i Witness Account: The Chief Architect’s View
April 15, 2013 Dan Burger
Steve Will, the chief architect for the IBM i platform, is a hunter and gatherer of problems and solutions. He oversees the direction of the operating system, does the analysis, takes into account the integration, and supervises the implementation. Along with his team of big thinkers, Will uses customer resources as well as input from ISVs and business partners in the sales channel. A new release of the operating system is due in 2014, and Will touched on that in addition to talking about what has already been accomplished.
As Power Systems general manager Colin Parris noted in the opening session of the COMMON Annual Meeting and Exposition last week in Austin, Texas, IBM i 7.2 will be arriving next year. Will’s team has been pushing to make that deadline, although a more precise arrival date is not being projected just yet. Parris did not provide details about 7.2, but Will raised the lid just a bit so we could smell what was cooking.
The recipe Will is comfortable discussing is only modestly revealing. He did mention that a few things have been added to recent Technology Refreshes, without fanfare, which paved the way for what is coming in 7.2, Will says.
Hinting About IBM i 7.2
It begins with the capabilities for managing database security. The risk of data losses continues to punish businesses. According to a survey commissioned by Evault, one out of five organizations that manage between 2 TB and 7 TB of data suffered a data loss in 2011. No one is expecting data security to be any easier in the years ahead. Will says that the next release of IBM i will provide “more granular” protection.
The growing appetite for memory is also being addressed in i 7.2. Both large and midrange customers have issues concerning the number of objects on their systems and the amount of memory and storage that’s being used.
When the AS/400 was originally architected, systems were much smaller. Over time, systems management became more difficult as the number of users and the demands on temporary storage increased. One of the reasons for this is connected to the number of companies using Java. Temporary storage is a management issue for them.
“We have been putting infrastructure into the Technology Refreshes that allows better management,” Will says. “Most of that has been hidden in things we’ve been doing, but was done in preparation for the upcoming major release.”
Another factor in this is the quickly expanding growth of managed services providers. These organizations are each managing multiple tenants and the enhancements in the next release of IBM i will take this into consideration as well.
MSPs A Factor
“We have more than 110 ISVs who are offering software as a service,” Will says. “They are doing that because it is more efficient for them, it allows them to keep customers, and allows them to go after new customers without having to sell those customers a box. They can just sell the service the customer wants.”
“It is so reminiscent of the early AS/400 days when the ISVs told customers the box will be easy to manage. Customers could concentrate on the applications. The hardware required little effort. Now the ISV can walk in and talk with the person who doesn’t know anything about i. I know some ISVs are gaining business from that. They tell the customers, ‘We’ll manage everything for you.'”
Will and his team have a goal of capitalizing on the strengths of the system. And the word “system”, in this case, includes not only the IBM i operating system and the Power Systems hardware, but also takes into account the ecosystem–the interests of the customer base, the software vendors (third-party and IBM‘s own Software Group), and the sales channel. Priorities are influenced from many directions.
IBM i Community Outreach
In addition to the couple of hints about what is coming in IBM i 7.2, Will talked about the recent achievements and being responsive to the IBM i community.
“We don’t expect our customers to do our strategy for us, but when they give us requirements, we look for patterns,” Will explained. Many of the RPG and DB2 requirements that come through advisory groups are very specific and relate to addressing specific problems. “We tend to look for groups of problems that come from many sources such as the ISV advisory council, COMMON, and the Large User Group, and then we generalize from that.”
Will provided a list of 18 enhancements that were incorporated into IBM i between April 2011 and October 2012 that were directly related to requirements that were prioritized by either COMMON or the COMMON America Advisory Council. The list included items ranked in the top 20 requirements. Features that were in that category included an entry system developer’s tool set, RPG Open Access being incorporated into ILE RPG compiler, capabilities for processor pooling, Windows 7 64-bit support for RDi and associated products, and fixing restricted system save fails with locked objects at V6R1.
Because Will meets a ton of IBM i customers, his insight on the customer trends toward Power7 and Power7+ systems might be revealing even though he is most likely to be working with companies that have the newest implementations and, by his own admission, he is not a person who gets server sales numbers or counts boxes.
“In development, it almost always seems as though things are going well for a new platform,” Will says. “We work with customers in the early ship program and we are making sure things work. And from there, we roll right into the first adopters. I am happy that many of the customers that jumped on Power7 got significant performance improvements. Most of the customers are making the move because of the performance gains. Java, for example, runs really well. The new SAP implementations have been running very well.”
Will made note of the growing number of managed service providers that are hosting dozens and even up to hundreds of customers on relatively small boxes and taking advantage of the power that was not there on earlier generation servers. For example, Zend Technologies has customers running on Power7 boxes that are putting new PHP workloads next to existing workloads.
The newest Power 710 boxes with the Power 7+ processors that offer a low-cost entry point will be an interesting story as it unfolds, although Will sees less interest from IBM i customers than from AIX customers.
“I’m really curious how that is going to work,” Will says. “We’ve had two minds within IBM i development for a while. Our typical low-end customers in the past always told us they wanted the reliability that was associated with the bigger, more redundant boxes. We’ve always been under the impression that our clients want I/O space and so they are going to be in the 720s. However, the 710 is smaller and doesn’t have as much space for I/O. But as we have added a lot more power and virtualization capabilities, there are people who have said the small clients might be able to make due with less I/O. Maybe they can virtualize or they may not need to; maybe it’s not important to get the reliability, availability, and serviceability characteristics of the 720.”
“I know the Unix market will want the 710. And I think there’s a segment of the i population that will want it. But I’m curious how it will turn out. If you configure the thing just so, it compares well with the Intel of the same price. This is the first time we’ve had anything close to an offering for the low-end space where you could say from a pure system point of view you have a price comparable with Intel.”