Apps And IBM i Evangelism
May 7, 2012 Dan Burger
“You’re only as old as your apps feel.” I can’t get that thought out of my head. Thank you, Trevor Perry. Of all the things that were said Friday by Preacher Perry and the other ordained evangelists at the iBelieve revival meeting, those few words summed it up best for me. If the IBM i is going to escape eternal damnation in some IT closet in Hades, application developers are going to be responsible for saving its soul. Old applications, dependent on and limited by the 5250 data stream and green type on a black background must go.
I can hear the boos and the hisses from the green-screen advocates already. Stop already. There’s still a place for the green-screen work of the devil. (Sorry. I’m still a little bit overcome by Reverend Perry’s pitch.) Green screen developers can still get to heaven. They just need to recognize which users love that interface and which users don’t. And let’s pray we can all still get along.
Don’t get the idea that this get-together was to simply throw stones. It was just the opposite actually; 99 percent of the time was spent praising the advancements of the IBM midrange, from its trend-setting beginnings to its current unrealized potential. “It’s not your system that’s old,” remarked RPG stalwart Susan Gantner. “It’s your tools.” She was speaking specifically about developers who refuse to give up development tools that are 20-something years old despite phenomenal changes in IT. But she was also more generally referring to a lack of inertia that stymies change and about the importance of programmer progress and programming efficiency.
There were plenty of inferences throughout the day that the old tool that causes the biggest problem is the one with gray hair and reading glasses. Stubborn, jaded, grumpy, and resistant to change, they are one of the reasons the platform is identified with old technology.
Looking on the bright side, of which there was much evidence presented, congratulations were heaped on the innovators–those who demonstrate just how modern and efficient the hardware, the operating system, and the RPG language is.
The point of the event was not to convert any of the attendees, but to inspire them to help with the conversion of the non-believers. It contained equal parts pride and passion. And was designed to pick apart misconceptions about IBM i.
The meeting, which was sponsored by looksoftware and placed after the final day of that company’s annual user conference and one day in advance of the start of the COMMON Annual Meeting and Exposition, both staged in Orange County, California, drew a crowd of approximately 125. It is undetermined whether there will be more of these evangelism road shows or not. Brendan Kay, CEO of looksoftware, says his company will evaluate and consider the idea of sponsoring additional events, different frequency, and other locations.
It’s also possible that other sponsors may pick up the torch with similar ideas and agendas that promote modernization of skills and better use of the platform. I’d like to think that whatever remains of the iManifest and the iSociety might pick up on this. Maybe COMMON and the remaining local user groups will get involved. Who knows? Maybe even IBM itself.
The best IBM i ambassador there is, Frank Soltis, was the lead speaker at iBelieve. Three years after his retirement, the former chief scientist and supervisor of the skunkworks project that designed the AS/400, continues to travel the globe meeting with IBM i customers and resellers. He joked that when employed at IBM he worked seven days a week. Since retiring, his work schedule has been reduced to six days a week.
More importantly, he talked about the design philosophy of the platform that is considered legacy by its competitors at the same time they copy many of its design innovations and claim them as something new for themselves. System integration is big part of the IBM i legacy and it’s just recently being achieved by other systems that want to be more like i.
Jon Paris, who teams with the previously mentioned Susan Gantner to provide RPG, SQL, and PHP training and education on a non-stop basis, emphasized the importance of IBM i and RPG staff taking the lead on projects, having the confidence to get projects done, and the ability to do projects economically. Much of his presentation was focused on open source software sources and the business problems they can solve for little or no money, which makes you a hero to your users and your bosses, while keeping the IBM i active, relevant, and noticed.
IBM i product manager Alison Butterill added the official IBM perspective to the proceedings.
She talked about the Smarter Planet, the impact of big data, personal Internet connectivity (smartphones, tablets, and such), and the necessity of IBM’s marketing Smarter Computing campaign. Smarter Computing means many things, but one is having systems tuned for a specific task, which is very IBM i-like. Then there is the plug-and-play componentry exemplified by the PureSystems and PureApplication systems and is what she called the next generation of computing tasks. “And the cool thing is,” Butterill said, “IBM i is in the middle of it along with AIX, Linux and Windows.”
To combat the rumors about the IBM i wilting on the vine, she brought up the point that IBM i grew last year in both the number of servers delivered and the revenue generated. She also emphasized the point that sharing hardware with the leading Unix option, IBM’s AIX, fortifies Big Blue’s commitment to the hardware. It’s another assurance “the hardware is going to be around for a while,” she said.
The IBM i investment plans she covered included the next version of the operating system with an unofficial announcement date sometime in late 2014 or early 2015 with support projected past 2020. “We know we’re going to have i that long,” she said with regard to it being a critical piece in IBM’s long-term planning.
Other areas of investment that Butterill related to IBM i are solutions enablement, helping ISVs, adding ISVs, simplified systems management, Power HA, and cloud computing.
As the sponsor of iBelieve and a company that is well-connected to the IBM i users, looksoftware’s Brendan Kay had a turn at the podium to provide witness to the positive outlook he sees for the platform.
“We think the view that the role of the IBM i is diminishing is out of sync with reality,” Kay said. “We see people doing more and more on their IBM i servers and the capability of the servers has never been greater. We also see more people moving toward the platform than away from it.”
It’s important that the IBM i community share the successes that are happening. And it’s important that the message gets beyond this room, Kay said.
No one is a more enthusiastic, more vocal, more animated, more caffeinated supporter of the IBM i than Perry, an independent consultant who seems to pop up anywhere and everywhere. It would not surprise me to find him on Sunday morning TV pacing back and forth across the screen and firing up the congregation with the best of the televangelists.
Much to his credit, Perry is doing something to channel the passion of the IBM i community into a cause for the common good. You may not like him in your face when he takes serious exception to those who only sit on their butt and complain, but inaction by complainers is inexcusable and unacceptable to him. So in his own way, Perry has set out to mobilize those who can be persuaded to take action.
Of all the things people argue about (check out the forums or LinkedIn group sites), the iBelieve event chose to focus on the biggest thing that stands in the way of continued success for the platform: that awful interface. It’s something that most people in this community can do something about.
Modernize it. It’s in your own hands. There are many ways to move forward, and the examples of organizations doing so are many. Understand this is not a plan to wipe out all green screens. Choose green screens for appropriate use. But more importantly, show what you can do and show what the platform can do. The iBelieve message that I think Perry is most interested in getting across is: Show your boss. Show the world.
This was one rabble-rousing event. You can count on the likes of Soltis, Butterill, Paris and Gantner, Kay, and, of course, Perry continuing to spread the word. It will be interesting to see if evangelism leads to positive change or only to more and fractured evangelism, but iBelieve brought a lot of positive energy for one day.