate. We are continuing to evaluate this.
Alex Woodie: Is IBM going to include RPG Open Access for free any time soon?
Timothy Prickett Morgan: Tom doesn’t like to hear the word free–he’s a software guy, and so is Colin.
Tom Rosamilia: Exactly. What’s the value?
I have certainly heard a lot of buzz about RPG Open Access in this conference.
Ian Jarman: I think there may be some people who want something for free, but I think that what they are more impressed with is that Rational invested in RPG. That’s the key message about Open Access. Rational has not only invested in the tools–Rational Developer, Rational Team Concert–but they have also invested in the language–RPG with Open Access. People understand, frankly, that to make an investment, we need to charge for that investment. I’ve seen very strong positive feedback not just from people using it, but from people who see that we are investing in RPG.
Dan Burger: RPG Open Access is primarily an ISV tool at this point and I don’t see a lot of interest in the ISV level to get into this.
Ian Jarman: Absolutely. There are two groups working this. One is application modernization vendors who are incorporating it into their modernization tools. That would be natural because they already have a working relationship with clients helping them modernize. Then there is a second group at ISVs that are incorporating it directly. But yes, you’re right, we don’t expect individual customers to write their own I/O handlers. It probably doesn’t make sense unless you are a very large client.
The whole program was designed to flow out from ISVs, either directly or through application modernization vendors.
Alex Woodie: An end user customer still needs to license RPG Open Access?
Ian Jarman: Absolutely. And with that license, with a number of these modernization tools, for example, they will get the advice and experience of that segment of the industry. And that was why it was popular, I think, because people knew that it wasn’t just a few APIs that we laid out there and said, “OK, that’s it.” It was done with people who have the experience with modernization. And eventually, what you need, is advice, guidance, and experience when you are adapting programs.
Tom Rosamilia: It is assuring clients that this is something that will continue. It’s not just a matter of throwing it out there and seeing what sticks. The fact that it is generating revenue for us makes it a lot easier for us to keep doing it.
Timothy Prickett Morgan: I assume that end users are being charged a runtime fee as it is being embedded in applications?
Ian Jarman: Yes. But the main point is that this is an investment in RPG, broadly supported by the ISV community as well as the gurus in the RPG community. The real experts behind RPG have told me this is a really good thing.
Alex Woodie: Are you making any other investments in RPG? You said during the keynote that you have had a good meeting with the COMMON Customer Advisory Council, and they are pressing for more investments.
Ian Jarman: Yes, we had a good meeting with the CCAC, and we have the LUG, the CEAC. . . .
Timothy Prickett Morgan: You have a lot of people telling you what to do–including us.
Ian Jarman: And then there are the ISV Advisory Council, whose meeting is coming up in May. All of these programs are very well established. The CCAC has a great group of leaders, and they really help us with the requirements from mid-sized companies.
Tom Rosamilia: I think for us and others, there is real demand to do modernization, and in this case I don’t mean modernizing off but rather modernizing on. So the more we can do to modernize RPG and its connectability into other programming styles, languages, and techniques, the better.
The interesting thing for me to see in a lot of meetings I have had is that clients are using combinations of RPG and Java, typically deployed through WebSphere, or combinations of RPG and PHP. There is a blending of two worlds, what they see as their legacy environment–which by the way works really good and they have poured a lot of money into–and some of their users still want the green screen that enables them to operate fast. At the same time, they have new people coming in that don’t really want to go near that. So by doing some level of GUI interface on top of that, they can give the best of both worlds. SO customers don’t want to take away their green screens because sometimes because they can’t do this faster any way else. It is kind of like command line people, who can do things very quickly but you have to know precisely what it is you are doing. I think offering both is the right way to go.
Dan Burger: Can you make any kind of estimation as to how much money is being invested into RPG now as compared to what it was five years ago? I think there are a lot of critics out there who say there are not the same number of people at IBM who work on RPG, there just isn’t the investment that there used to be. Can you dispute that?
Tom Rosamilia: I think that there is actually a different question. We certainly get a set of requirements, and we look at what groups like the CCAC to see what we can do in RPG. But I don’t know if it is really about how many changes you have to make in RPG. It’s really more of a question of integration: How do you integrate RPG with all of the other things that you are doing.
If I can services-enable RPG and connect to it from a workflow, or I can get to it from a rules engine or an event process or a correlation engine, then I have incorporated all of this investment in RPG into a grander scheme of how I am doing new, modern applications. I am not making dramatic changes in my RPG, but I am repurposing it into new applications.
So the clients don’t necessarily have a list of the 2,500 things they want us to do with RPG in and of itself, just like they are not looking for all of these breakthroughs in COBOL–although we look at these all the time. It is really how can we integrate into more mainstream, where companies can hire kids out of school who know something about Java–although increasingly, they know a lot about iPhone apps, and that is a different problem–they’re more likely to look at Java, BPEL, or rules-based programming in this generation.
Dan Burger: I think that one of the reasons why RPG Open Access was so well received at COMMON last year was that it was perceived as being a new investment in RPG.
Tom Rosamilia: Here’s my answer as I rethink on it. It is an investment in an RPG environment, whether or not it manifests itself as some kind of change in a compiler. It is an investment in RPG-based programs that is broader than just an enhancement in RPG itself. It’s really application development on IBM i, inclusive of RPG, rather than what have I done to RPG.
Ian Jarman: In many ways, this parallels what we have done with PowerVM and PowerHA, which is make an investment in a broad group of people across multiple operating systems environments. So if you look at the Rational tools benefitting the IBM i community, the same investment that goes into AIX and Linux is covered by Rational Developer for Power, which goes down into all of these environments. We don’t need to keep focusing on one specific operating environment or one language but investing in these tools is critical.
Tom Rosamilia: I think we have to think holistically about how can we help the IBM i customer.
In talking to clients here, one of the biggest reasons why they have moved ahead is the ability to connect to external storage. One might ask why you might not just do better internal storage. The ability to access external was huge to these guys and one of the primary reasons for them to move forward.
If I can apply PowerVM, PowerHA, Rational Developer for Power–all of these techniques and technologies–is open and enfranchising the IBM i customer.