That Old AS/400 Gets Some Love at Inforum 2013
May 7, 2013 Alex Woodie
Infor is arguably the biggest provider of business applications for the IBM i server (formerly AS/400), so it was good to see the old black box getting some love and respect at Infor’s recent user conference, Inforum 2013, held in late April in Orlando, Florida–even if most of the love and respect was coming from customers, and not Infor.
It’s tough to tell exactly how many of Infor’s customers run their applications on the IBM i platform, in large part because Infor’s IBM i products are spread out across different divisions.
Robert Russell, the vice president in charge of development for Infor’s System i division (Infor stubbornly refuses to use the modern “IBM i” name), says he has upwards of 6,000 customers using the “big three” IBM i apps–LX, XA, and System21, which collectively comprise the new Infor10x PowerFlex suite. (Thankfully, Infor ditched the short-lived and confusing names iEnterprise, Discrete iEnterprise, and Process iBusiness to refer to these respective products.) The user bases for Infor’s IBM i artifacts, like PRMS, PRISM, and KBM, are so small as to be negligible, according to Russell.
Outside of PowerFlex, Infor has perhaps another 6,000 to 9,000 more IBM i customers running everything from Distribution A+ and Infinium to M3 and a hotel management system (HMS) on the IBM i OS. I even ran into an Lawson S3 customer at Inforum 2013 who ran his apps on IBM‘s midrange server–a rarity, considering that, at last count, about 80 percent of S3 customers ran on Unix, Linux, or Windows.
Few of the top-tier applications that Infor wants to go to war with against SAP and Oracle run on IBM i. When it comes to core ERP, the LN and Syteline products arguably get a higher billing than PowerFlex, and while M3 is dominant in the apparel and food and beverage businesses, Infor doesn’t push M3 as an IBM i product, per se, although most of the Java-based application’s deployments still occur on IBM i.
Infor is undoubtedly glad to have the deep micro-vertical functionality that PowerFlex and Distribution A+ (formerly daly.commerce) can offer, but it seems that the sales pitches often start with LN, Syteline, and M3, and then head in the direction of “what else can you do for me?” with Infor’s Human Capital Management (HCM), Enterprise Asset Management (EAM), Product Lifecycle Management (PLM), Corporate Performance Management (CPM), and the Office of the CFO applications getting the remainder of the air time.
That’s why it was so great to hear the IBM i server getting a big round of applause when Infor customer Michael Shaw, the CIO at Custom Building Products, declared at the opening session: “The AS/400 is not dead, let me tell you. It’s a new beast altogether.” (Trevor Perry, if he was there, would not have his objections to the use of the name “AS/400” heard over the roar of the crowd, which numbered upwards of 3,000 in one of the mammoth halls at the Orange County Convention Center. There were a lot of IBM i users in the stands, and many of them probably still call it “the Four Hundred.”)
Custom Building Products, an XA shop, was one of the early adopters of the new SoHo user interface and its Twitter-like news feed, called Ming.le (see “Infor Exudes Total Confidence at Annual User Confab” in yesterday’s The Four Hundred for more on Infor’s new user experience).
Shaw says his company took about 18 months to upgrade from version 6 to version 9.1, while implementing the Infor ION middleware. SoHo and Ming.le have worked well for the company, Shaw says, particularly as it allowed him to replace the 5250 green-screen interfaces, which gave users no context about where they were within the application. The new Infor UI, on the other hand, provides a tremendous boost to employee collaboration. “We look like such a new company now thanks to Infor,” Shaw says.
Infor’s tech guru, Soma Somasundaram, also had some good things to say about PowerFlex. “Those of you who are System21, XA, LX users, [who use] PowerFlex 10x, the product that runs on this AS/400 platform: You wouldn’t believe how your product has evolved,” the executive vice president of global product development said. “All of them have the SoHo user experience. They are completely context- and completely ION-enabled. You wouldn’t believe that these are products you bought 20 years ago. They have evolved immensely.”
It probably goes without saying that there were no spontaneous outbursts of affection pointed toward Windows Server, Red Hat Linux, HP-UX, or z/OS at Inforum. Infor has products that run across all these platforms, but for some weird reason, users of these products just don’t feel the need to shout it out, like the IBM i customers do.
If it hasn’t already, Infor should realize that these customers are more loyal to the IBM i platform than they are to their ERP system and to Infor. After getting over the embarrassment of the fact that 25 percent its business is reliant on a 25-year-old proprietary minicomputer that many people in the IT industry assume died years ago along with the VAX and the HP3000, Infor executives should simply accept the reality of the situation, go back to work, and think up some cool new stuff to sell to these customers to make their businesses run more efficiently.
That appears to be just what Infor is doing, which is great, even if it still can’t spell IBM i.