As The World Turns: Investments In IBM i
May 12, 2014 Dan Burger
It’s been four years since the introduction of IBM i 7.1. In between 7.1 and 7.2, which was put out on May 2, there were eight Technology Releases pegged to 7.1. Those releases were the indicators that IBM was still investing in the IBM i platform. It was a new strategy for Big Blue. How did it affect IBM and the IBM i community? That’s a good question.
At the COMMON Annual Meeting and Exposition in Orlando, Florida last week, Steve Will, chief architect for IBM i, and Alison Butterill, IBM i product offering manager, described the 7.1 to 7.2 era in the perspective of those closest to the creation and execution of the IBM business plan. Here’s their responses to my questions during our 30-minute discussion.
Dan Burger: IBM‘s investment in IBM i is sometimes questioned. In the Power Systems ecosystem, AIX is the OS that wins the word association game. But it is IBM i that enjoys the most loyal following. The introduction of a new version of IBM i is an opportune time to talk about how that investment question is being answered. What do you have to say on that topic?
Steve Will: The new major release is certainly an indication that the Power System business recognizes the value of continuing to invest in new capabilities on IBM i. Because we are the integrated operating system, because we take advantage of Power8 with our new operating system, it made perfect sense from the executive point of view to continue to invest in the new 7.2.
I don’t want to make this sound like a drop in AIX investment when I make this next statement, but there was no corresponding major AIX release that came out with Power8. They didn’t really need it. We needed a new major release that had new database function for security, new function associated with open source stuff we are doing, and we needed a release that was going to take advantage of Power8.
If there was a signal that indicated IBM was not investing in IBM i, there would not be a 7.2.
Over the years, what’s happened as we’ve converged the platform is that some of the things that used to be specific to an operating system are now cross-operating systems. Virtualization is one of those areas. That makes it harder to tell how much is being spent and how many people are contributing to IBM i on Power. Cloud computing is another example. It is not specific to i, but it is certainly important for IBM i marketplace. We were encouraged to build our cloud solutions on top of this technology and we are being asked to look at the next set of cloud solutions that will come out on the PowerKVM and other technologies.
Alison Butterill: Another reason it is harder to measure is that we’ve gone from having major releases every two years to the Technology Refresh method. We’ve had eight Technology Refreshes between IBM i 7.1 and 7.2. Each of those required a significant investment. Now 7.2 is another significant investment, but if we hadn’t had the investments in Technology Refreshes, that would have been on top of the 7.2 investment. We can’t measure apples to apples because we deliver stuff differently now.
Will: If we had tried to hold all that function (in the TRs) until 7.2, even with the four-year time frame, we would not have been able to incorporate as much as we did. We needed to deliver it incrementally in order to get all the stuff into it.
In order to get the level of quality into 7.2, we needed to incorporate and test things and not touch them again.
This was not the reason we did Technology Refreshes, but it was an outcome of it. We could put more into a major release and have it be more stable because we developed and delivered significant new functions as pieces and incorporated them in a major release.
I believe that with all the code we put into the 7.2 release, if you incorporate all the TRs, we would have had to have a much longer test cycle to make that happen for a major release.
I am very happy with the quality we are seeing.
Burger: Database enhancements always lead the way whether its Technology Refreshes or new versions of the IBM i operating system. What’s the reason for this?
Will: We spend more people hours on the database than any other specific thing. There is always more database topics to talk about in terms of TRs than any other topic. Our ISVs, in particular, tell us this is what they need for the platform. The ISVs have been one of the biggest beneficiaries of the TRs, because it doesn’t force them to force their customers to go to 7.2 to benefit.
Support for hardware is second to database investments.
While there are development shops that do database programming, most of the community doesn’t see this in terms of database function that the ISVs provide. A possible exception to that is the row and column access control. Shops may add this on top of existing ISV solutions to implement row-based security.
In the last release we talked about XML capabilities. There are a few shops that do XML, but mostly it was for the ISVs.
If you talk to the ISV Advisory Council, they take advantage of these things much more quickly and they recognize the value more quickly. (Not a good quote.)
