2013: An IBM i Year In Review
December 16, 2013 Alex Woodie
As we get ready for 2014, it is worth taking a look back at 2013 and seeing the year that was in the IBM i midrange marketplace. From new servers and operating systems to new security flaws and new business ventures, it was an eventful year. So sit back, grab a beverage, and prepare to reminisce on the IBM i year that was.
In January, computer security was a front-page news item after several critical vulnerabilities were discovered in Java, including a zero-day vulnerability that hackers were actively exploiting in lieu of patches from Oracle. It turns out that none of the problems affected Java on IBM i. Java remained a concern, however, and later in the year, IBM would quietly patch 45 separate Java vulnerabilities in IBM i, including some that could enable hackers to compromise, spoof, and gain privileged access to an affected system. And as SAP began supporting its HANA in-memory database technology for core ERP applications, representatives with the company said they were open to the idea of running HANA on Power.
In February, IBM unveiled IBM i TR6, which brought several new features, such as support for USB flash drives, enhancements to DB2/400, and support for the latest encryption standards. The bigger news was the release of servers based on the new Power7+ processors, including the Power Systems Model 710+, the Power 720+, the Power 730+, the Power 740+, the Power 750+, and the Power 760+ servers. IBM also revealed that it has PowerHA installs on IBM i.
As part of the February Power Systems announcements, IBM planned some pretty steep price increases for selected features of the IBM i operating system. The price increases for Software Maintenance fees for IBM i 6.1, 6.1.1, and 7.1 ranged from about 23 percent to about 29 percent. After a whole bunch of hootin’ and hollerin’ on the part of the IBM i installed base, IBM rescinded the price gouging in March.
You knew that, with the impending delivery of Power7+ servers in the second quarter, that Power Systems sales for the first quarter of the year would be not so good. In April, IBM divulged how not so good they actually were when it reported that Power Systems revenue was down 32 percent year over year. It was a bad quarter for Systems and Technology Group as a whole, as revenues declined by 17.2 percent to $3.11 billion. IBM i utility juggernaut Help/Systems continued its buying spree, snapping up the once-proud ShowCase suite of business intelligence tools from IBM (sans the OLAP component, which had already died). Earlier in the year, Help/Systems bought Dartware, a developer of heterogeneous monitoring solutions.
The end of technical support for i5/OS V5R4 was supposed to be a major event this year. IBM has been very patient in getting customers running older iron and OSes to upgrade to the new Power Systems and Pure Systems hardware, and make the jump to IBM i version 6.1, which marks a major departure from previous operating systems. It’s offered lots of carrots, and some sticks. The end of support in September was supposed to be a big stick to spur upgrades, but in May, it gave in to pressure from customer and extended support for V5R4 for another three years.
This year marked the 25th anniversary of the midrange IBM i platform on June 21, and there were lots of special features to mark the occasion. IBM did a really good job putting together a series of videos that featured the likes of Dr. Frank Soltis, the Grandfather of the AS/400, and Steve Will, current chief architect of IBM i, explaining the genesis of this wonderful, peculiar machine and its evolution over two and a half decades. You can still see those videos at the IBMi25 Facebook page. 2013 also marked the 50th anniversary of the IBM Fellows program, another extraordinary IBM institution. We did a little cross referencing, with help from IBM, and came up with a list of 21 Fellows who helped shape the IBM i platform into what it is today.
In July, we filed a story about an opinion survey that probably belongs in the “well, duh” category. It turns out, IBM i customers are really happy with the machine, according to a survey sponsored by ERP software maker Infor. Two-thirds of the EMEA customers that Infor surveyed said the platform can be deployed faster and maintained with a smaller staff than other platforms, while 100 percent said the machine was “very reliable.” You only get that sort of number in re-elections of dictators.
To help spur sagging Power sales, IBM and partners formed the OpenPower Consortium in August. Together with Google, Mellanox, Nvidia, and Tyan, the consortium’s goals are to build advanced server, networking, storage, and GPU-acceleration technology for next-generation hyperscale and cloud data centers.
In late August and early September, information started dribbling out information about the forthcoming Power8 processors that will start appearing in IBM servers in 2014. As TPM explained, the twelve-core chips designed with the 22 nanometer SOI technology offer 2.5 times the performance of a Power7+ chip at the socket level when running at 4 GHz. (IBM has not promised any particular clock speed as yet.)
The IBM i world seemed comfortably removed from some of the big technology shifts that are occurring in the bigger IT market, particularly in the area of big data. Relational databases are under attack from every angle, including the proprietors of NoSQL and NewSQL databases, the in-memory database proponents, columnar database vendors, Hadoop software vendors, and everything in between. The relational crew, including IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, and PostgreSQL have responded by retrofitting their databases for new data types, such as JSON, by adding support for in-memory and column-oriented data stores (often implemented in a “hybrid” manner), and by making it easier to support distributed database architectures.
October brought us a new round of IBM announcements, including the recent TR7 release of the IBM i OS. Key features in TR7 include enhancements for what Rochester terms VLDB (for “very large databases”), such as an expansion of the size of SQL indexes and new “early warning” indicators for when DB2/400 tables start to get close to the natural limits of what the technology can handle before it melts into a puddle of 1s and 0s. The other big enhancement in TR7 is full support for free-form RPG, which IBM i professionals and RPG adherents hope will attract new and younger people to the platform.
On November 15, IBM officially shipped the TR7 enhancements in (what else?) database group PTF number MF99007. While the promised technology goodies are all there, developers will have to wait until next year for an update to Rational Developer for IBM i (RDi) to get the context checking features that programmers are accustomed to using in an integrated development environment (IDE).
In December, TPM once again shocked the midrange world when he revealed how disproportionately old the IBM i installed base is getting–in terms of hardware, not gray hairs. By far, the biggest group of users is running Power5-based servers in the P10 segment–machines that were now six to nine years ago. It’s all part of the same blockage that’s preventing organizations from upgrading out of i5/OS V5R4 machines and into more modern OSes and machines.