i Is For Investment
April 22, 2013 Dan Burger
Just like any other company, IBM has to make decisions on which technologies to invest in. Of course IBM is in the business of selling technology, although it prefers to be known for selling solutions. As an IBM customer, you buy technology, or you can buy solutions if you prefer. In our IBM i community, where most everything is business oriented, the technology must prove to be useful. It must make business sense, so it’s interesting to take note of what technologies are most worthy of investment.
Dave Nelson, director of IBM i development, and Alison Butterill, IBM i product manager, provided a brief overview of investment priorities in a 30-minute interview during the COMMON Annual Meeting and Exposition in Austin, Texas, two weeks ago.
Nelson began by saying independent software vendor (ISV) enablement was a top priority. That is a good priority to put at the top since the foundation of the IBM midrange market has always been applications. When I think of enablement, I think of more software vendors with applications that run on i. But there is little evidence to indicate this is happening. The activity in the open source community gets talked about, but there are no rising stars to be found with much more than a hint of IBM i flavor. ISV enablement seems like a unilateral description, but the top of the food chain ISVs–maybe a half dozen or so–are the recipients of most of the enablement resources.
I find a lot more to like in the second of Nelson’s investment priorities, which is DB2 for i. With every release of the IBM i operating system and each Technology Refresh, there are numerous improvements in database management, functionality, security, and performance. With a rapidly growing interest in multi-platform, multi-database, multi-device IT, continual IBM investments in this area are absolutely necessary. If there is one area in the IBM i platform that shows it’s a modern and capable system, it is the database. Now if only more IBM i shops would use it to its potential instead of like they were stuck in a 1990 time warp.
DB2 Web Query fits into the investment in DB2 for i category. And there are signs that IBM is overcoming its early mistakes with this tool. The biggest mistakes were the pricing, licensing, and inaccessibility of the components that most people wanted. It was cheap or free and widely distributed in its most basic form, but when companies tried buying the product with the features they wanted, a nightmare unfolded. Several years later and it is starting to look like the replacement for Query/400 that it was expected to be. It’s not without its warts, but it’s no longer dead in the water.
PowerHA is another investment magnet with a favorable return on investment, according to Nelson, who described it as an offering requested by the Large User Group (LUG) that is also expected to do well among the small to midsize customers. IBM i 7.1 TR6 introduced a technology called LUN-level switching, which allows customers to failover–or vary production workloads–between two or more IBM i application servers that are connected to a single database hosted in an iASP residing on a SAN. From what I have heard, IBM’s midsize customers are not swooning over external storage, after having been convinced for many years that internal storage was smart computing. But companies that are breaking down siloes and building IT with interoperability in mind are going to take a look at PowerHA.
“Lab services is doing a lot of HA work,” Nelson said. “They are tightly coupled with the development organization. Whether it’s DB2 [where they do a lot of modernization work] or PowerHA, they have dedicated resources. They know the products very well. Their purpose is to help get those products deployed.”
Nelson is also a verbally vigorous patron of managed service providers (MSPs).
“We see a large opportunity in the MSP space,” he said. “Our client base is certainly aligned with the industry in terms of emerging MSPs. We have cloud, virtualization, and MSP work going on.”
IBM has discounted licensing terms for both IBM i and AIX available to managed service providers. There are also utility pricing deals for MSPs that provide benevolent discounts as MSPs assemble their Power Systems-based clouds. The combination of incentives reduces up-front capital expenditures and so far the cloud/hosting data center construction business seems to be stimulated.
The two OSes–IBM i and AIX–have different pricing models and IBM is still noodling the specifics of a revised pricing structure for each. There are many variables and much more embedded code that comes with IBM i.
“The pricing depends on what the MSP is providing,” Butterill said. It could be platform as a service, just hosting applications, hosting for availability, a service only, and the MSP may be hosting their own applications. There are large installations built only for availability and large installations running entire businesses. Jack Henry runs the business for hundreds of small banks. They are running a cloud environment and an MSP business and have been for years.
Connectria is another reference-able account. They do a managed service environment taking the entire stack from the operating system up through the application software and put it on their machines and manage it for customers.
“We are working on all this with regard to pricing.”
Although Rational Developer tools was not specifically mentioned as one of the top areas for IBM investment, I did ask about the slow adoption of modern application development tools and whether there were indicators that change was coming more quickly in that area.
“People who teach education on desktop tooling are seeing an increase in the number of people who have been experimenting with the new products,” Butterill said. “There are more advanced courses and classes being taught. That is good news. The number of people attending classes at COMMON indicates this. The IBM booth in the Expo area has a constant stream of people asking about the new tooling. It’s not the basic question of ‘What does this tool do?’ It’s questions like ‘I’ve been trying to do this and this and now I want to go beyond that.'”
That is an indicator. And I’m appreciative of any indicator rather than no indicator.
But in the end, IBM does not provide any meaty reference points for its investments. There’s nothing to indicate how much the company is investing in any of these priorities or even if the investments are higher or lower than a year ago. There are no markers for success or lack of success. I should be used to it by now, but it’s still frustrating.