Partners Need To Get Certified–For Power8 And IBM i
August 25, 2014 Timothy Prickett Morgan
Business partners who resell Power Systems iron running the IBM i operating system have to jump through a lot of hoops to prove to Big Blue that they know what they are talking about when it comes to selling, installing, and configuring machinery. This is not a new thing to the IBM midrange, but rather the normal course of things since the days of the AS/400 and a natural consequence of selling a product through channel partners instead of a direct sales force. And that is precisely how all of us in the IBM i ecosystem want it to stay.
But some business partners who have contacted The Four Hundred in recent weeks have this sneaking suspicion that maybe IBM will be focusing most–if not all–of its attention on Linux and AIX with the new Power8 systems and not enough on IBM i. They believe this not because of a marketing message or a sales pitch, but because of a change in the certification process for business partners with the Power8 systems.
IBM’s PartnerWorld business partner organization sent out notices to Power Systems resellers on August 12 that all authorized business partners would have to meet new recertification requirements for the current Scale-Out Power8 systems as well as what I presume are future and impending bigger NUMA shared memory machines that are referred to as the Enterprise Power8 systems in the letter. This may be something of a surprise to some partners, given that the last required change in certifications was concurrent with Technology Refresh 6 of IBM i 7.1, but given that IBM has a new marketing message with Power8–essentially, compete with X86 iron–this seems reasonable. The partners that I talk to say the certification regimen changes every two to three years, so they are used to this.
In the past, with the current V2 certifications for Power Systems, as they are called, partners had to take four tests. There was a set of common tests they had to pass, and specifically, there were four tests in the V2 generation. One showed that partners had the sales skills to peddle Power Systems iron in a general sense, and the other showed they had the technical skills to help customers size and configure systems and had familiarity with the feeds and speeds and slots and watts of the machinery. Then, partners had to specialize further, taking two tests to prove they had the sales and technical skills for each of the three operating systems–IBM i, AIX, or Linux–available on Power Systems machines. Those partners focusing on IBM i therefore took four tests, two technical skills tests and two sales skills tests, one each for Power Systems generically and one each for IBM i specifically.
Those certifications were a seal of approval from IBM and it showed that the partners knew what they were talking about, and in the SMB world, where the relationship is between the companies using the IBM i platform to run their businesses and the partner/reseller providing the gear and often other kinds of support, this was like having a license to sell. It is important, and it is what keeps the quality of the experience between IBM i customers and ultimately IBM itself being not just a good one, but a legendary one. Something Apple craved and created long after IBM had already mastered it in the midrange.
The current V2 certifications that customers have for Power Systems machines in general (both sales and technical) and for specific platforms (for IBM i, AIX, and Linux, sales and technical for each) and the tests that they take to get those certifications are going to expire on July 31, 2015. You can read the business partner announcement that describes the new tests here at this link.
Like before, IBM has a more generic sales certification, called Certified Technical Sales Specialist–Power Systems with Power8 V1 and that test for that will be available in March 2015. Then there are two other certifications beyond this. Instead of going deeper by operating system platform as in the past, IBM appears to be going deeper by use case and system type with the Power8 technical sales certifications. IBM has a new test for the Scale-Out Power8 systems that is targeted to be available in October 2014 for customers to take to prove they know their Power8 entry stuff and to get the Certified Technical Sales Specialist–Power Systems with Power8 Scale-out V1 credential. The Enterprise Power8 variant of the credential–called Certified Technical Sales Specialist – Power Systems with Power8 Enterprise V1, naturally enough–will have a test sometime around March 2015. Interestingly, you will have to get the Scale-Out Power8 credential as a prerequisite for the Enterprise Power8 certification.
Nowhere in these three certifications does IBM’s testing go further and offer deeper certifications by operating system. That doesn’t mean that IBM won’t do this, but so far, what it does mean is that IBM has not done this.
The word on the street is that the person who used to coordinate the certification efforts for IBM i in the Rochester, Minnesota, labs was laid off three months ago, which has some partners jumpy. Normally, this person would solicit experts in the IBM i field who were well-acquainted with the new hardware and software as the testing regimen was updated to fire off hard questions to each other and these would be used to make the certification tests. As far as my sources know, these experts have not been contacted to generate IBM i 7.2 questions for Power8 systems. That doesn’t mean it won’t happen, mind you.
And I only bring this up because both the partners and I, and no doubt the rest of the IBM i community, want for a specific IBM i certification to continue. I don’t want the IBM i customer and partner to be an after-thought. For whatever reason, IBM did not launch a four-core variant of the Power8 machines with an IBM i P05 software tier when the machines came out–probably because ISVs want customers to pay more for their software licenses as they drive IBM hardware sales. IBM was noncommittal about even putting out such a four-core P05 machine in its internal documents, and I have to believe that complaints from customers and resellers alike not only prompted IBM to change its mind–the machine was held out as a possibility for a launch in the fall of 2014, with no promises–but to move the launch up to June.
The IBM i base needs that P05 machine, and partners need a specific IBM i certification to prove they know what they are talking about with this platform, which is not like Windows, Linux, Unix, or anything else for that matter. Whether or not IBM has certifications for AIX or Linux is another matter entirely. But given how different they are–and how the partner community is used to thinking this way and the customers are, too, it probably makes sense to keep doing it this way.