Enough With The Huge Performance Increases Already, IBM i Pros Cry
April 1, 2015 Swift
IBM i shops are up in arms this week over the huge performance increases that IBM is seeking to foist upon them with the latest Power8 servers. “Eight threads per core and 12 cores per socket? Really IBM?” said clearly exasperated programmer/analyst Jack D. Sparrow. “I mean, what on earth am I going to do with all that raw, unbridled processing power?”
Sparrow is not alone. In fact, a growing number of IBM i professionals are beginning to vocalize concerns about IBM and its sinister plan to equip every customer with a ridiculous amount of computing horsepower that will transform their tired old organizations into agile data-driven enterprises.
Every week, Sparrow gets together with a group of like-minded analysts, programmers, and administrators who are part of an actual LinkedIn group called “S38 4Evr!” to share their grievances about that blue devil IBM. (Editor’s note: There is no such group.) The topic of discussion often turns to Commercial Processing Workload (CPW), the unit of measurement that IBM uses to compare the power of its various servers. The problem is, they say, the CPWs just keep going up and up, year in and year out, without a whiff of concern for how the customers and their applications will actually make use of all that incredible power.
“Yes, having nearly 250,000 CPWs looks great on paper, but try to actually put that to some sort of use that benefits the company,” says COBOL programmer Bridget D. Eagle, who works at a bank that’s completely stuck in 1999. “Trust me–it’s a lot easier said than done.”
Take mobile computing for example. “Yes, the IBM i would make a great platform to build a compelling mobile banking app that increases customer satisfaction,” Eagle says, especially with all the spare CPWs of their two-socket Power S824 server–even following the latest round of server consolidation. “But the COBOL compilers for the Blackberry OS are just so buggy as to be almost unusable. Come on, IBM!”
IBM is clearly leading customers down the path to ruin. It may sound great that an ERP system written 30 years ago for a 48-bit operating system can run orders of magnitude faster today on a modern 64-bit platform, without making any changes to the code. But some IBM i pros wonder if it isn’t something else–say a sinister plot to sandbag upstanding corporations with working legacy apps for 20th century industries like manufacturing, healthcare, and distribution, while Young Turks at places like Airbnb and Uber lead us bravely into 21st century commerce.
Consider the case of a distributor called PDQ Inc. The huge untapped potential of the Power8 server had PDQ’s IBM i admin Bobby Joe Crow anticipating great things. When he signed onto the entry-level Power S8414 for the first time, he could barely contain himself. IBM’s latest chip, he knew, was orders of magnitude better than anything in its class (“Heck, it’s in a class by itself!” Crow thought.) and the massive performance boost compared to the Power6 server it replaced was going to fundamentally transform his company forever. He couldn’t wait to get started!
But several months in, the giddiness has gone, and the optimism has waned. Yes, the screen response time for the company’s core ERP system has improved considerably, dropping more than 50 percent, to just 50 milliseconds. The system’s 5250 “green screens” just fly by at an incredible rate–clearly the change has been transformational for PDQ, he thought.
But despite running the latest edition of the best server money can buy, PDQ hasn’t changed a bit. It’s the same old distributor, storing and transporting pet products to eight Western states (and two Canadian provinces) that it was before. For some reason that Crow hasn’t quite figured out, Power8’s performance boost didn’t transfer directly to his company’s bottom line. “Thanks for huge price/performance gains of Power8. Thanks for nothing!” a rueful Crow says.
This is a crux year for IBM, which has built and sold business machines to the world’s biggest companies for the past 100 years, but so far has found itself struggling to answer Wall Street’s tough, probing questions, such as “When will the stock buyback be expanded?” and “When will the dividend go up?” and “How much will you expand the stock buyback/dividend by?”
Yes, its Power8-class system is the epitome of sophistication and design and will be the workhorse driving transactional and analytic workloads for tens of thousands of organizations for years to come. But the IBM i community clearly deserves more than a big performance dividend, delivered regularly, year in and year out.
Sure, it looks great to run a $100-million business on a single Power8 system that occupies a rack or two, especially considering the multiple racks that an equivalent Intel X86-based system would entail. But sometimes, you need to do something more than delivering a superior business computer that is supremely secure, scalable, and reliable, decades on end.
Because at the end of the day, enabling companies to run month-end reports in a fraction of the amount of time that it previously took, or to do the work on one server that used to consume dozens of older machines–it’s just not enough. While the Power8 server offers nearly a 2x performance bump over the server it replaces, it’s doing something much more powerful: Exposing weaknesses in decades-old business plans and ineffective corporate leadership. And that’s just got to stop.