Five IBM i Facts That Will Surprise Your CIO
February 18, 2015 Alex Woodie
Trying to keep the IBM i relevant in your organization? It probably seems like an uphill battle at times, especially if you have a CIO who knows next to nothing about the platform. Here are five fun facts that may help save the platform at your organization, or at least get the CIO to give it a second look before he kicks it to the curb.
Fact 1: IBM i on Power is cheaper in the long run than Windows or Linux on Intel
The sticker shock associated with the acquisition of a new IBM i server can be damaging to the cardiovascular system of an otherwise healthy CIO. It’s not uncommon (but it is rare) for a single symmetric multiple process (SMP) server to have a price tag approaching $1 million, whereas the incremental cost of adding another X86 processing node to one’s rack is dropping near the $100 mark. These are the two extremes. This dollar disparity is seldom so clear cut, especially in light of recent price cuts on entry-level Power machines, but IBM’s all-in-one approach (server, operating system, database, and hardware maintenance) puts it at a budgetary disadvantage compared to X86’s piecemeal build-a-system approach, which looks inexpensive until it’s added up.
Outside the user base, it’s mostly unknown that the IBM i platform has an ace up its sleeve in the form of long term total cost of ownership (TCO). Not only is IBM’s RISC hardware more powerful and reliable than equivalent X86 servers, but Big Blue has also automated much of the administration out of its servers (dedicated database and security administrators are a rarity on IBM i). This translates into significantly lower personnel costs over the long run. In 2012, IBM hired the firm ITG to run the numbers, and the three-year TCO came back as follows: $480,200 for a typical IBM i setup, $862,200 for a typical Windows setup, and $1,118,300 for a typical Linux setup. Even the CFO can appreciate that.
Fact 2: IBM i runs modern graphical applications, including mobile apps
The IBM i server is a victim of its own success. Its superior architecture, systems, and applications–first implemented and designed decades ago–are still running the business of thousands of companies around the world. You just don’t find that kind of longevity with other systems, and this success should be hailed. But because many of these older AS/400 or iSeries systems (dare we mention System/36 and System/38 ancestors?) feature text-based “green-screen” interfaces, the uneducated CIO is prone to giving an ear to people who point and shout, “Look how outdated and yucky that old computer is!”
Show grandpa some respect, child! Yes, the green screens are long in the tooth, but the good news is you don’t have to use those if you don’t want to. (Surprisingly, to outsiders, many experienced users prefer green screens due their superior speed over mouse-driven interfaces). IBM has done a decent job exposing other ways to interface with the system, particularly with the RPG Open Access API and the recent addition of a REST interface for Web services. But the most visible work has been done by the community of IBM i software vendors and business partners, who offer all the tooling needed to develop first-rate Web and mobile user interfaces. Grandpa has some legs left in him. Watch him run.
Fact 3: IBM i blends proprietary and open source technologies
It is true that, at its heart, the IBM i server is a proprietary machine. As a developer, you cannot get access to the System Licensed Internal Code (SLIC) or Technology Independent Machine Interface (TIMI), which to this day remains trapped deep in the IBM i well. Bit-twiddlers who are accustomed to having every switch available to them will not feel at home with this machine, which epitomizes so much of IBM (both good and bad).
But instead of worrying about the proprietary layer, prospective business users should be thankful for it. Think of it as the equivalent of a thousand tiny IBM engineers right in your server, toiling away at boring stuff, such as making sure that MRP system from 1975 will run on the latest operating system and Power processors (which it will–quite well thank you). Besides, IBM supports loads of open source software higher up in the IBM i stack, everything from the Apache Web server and MySQL to freaking Node.js!
Fact 4: It is virus- and hacker- resistant and takes serious abuse
No computer architecture is completely secure, but good luck finding a business system that offers security features as strong and complete as the IBM i. The high level of security possible on the IBM i stems from several design points, most notably the object-oriented nature of the operating system itself, which prevents any given piece of code from being executed unless it’s a recognizable object (if only Windows had worked this way!) IBM calls it “virus-resistant,” which means there has never been a documented case of malware infecting an IBM i server, although it can harbor and disseminate Windows viruses through a Windows-like file system.
The system’s role-based security mechanism is also among the most advanced of all business systems. When it’s properly set up and configured, unauthorized users and applications have no way to access data that they are expressly forbidden from accessing. There is a reason major banks, healthcare companies, retailers, and governmental agencies continue to rely on the IBM i server to house their most important applications and data.
IBM’s midrange server also has a reputation for putting up with physical abuse. While IT Jungle doesn’t condone flooding your server, throwing it down a flight of stairs, leaving it running for years, running over it with a forklift, letting a tornado get it, or covering it up with drywall, IBM i servers have been known to put up with all of these indignities and continue to function.
Fact 5: The IBM i server is beloved by its users
Do not underestimate the power of the IBM i user community to support the computer they have grown to love. If you could somehow take the fanaticism that you see for Apple‘s consumer products and translate that into an equivalent for business computers, you would have something that looks like the IBM i user base. What is so fascinating about the IBM i phenomenon at the end of the day is that it is a business computer. It runs boring accounting systems, but in a freakishly efficient sort of way.
The IBM i server is an odd duck flying against the winds of standardization and homogenization, and that’s one of the reasons that the IBM i community stands out from the pack. To the administrators, developers, analysts users, and business partners who have worked with it, the IBM i server represents how practical and elegant solutions to business problems can be attained. Yes, it’s a little weird sometimes (see: EBCDIC run), and IBM keeps changing the name of it, to the great exasperation of the users (do not confuse allegiance to IBM i as loyalty to the company that bears its name). But for those who have come to see how the IBM i platform delivers simplicity where others revel in complexity, it’s a lesson they will never forget.