Jazzing Up IBM i In COMMON’s Quarter
May 16, 2016 Alex Woodie and Dan Burger
New Orleans has taken on a decidedly IBM i tint thanks to the start of COMMON‘s Annual Meeting and Expo over the weekend. An estimated 1,100 attendees are in the Big Easy for the four-day show, which began Sunday morning with remarks by COMMON president Kevin Mort, and also featured a glimpse into the future of Power Systems, courtesy of IBM Power Systems executives Steve Sibley and Stephanie Chiras.
The spring COMMON conference is still the biggest IBM i show on earth and provides attendees a chance to beef up their skills, socialize with other IBM i professionals, check out the latest vendor solutions, and hear the IBM i gospel from the likes of true-blue IBMers like Steve Will, Alison Butterill, and Scott Forstie. While neither COMMON nor IBM i are what they once were in terms of the number of followers they draw, there is considerable fruit still on the vine here, and both COMMON and the platform continue to evolve to meet ever-changing needs.
Take, for example, the professional certifications that COMMON offers. First launched six years ago with a single certification, COMMON now offers three certifications, including the Certified Business Computing Professional (CBCP), the COMMON Business Computing Associate (CBCA), and another for ILE RPG.
Mort announced that the user group will soon double the number of certifications by adding an Associate RPG certification, and administration certifications for IBM i and AIX. “COMMON is going to be producing IBM i and AIX administrative certificates so you can demonstrate your skills to your employers and other future prospects,” Mort told the audience gathered here at the Hilton Riverside hotel in downtown New Orleans.
While COMMON is primarily an IBM i conference, there’s fair bit of AIX and Linux, too. The latter operating system perhaps plays a bigger role, thanks to the presence of IBM’s OpenPower initiative. Stephanie Chiras, a PhD holder who carries the very IBM-like title of “Vice President, Power Systems Offering Management, Systems of Engagement Infrastructures,” told the IBM i crowd not to fret.
“The OpenPower ecosystem is absolutely synergistic with the IBM Power Systems strategy and that of IBM i and AIX,” she said during her keynote address Sunday. “OpenPower and Linux on Power is relevant to the Power platform, to the Power architecture. It’s relevant for IBM i and AIX, it’s relevant for everything that Power Systems delivers today and the potential of what it can deliver tomorrow and the choice that it will bring tomorrow.”
Chiras noted that when OpenPower members like Google and Rackspace Hosting commit to working together to build a Power9-based server together, or when Nvidia and IBM plan to build fast new I/O connections between graphics processing units (GPUs) and Power8 chips, that it strengthens the entire ecosystem. “It brings innovation that you can leverage and use to expand and grow on all the capabilities of IBM i,” she said.
OpenPower is all the more important now that IBM doesn’t have an X86 server business to distract it. It’s a good thing that IBM’s focus is entirely on Power (and mainframe and storage too) says Bo Gebbie, who’s official IBM title is “Director of Sales and Product management, North America Power Systems & Server Linux Solutions.”
“Good riddance,” Gebbie said. “I’m happy because now finally within the company we can focus on what’s important. We call it high-value systems. Stephanie talks about when we had the X86 business, it was her ugly step sister. But now we got rid of them. We divorced them.”
That divestiture is paying dividends, according to Steve Sibley, IBM Vice President, Power Systems Offering Management, Systems of Record Infrastructures, who says IBM followed through on a promise it made in 2013 to be “the most open platform system in the industry.”
“In 2014 we started bringing those products to market with IBM i 7.2,” Sibley said. “And we had a great year last year, in 2015. We had growth for the full year on the Power Systems. We saw huge growth in our Linux business–over 300 percent in that area. And tremendous growth in IBM i, a vibrant community we have here.”
Looking forward, the IBM Power Systems strategy pivots around a few major themes, including cognitive, cloud, virtualization, and openness. If the word “cognitive” sends you into uncontrollable shivers, then maybe you should just think of it as machine learning and big data, Gebbie said. But whatever you do, don’t pass on it, because it’s closer to becoming part of your day-to-day reality than you might think.
“A lot of people when they think of cognitive or big data they think of it for large enterprise only,” Gebbie said. “But guess what: The guy down the street is doing it. So if you’re not out there leveraging the system and the ecosystem, you’re going to kind of be left behind.”
The Opening Session featured a ton of awards. One of the biggest awards given out is the COMMON-IBM Power Systems Innovation Award winner. This year’s Innovation Award goes to Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corporation for breaking away from a fixed format, RPG III application development tradition by transitioning to free form RPG and RDi.
The project got underway when the head of IT made it a priority and hired a young college graduate to help make it happen. Although the new guy had no background in RPG or IBM i, he demonstrated enthusiasm and understanding of the importance of building for the future. Going forward, the electric co-op has increased its application development skills, created apps that integrate with other platforms and are understood by non-RPG developers, and are less maintenance intensive. Read more about this in an article titled “Free Form RPG Scores IBM i Innovation Award” in this issue of The Four Hundred.
The COMMON Education Foundation also presented seven scholarships. Topping the list was Liam Allan of Fareham College in Hampshire, England. Allan received the Student Innovation Award for developing a programming language and virtual machine on an IBM i system. He also presented a “how I did it” session at the conference.
The Volunteer Memorial Scholarship–this year awarded in memory of Bob Krzeczowski, a long-time volunteer for COMMON who passed away in 2015–was awarded to Robert Nields of Cincinnati State Technical and Community College in Cincinnati, Ohio.
IBM i instructor scholarships were awarded to Jim Buck and Christian Hur from Gateway Technical College in Kenosha, Wisconsin; Doris McCreary from Itawamba Community College in Fulton, Mississippi; and Sarah Robison from Arkansas Technical University in Russellville, Arkansas.
Alan Seiden was chosen for the Al Barsa Memorial Scholarship. Aaron Bartell was selected for the John Earl Speaker Award, sponsored by PowerTech, a division of HelpSystems. Money for all scholarships except the John Earl Award is raised from the annual silent auction at the COMMON conference, direct donations, merchandise sales, and raffle tickets.
Last but not least, check out this humorous video that Mort shared during the show (see below). If that doesn’t fire up the IBM i geek in you, then what will?