Taking A Ride On The IBM i
June 24, 2013 Dan Burger
What’s ahead for the IBM i platform is a very good question. IT Jungle readers are pretty well versed on what’s been accomplished during the platform’s 25-year run. Many of you have been with the platform from the beginning and more than a few recall when IBM stormed the midrange with its first mini mainframes. While looking back provides many good memories, it doesn’t do much to keep modern businesses running. So the road ahead has our attention.
The IBMi25 campaign, which was devised as a three-month saga that played up the history of the platform but differentiated it from the present and future, is coming to an end. IBM chose to tell this story on a Facebook page to emphasize modern times, modern technology, and in hopes of building a new meeting place for the IBM i community, which still has the reputation of being the most platform-loyal aggregation of IT professionals in the solar system.
I’m not convinced the Facebook page has become the new home of the IBM i community, but it was a necessary step to bridge the old AS/400 with the new IBM i on Power Systems while demonstrating the collaboration possibilities of social business. The problem with this is that IBM marketing tends to play a heavy hand in much of the content. There’s a little too much “drink the Kool-Aid” propaganda going on, which drives people to other locations for their pro-and-con-type conversations.
For those who have yet to visit IBMi25 on Facebook, the site will live on at least through the end of the year. I recommend you pay a visit, look around, and come to your own conclusion. There are plenty of videos and blogs and, most importantly, opportunities to better understand what the IBM i is capable of doing. And if you are not crazy about reading 25 chapters of the platform’s greatest achievements on a monitor, it can be downloaded so that you can print it on paper like God and Gutenberg intended.
Ian Jarman, the former IBM i product manager who has a long history with this platform, was deeply involved in the IBMi25 campaign. His assessment is that the promotion “exceeded all of our expectations” and as proof he noted more than 325,000 impressions were recorded on the Facebook page since its early April introduction. As of Friday, I noted there were only 1,604 people who “Liked” the page.
Either of those statistics could prove something about the level of the campaign’s success, but I was more interested in talking with Jarman and IBM i chief architect Steve Will, who was also on the phone call last week, about the future of i. During the IBMi25 promotion there have been a couple of product announcements that stood out. One was the IBM i 25th Anniversary Edition and the other was the PureFlex IBM i. You’ll find both items covered by the IT Jungle‘s Timothy Prickett Morgan in the Related Stories links at the end of this article. The PureFlex IBM i will potentially have an impact on the future of IBM i. So it was the right time and place to get the perspectives of two IBM insiders.
Having just been witness to the IBMi25 campaign that drew attention to the fact that many things that are deemed new in the X86 game plan have been in the IBM i lineage for many years, it’s worth noting that the new PureFlex integration platform is very similar to the original IBM AS/400–another example of what’s old is new again. Both capitalize on an integrated platform with the capabilities needed for an infrastructure to run business applications.
The biggest difference, as Jarman was quick to point out, is that PureFlex extends the successful integration of IBM i with broader capabilities that include X86 systems.
“The real play for PureFlex in the IBM i community is for clients who want to combine IBM i applications with X86 applications in the same infrastructure, in the same chassis, and with the same storage,” Jarman says.
It’s possible you’ve heard this before. Remember the Integrated xSeries and the Integrated xSeries Adapter? How about BladeCenters based on both Power and X86? Those products were brought to life because IBM correctly recognized customers were using a lot of Windows software in AS/400 and iSeries environments. Is this another trip down a short and narrow street?
What IBM learned from earlier ventures into IBM i/Windows integration projects, Jarman said, was that the infrastructure has to be fully optimized for each environment that is part of the integration.
“The AS/400 with the integrated xSeries technology was optimized for OS/400 and also ran X86 applications,” Jarman says. “If you look at BladeCenter, it was optimized for X86 and also ran IBM i applications. In either case, one of the two platforms was primary and the other was secondary.”
That technology made the infrastructure integration difficult and it resulted in performance deficiencies on the secondary platform. As a result, adoption rates were not impressive despite a great deal of talk about potential benefits.
Jarman describes PureFlex as designed from a clean sheet of paper, with optimization for both IBM i and X86 applications and no compromises on either side.
Another of the distinctions between PureFlex and the previous attempts at integrating X86 with AS/400 and iSeries environments is brought up by Steve Will. He says the early integration products were limited to a few options. By comparison, the Flex environment, allows more variety in terms of operating system releases and virtualization environments.
“The technology has advanced and IBM focused on creating one flexible package that can be managed as one single unit for the infrastructure for an enterprise–that’s the evolution of integration,” Will says.
Is it what every customer wants? Not likely. There will always be differences of opinion on how to manage with less resources and better integration. And then there are the turf wars that go on between the platform advocates who traditionally have not played well together. Breaking down internal barriers is a challenge that may be closer to being hurdled than it was five or even three years ago.
“A small IBM i customer with one small server, who wants to keep the IBM i server separate, keep it simple, and do what’s always been done,” Jarman says. “At other end, there are customers with large installations use large DS8000 storage that is not included in PureFlex. The large-scale shops are not interested in putting all their X86 servers in the same chassis as the Power Servers. This is a different level of infrastructure optimization.
“One of the challenges for CIOs is how to change the focus on platforms to a focus on application services to business. We went through this when we went to Power Systems with AIX and i. Some decided there would be a Power infrastructure team, a storage infrastructure team, and a team that would handle both IBM i and AIX applications.”
In Jarman’s view the companies that have integrated the infrastructure teams and have more resilient operations. They also have economies because their enterprise systems, virtualization, and SANs are operating across multiple environments. The storage is the same, the chassis is the same, and the virtualization techniques, in many cases, are the same.
“I don’t think there will ever be the case where there aren’t specialists in Windows and specialists in IBM i,” he says. “However, PureFlex can be a catalyst to address organizational challenges. Many CIOs see PureFlex as a way forward to infrastructure integration.”
In terms of staffing and skills, Jarman predicts personnel will become more specialized in areas like storage or resiliency management or in infrastructure and virtualization management. Skills and experience will branch out across multiple environments.
For now, the knowledge to implement a PureFlex–integrating networks, setting up LPARs, porting apps and databases may not be part of the staffing skill set. It’s common with the adoption of new technology, so IBM is packaging Lab Services with the PureFlex planning and deployment.
Beyond PureFlex, which is a hardware packaging item, there are software items in the IBM i future that get the IBM i chief architect fired up.
We know there is a 7.2 operating system release coming in 2014. An official release date has not been made public, but the February time frame seems to be a good bet. (No, Will did not say anything to make me think that.) Enhancements, likewise, have been kept mostly under wraps. You can always count on database enhancements however, and Will did mention role-based security options will be part of the package. Additional systems management tools are also standard with OS upgrades. Will confirmed this should be expected and that improvements for the management of data and spool files are coming.
Investment will continue to be strong in PowerHA, especially as it relates to storage area networks and PureFlex systems. Consolidating storage from many workloads and more highly integrated systems will demonstrate an even greater value for high availability, according to Will.