IBM i Fundamental Strategy Unchanged, Always Changing
August 8, 2016 Dan Burger
The IBM i Strategy white paper, a document designed to explain how the platform is advancing in conjunction with long-term planning at IBM and how it takes into account the feedback from end users, has been revised. The modifications reflect changes that have occurred since the white paper was originally released approximately 18 months ago. Those changes include the release of IBM i 7.3, the IBM i roadmap as planned through 2028, and areas of investment that have yielded results.
Naturally, the strategy has considerable consequence to the IBM i community and IBM corporate. The i business is large–150,000 companies in more than 115 countries (the same numbers as reported in the original white paper)–and it is prosperous. IBM would like to keep it that way.
How is Big Blue going to do that?
IBM anticipated that question as if this isn’t the first time it’s been asked. About a year and a half ago, the IBM i Strategy white paper was published. That was pre-7.3, which gave the paper an outdated posture, so it’s been refreshed to give it currency and demonstrate how the IBM i team is delivering functions aligned with the stated strategy and to include IT topics that are more prevalent now compared to when white paper was originally published.
The white paper is available via this link.
“Strategy doesn’t have to change drastically from year to year. It goes out 5, 7, 10 years,” says IBM i chief architect Steve Will, who, along with IBM i product offering manager Alison Butterill, spoke with IT Jungle last week.
“Good strategy doesn’t change in terms of a fundamental direction,” Butterill noted while adding that strategic workloads are shifting to mobile, social, and analytics. “Where we spend our time and energy and resources is being driven primarily from our clients. Our customers are looking at mobile. They have to. Their customers are asking for mobile. So our mobile strategy has evolved. We are doing more work with the plumbing types of products that allow organizations to write their own mobile interfaces. We use our own mobile technology in our own products such as Access Client Solutions and DB2 Web Query. We are building out our own capabilities as well as working with customers to build out their mobile capabilities.”
Integrating open source with technology that is joined with standards for mobile computing is one example of following through on enhancements that align with the overall strategy.
It surprises some when they hear IBM‘s investment in open source technology on IBM i has been ongoing for the past 15 years. The earliest project was the Apache HTTP server. In more recent times, we’ve seen IBM invest in support for PHP, Ruby, Node.js, and Python.
All of them are actions that fit into the strategic goal of supporting multiple programming models on IBM i, so that users can apply new approaches and integrate them with existing investments.
“Open source technology is giving people the tools to build modern applications–some mobile, some Web,” Will says.
“Being the best solutions platform 15 years ago is different than being that today,” he says while probably wishing those words could erase perceptions that the system hasn’t changed from its AS/400 days. “We continue to invest in the technology and people to make mobile apps possible and cloud apps possible. There’s momentum within the IT industry to take existing assets and create mobile and cloud versions of them. We have been changing our existing technologies, while not changing our investment strategy.”
Old perceptions, like old habits, die hard. The strategy white paper is a tool that Will and Butterill use to counter the negative perceptions that keep hanging on. It shows a pattern of product development that counters talk that IBM no longer invests in the platform.
The white paper shows investments in new technologies are being made on an ongoing basis. Will says the amount of investment doesn’t shift, but the technologies shift over time.
When Will became chief architect for IBM i almost a decade ago, 6.1 was the latest OS. Most IBM i shops were running V5R3 and V5R4. Since that time, the roadmap has pushed farther into the future and many new technologies have been added.
Specific dollar investments or people investments are locked away in a secret vault, but Will says there continues to be teams of people–“like in the early 2000s and before”–looking at what application providers are going to need.
“In the old days, we needed Java. Now what’s needed is open source and mobile tooling,” Will says. “We identify the new technologies and we invest in them.”
The pillars of the IBM i strategy–mobile, cloud, analytics, security and social–have resource allocations that are “similar” when comparing today with two years ago when the strategy and roadmap document was first produced, Will says.
Head counts for people working on the integrated database, solution enablement technology–languages, language environments, and tools–and integrated security are all at about the same level as they were 18 months ago, Will says.
Butterill also pointed out investments outside of the platform that supplement IBM i such as PowerVC, PowerVM, and the HMC.
The IBM i business, like every business, has a finite amount of resources and it deals with a competitive landscape. The more it commits to one thing, the less it can commit to another. The tactics chosen answer the question: How is IBM going to accomplish its IBM i strategy?