Finding IBM i: A Game Of 40 Questions
January 11, 2016 Dan Burger
From the operating system to the programming languages to the expanding or contracting footprint of IBM i environments, we are learning more about the IBM midrange community from surveys conducted by HelpSystems, one of the largest of the IBM i independent software vendors (ISVs), and assisted by IT Jungle and PowerWire, two sources of IBM i news and analysis. Last week, the results of the second IBM i Marketplace Survey, based on the participation of 834 IBM i shops, were released.
The IBM i is sometimes referred to as IBM’s best-kept secret. Unfortunately, that keeps many IT professionals, who are only marginally familiar with the system, on the dark side of the moon clutching their misinformed opinions. Fortunately, we have the results of this survey, which add perspective and provide evidence of what technologies, features, and functions are being used. Some of what is revealed in this 40-question survey will even surprise the IBM i experts; much of it can be, and should be, put into the hands of IT decision makers.
Start with the survey question that asks: Does your executive IT leadership have experience with the IBM i platform? One-third of the responders answered “no.” Those executives, in particular, need to see this survey. Not because it puts IBM i on a pedestal, because it doesn’t. There’s more good news than bad, but mostly it’s a snapshot of where we live and how we live. Whether your executives think they know the IBM i or readily admit they do not, there are lessons to be learned from this data, not the least of which is that the results will fuel debate. Nothing wrong with that.
For example, the question concerning return on investment. It turns out 94 percent believe IBM i ROI beats all other servers. OK, there’s a loyalty bias that could be interpreted as see no evil, but, regardless, 94 percent is a very high satisfaction rating. And it comes from individuals that are constantly being leaned on to do more with less. And, by the way, the 2015 Marketplace survey results reflected the same level of satisfaction on the ROI question. The point is that people can talk in vague terms about loyalty and ROI, but here’s a scorecard that backs up the talk.
Another question that fits into this discussion is: What percentage of your core business processes runs on IBM i?
Nearly half of these IBM i shops are running at least three-quarters of their business’ core processes. And 75 percent of these organizations are running at least half of their core business processes on IBM i. That’s significant. It’s the majority of mission critical apps running on a single server. The executive that has no experience with IBM i may need to see this.
Yes, there’s room for interpretation. The determination of core business processes can vary, but it is generally assumed that core means ERP. You can make an argument that some businesses would put their email and Web servers in the core category.
Should we expect to see any change in how companies are using their i environments? Certainly. First of all, take note that 45 percent are saying there’ll be no change in their plans for workloads on i. But there’s 22 percent that say they plan to increase their IBM i footprint. That’s significant, too. Few people, me included, would have predicted this, but people are finding ways to put more workloads on i. That’s good news, but hold on a minute. Twelve percent plan to migrate some applications to new platforms and 8.5 percent have decided to move all applications to new platforms. That almost counterbalances the new workloads. Then there’s 12 percent who don’t know what their plans are for IBM i. Which way will the chips fall? It might make a difference if the decision makers take into account what is actually happening in shops where the i footprint is expanding.
“IBM i users are a demanding community that insists on reliability, scalability, and security. This survey shows these organizations will continue leveraging this powerful platform to meet modern business challenges,” says Tom Huntington, executive vice president of technical solutions at HelpSystems and author of the survey.
Huntington pointed out that one of the often-heard complaints from IBM i shops, and shops relying on other systems as well, is that IT staffs don’t have time to do their tasks let alone take on new tasks. To dig deeper into this, he included a survey question related to automated processes. HelpSystems specializes in system automation software among other things. The question asks: Does your IBM i run fully unintended?
The answer came back: 56 percent yes and 44 percent no.
“Automation can help the 44 percent that don’t have time to do their tasks let alone take on new tasks,” he says. Automation gives staff more time to do other things. There are powerful tools available that add to the benefits of running IBM i.”
Knowing how to get things done using the existing platform is a better answer than providing another reason to leave the platform.
There’s plenty more in this survey that can be useful in making a case for i. Other statistics from the survey that Huntington and I discussed during a phone call last week included a continued strong interest in modernization projects, which includes applications and the database; the increasing use of development languages in addition to RPG, which is the most popular language by a large margin; a significant use of SQL, which would probably surprise those who label IBM i as a relic of the past; and Power7 and Power8 server sales increases along with i OS upgrades.
On the topic of server upgrades, Timothy Prickett Morgan, IT Jungle‘s editor in chief, noted the transition from Power5 and Power6 machines to Power7 and Power8 is pretty much in line with the pace of upgrades that have occurred in recent years.
“I’m surprised that so much old iron is still out there. This survey represents what I call the crème de la crème of the base–the active part of the customer base. And even with these active shops we see one-third of them on Power5 or older boxes. That doesn’t make sense. It’s not good practice. Those machines are 10 or more years old. That’s a long time for a disk drive to not fail.”
That two-thirds of IBM i users have multiple partitions also caught his eye.
“I suspect most partitions are IBM i, not Linux or AIX.”
There’s never been a lot of non-IBM i environments invited into our silo and that still holds true to a great degree, he says, and the survey statistics back this up with only 10 percent running AIX on the same box as i and only 7 percent sharing their server with Linux.
HelpSystems is hosting a panel discussion webcast this Wednesday, January 13, at 2 p.m. Central time. IT Jungle editor in chief Timothy Prickett Morgan, IBM i product manager Alison Butterill, IBM Power Systems executive Ian Jarman, and HelpSystems’ vice president of technical solutions Tom Huntington will be providing the commentary. Registration for the event can be accomplished here.
The demographics of the participating IBM i shops shows an even distribution based on the size of the organizations with 47 percent representing total employment less than 500 and 53 percent on the top side of 500. Fifty-eight percent are at home in the United States, 27 percent come from Europe, with no other region reaching 5 percent. Manufacturing was the leading industry at 21 percent, followed by distribution at 12 percent, and banking/finance at 11 percent. IT software development, insurance, and retail participation came in between 5 percent and 10 percent and 10 other industries factored in between 1 percent and 4 percent.