What’s Up In The IBM i Marketplace?
March 9, 2015 Dan Burger
Analyzing the IBM i market could be generously described as a crap shoot. There’s not a great deal of hard data to be found. When something does arise, we take notice. A month ago, an article in IT Jungle provided a peek into the results of a survey of IBM midrange shops conducted by HelpSystems. The results of that survey have been compiled and presented in a report that has just been released.
IT Jungle, along with the European publishing company PowerWire, assisted HelpSystems in choosing topics and questions that would lead to revealing details about the IBM i community that “put a handle” on trends, directions, and concerns that in some way quantifies what the IBM i community is both thinking about and taking action upon at this time. It includes topics such as modernization, hardware and operating system upgrades, data growth, IT initiatives, staffing and workforce dynamics, and the perceived future of IBM i.
HelpSystems has titled this report the 2015 IBM i Marketplace Survey Results. It reflects the views of 350 IBM i shops. Geographically, 85 percent of the participants are from North America. The remaining 15 percent are predominantly from Europe.
We believe it’s a pretty good indicator of how things stand and what direction things may be headed. If you believe the long-term success of any organization is closely tied to how well its management is able to develop strategies to deal with likely future scenarios, this report is one of many tools that can assist in determining directions. It’s not a road map, but it does provide some traffic patterns.
Comparing the shops that participated in the survey with your own workplace is a good starting point. It may have a bearing on the results that mean the most to you.
About half of the feedback in this survey comes from shops that have between two and five Power Servers. Almost 40 percent operate with a single server. Nearly two-thirds are using the 7.1 release of the IBM i operating system, with almost a quarter using 6.1. Not quite 60 percent are running on Power7 servers, with Power5 the second most popular server in use. In terms of number of employees, companies with 500 employees or less represent 44 percent of the total. The 500 to 1,000 segment came in at 15 percent and the 1,000 to 5,000 group filled in almost 28 percent of the surveys. Organizations with 5,000 or more employees contributed 18 percent of the responses.
That should give you a pretty good idea of how your company matches up with the majority of organizations represented in this report.
So let’s take a look at a few of the trends that are identified by the survey.
These concerns are actually more of priority list of significant projects mixed in with business factors that affect the ability to accomplish the IT objectives. Topping the list is application modernization. Not a big surprise there, but adding a quantifying number to what percentage of shops put this at the top of their list substantiates the reports of business growth by the application development vendors that are fighting for awareness and ultimately the customers that for many years were unsure about making this investment. I can see that another indicator of how the application modernization market is heating up is the recent partnership activity between application tool vendors and the change management vendors as they prepare for development that goes beyond graphical user interfaces and involves changes to the underlying business logic. I don’t think there would be a flurry of these partnerships if those companies didn’t see modernization activity picking up.
Also vying for attention on the list of concerns is high availability. This provides evidence supporting the observations that as companies depend more on Web and mobile apps there is an increasing awareness that downtime is unacceptable and business continuity depends on protecting critical application and data assets. IBM has also made it easier and less expensive to purchase capacity backup systems. Most recently that has been noticed as an incentive to managed service providers that must provide backup to their clients. This type of product positioning is a reaction to marketplace indicators and realities.
Projects like modernization and high availability both require skill sets that stretch many IT staffs beyond their capabilities and staffing levels, which are already amazingly low compared to staffing at Windows and Unix shops. Light staffing and minimal or no training budgets have put many shops in a position to contract with the ISVs or independent consultants to accomplish their IT objectives. That perspective is supported by the 49 percent of survey responders who chose IBM skills depletion as the third most critical concern on their list.
Other concerns that ranked high on the list included mobile access, data growth, and the dilemma of accomplishing these business objectives while being held to the ever-present goal of reducing IT spending.
Those who are meeting IT goals indicate progress that is being made and perhaps a better understanding of what the true priorities are. The response to the question about programs already implemented show SQL database access as the most often achieved project. The high number of SQL database access implementations seems to indicate that database modernization is a priority that somewhat mysteriously does not show up on the top concerns list. Other projects indicated as “already implemented” in the survey include application modernization, analytical/business intelligence beyond the traditional and widely used Query/400, and document management. Of all the choices for projects implemented, it’s telling that 20 percent admitted they have not moved forward on any of the projects on the list. Also revealing is the statistic that shows cloud computing the least implemented of the choices.
Outlook for IBM i
For any IBM i advocate, this survey brings good news. By a wide margin, it demonstrates that organizations have no imminent plans to leave the platform. Nine out of ten are staying put. This should carry some weight in discussions about whether companies are bailing out and are convinced that the platform is a dinosaur with no place in modern computing environments. Nearly a quarter of those surveyed say there have been talks about moving to another platform, but there are no serious plans to do so. It’s undetermined whether that group is satisfied that IBM i is the best choice or whether the risk involved with migration to another platform is simply too great, so rather than take on the risk they will stay where they are.
One insight that is revealed in the migration question is the response that if their company did decide to migrate . . . 68 percent say they would go to Windows. That should be a red flag to the Power Systems division, which has a heavy investment in Linux on Power and shifting Windows workloads to Linux. Almost 60 percent of the IBM i shops surveyed say they do not run Linux in their organizations. Those that are considering running Linux on Power alongside IBM i are only 6 percent of this survey.
Finally comes a question of return on investment. If you had any doubt about the loyalty of these survey takers to the IBM i, take note that 94 percent believe the IBM i provides superior ROI compared to other platforms. That may be the truest indicator of the type of person who participated in this survey. These are IBM enthusiasts devoted to the platform. What they say reflects an IBM i bias. You can argue whether it’s an informed and educated bias or a narrow-minded “mines better than yours” bias, but these are, in fact, biases that arise from the most loyal business computing professionals on the planet. Their implementations and their concerns come from an IBM i-centric perspective. It’s not shaded to any large degree by those who are biased against the platform or are skewing the figures to a non-IBM i perspective.
The results of this survey can be downloaded in its entirety at this link.
I’ve just nicked the tip of the iceberg. There is a ton of information in the report that could be put to good use by personnel in IBM i shops. Anyone who is interested in providing evidence of what is taking place in IBM i shops and building a stronger case for what can be accomplished and is being accomplished on IBM i should make use of this material. When the question comes up about why companies are running on IBM i, this provides some statistical evidence beyond anything that IBM provides.
“We benefit from keeping companies on IBM i,” says Tom Huntington, vice president of technical services at HelpSystems and author of the study. “We hope IBM i shops see value in working with HelpSystems because it provides valuable information for the marketplace. There are a lot of community members who are very passionate about the IBM i. And there has been an absence of demographics and information about what is being done on IBM i.
“HelpSystems and others in the marketplace have been wondering what IBM i customers are thinking and if they are interested in maintaining the system. These demographics help companies make decisions. Knowing that 60 percent of the companies are planning modernization projects, and 89 percent of the companies have no plans to leave the platform, and only 9 percent have implemented any type of cloud computing, are all valuable insights into what is actually going on.”