Butterill: Many of the database enhancements are used first by the ISV community, but there are also shops other than ISVs that have developers in house who take advantage. Clients who use SQL. We are seeing increased uptake in SQL. Shops are understanding the power of it. We are adding new commands and new extensions that the developer community is making use of.
There are many companies looking at projects such as mobile and social and asking whether their database can support it. Many of the database enhancements are being made to support security exposures as an example.
Will: The modernization modernization Redbook includes database design and how the database users sometimes modernize just on the exterior.
We have made a lot of investments to make database support new technologies like mobile and social.
Butterill: We are seeing increased interest from the tool vendors.
Will: The tool vendors are constantly trying to figure out whether they are going in the same direction IBM is going and whether IBM will support the directions they are going. By and large, they are taking people the right way and we encourage them to take people there faster.
Butterill: There are some new forces at work: mobile and social. We’ve been through the discussion on the graphic interface, but now the real push is coming from mobile applications.
Will: Our ability to collaborate socially is changing the paradigm. Today’s IT has to be different from yesterday’s. And there are a lot of great tools for doing that. We are not endorsing any particular vendor. From talking with friends in those vendor companies, some of those companies are doing very well because the community is picking up on that.
In my Trends and Directions presentation, I asked how many are still using 6.1 and four hands go up in a room with 90 people. When I asked about 7.1, almost all of them raised their hands. Then I asked how many would go to 7.2 in the next year and about 75 percent of the attendees raised their hands.
The people in this session are looking forward. This is a subsection of COMMON and COMMON is a subsection of the overall community, but that’s way better than if I had asked the same question at the beginning of 7.1. I know people then were not thinking of moving that quickly. I think there is some emphasis in this community to get to the new stuff.
I certainly hope that with a four-year release cycle between 7.1 and 7.2 that we would have provided enough time for people to get to 7.1. And then they can decide whether they need the capabilities or because they are on Power6 servers and they need to be on a release that will handle that.
Butterill: We are shipping a lot more 7.1 than 6.1. We are barely shipping any 6.1. It’s my job to track that. You can still order 6.1 along with 7.1 and 7.2. When you go to Power8, 6.1 is not available. It’s not typical for us to have more than two releases available to be ordered at a point in time.
Burger: Regarding the introduction of free format RPG at IBM i 7.1 TR7, it could have been held for 7.2 because it was a big announcement. Why was it released in TR7?
Butterill: When it became clear we could ship at TR7, we wanted it to be shipped so people understood that we could deliver big things within the TR strategy.
Will: This has been a big change in our strategy. One of the biggest things I’ve done as chief architect is push our development team to find a way to deliver things between releases where they can. I believe there are still reasons to have major releases, so there is reason to move to them, but in my opinion, because we didn’t have technology refreshes, we artificially constrained ourselves. That forced users to make decisions they shouldn’t have to make.
Free format RPG is good for the platform for as many clients as possible to have access to that as soon as possible. It’s just good for the platform. I didn’t want people to say ‘I’d like to do that, but I have to wait a year.’
I thought if I could get that in the hands of folks earlier and then say it again at 7.2, I get the benefit of both. Now we have some folks who have used it. People like Jon Paris and Susan Gantner and company have had something to talk about.
Burger: When it was released, the tools weren’t ready. Why was that?
Butterill: Free format RPG was announced August 7 with TR7. The compiler didn’t GA until about two weeks before the tools were available. Originally we weren’t going to have a refresh of the tools until February. When we announced free format RPG in October, the compiler was delivered the end of November. The tools became available in December, because we had a compiler without tools. There was about a two-week lag between when the compiler was available and the tools were available as well.
Will: We don’t have everyone marching to the same TR schedule. I’m not sure we ever will or should. TR7 announcement coincided with hardware announcements. But we weren’t going to wait until 7.2 to announce something that we could make available really soon after the TR7 announcement. Sometimes we make announcements and have to wait a couple weeks and sometimes a couple weeks more (for the product).
Butterill: Part of this is that we talk to the Rational team almost weekly. We were aware that we had an opportunity to pull RPG free into TR7. We decided to announce even though the tools availability would be behind it. We didn’t want to lose that opportunity. Otherwise we would have been waiting until now.