IBM i Trends, Concerns, And Observations
January 23, 2017 Dan Burger
There is far more going on in IBM i shops than many non-IBM i people would expect. And the truth of the matter is that some IBM i shops might be surprised to find out what other shops are up to. The IBM i Marketplace Survey is one of our windows into that world. And it’s just been compiled for the third consecutive year. We have been watching and reporting on this survey and the trends it identifies because it is one of the best finger-in-the-wind indicators of the directions IBM i shops are headed.
There are more than a few surprises in this year’s report. None are bigger than security taking the number one position on the list of top concerns. A year ago, it was fifth on this list. Businesses are on heightened alert, which suggests an increased awareness that the name on the box alone does not eliminate risk and security challenges need to be faced. A quick review of the survey points to several developing trends. Some are predictable, while others are likely to catch you off guard. Modernization projects, high availability, external storage, Linux on Power, and diminishing IBM i skills related to the aging workforce stand out in this crowd.
“IBM i shops share the same challenges and initiatives as the rest of the IT world with cybersecurity and high availability topping the list,” says Tom Huntington, the author of the survey and the executive vice president of technical solutions at HelpSystems. Concerns around IBM i security more than doubled year-over-year, while 20 percent more survey takers are considering high availability solutions as they plan for their IT environments.
During a panel discussion webcast hosted by HelpSystems last week, Huntington was joined by IBM executives Alison Butterill and Ian Jarman and IT Jungle editor in chief Timothy Prickett Morgan for an interchange of observations based on the Marketplace Survey results.
“HelpSystems is not surprised to see the emphasis on security,” Huntington says. “IBM i has a great reputation for security, but we see a lot of poorly configured systems from a security standpoint.”
Security weaknesses in IBM i shops have been widely overlooked, partly because the pummeling of X86 platform weaknesses has steered the focus away from i and partly because of a long-held misconception that IBM i is inherently bullet-proof. But, as pointed out by 13 consecutive years of surveys collected by PowerTech, a division of HelpSystems, the IBM i is actually a sitting duck. Security experts warn that although the IBM i is highly securable, it takes a knowledgeable security person to apply the capabilities that keep systems secure. Perhaps that message is sinking in, or maybe it’s the increasing sophistication of attacks that has chased security up the ladder of top concerns.
Right behind security on the top concerns list is high availability.
“In today’s world of mobile access and social media, security is the top concern of almost everybody on any platform,” Butterill noted during the webcast last week, while adding that “HA is critical for any company that operates in a 24/7 world.”
The Marketplace Survey shows a gradual increase in HA adoption over time, and comparing the past year with previous years there are no indications of a dramatic uptake. However, Butterill, Jarman, and Huntington seem to agree that HA adoption is due for a spurt.
There are more organizations operating in the 24/7 world that Butterill described and, based on survey data, approximately 50 percent of the IBM i shops do not have HA. Then add to that a 20 percent increase in survey responses that indicate a rising concern for availability, and an above average increase in HA implementations seems likely. This could mean business for managed service providers that offer HA as a service. We’ll have to wait and see whether companies want to handle HA internally or are comfortable outsourcing it. More than 75 percent of companies participating in the Marketplace Survey say they are not considering any type of outsourcing. That percentage has remained constant since this survey began.
The list of top concerns continues with application modernization and IBM i skills in the number three and number four positions. Half of the survey respondents say modernization is a top concern, and finding new hires with specific IBM i skills has been a concern for several years. It still worries more than 40 percent of those surveyed, but apparently, it doesn’t worry them enough to consider outsourcing workloads to managed service providers. Not yet, anyway.
While managed service providers are widely thought of as off-premise choices with separate data centers, there independent software vendors (ISVs) that are expanding their services capabilities to help companies overcome the lack of staff and lack of skills that are increasingly common. Huntington pointed out that HelpSystems has managed security services for just that reason.
Nearly 30 percent of the surveys noted reduced IT spending as a top concern and that caught the attention of Prickett Morgan, who noted a variety of factors that have allowed IT spending to be reduced overall, but also specifically in IBM i shops.
“Over the course of Power8 generation, the compute got cheaper. Memory, disk, and flash prices have come down. More people are using partitions and making better use of the capacity they have acquired or can activate on demand,” he says. “Plus, the IBM i platform has a reputation for being managed by relatively few people compared to other platforms. So most of the resources are applied to application development: modernization or tweaking third-party software. Still, there’s a limit as to how much you can reduce the spending.”
One of the biggest surprises in the 2016 survey was the changes that Linux is bringing. Linux on Power was deployed in 4.7 percent of the shops surveyed last year. This year the percentage jumped to 9.1 percent.
“I don’t think that many people are aware that the Windows base is declining,” Prickett Morgan says. “A couple of years ago, on the X86 platform the percentage was 75 percent Windows with 25 percent Linux. Now it’s closer to 60-40 and it is getting closer to 65-35. Linux is growing like crazy. One of the reasons is the increasing adoption of open source software that’s written for the Linux platform. The growth of Linux on Power is encouraging. IBM has been very clear that Linux will have to drive some revenue growth that will allow AIX and IBM i to be on a platform that is a profitable, growing part of IBM’s business. We all want that.”
The entire 2017 IBM i Marketplace Survey is available as a download. It includes information on the use of specific hardware and operating system releases, server capacity, new development language, plans for the platform, return on investment (these people like i) and lots of additional useful comparisons to how you view your IT department.
You can also download the panel discussion webcasts for additional insights. Three were done live, and each one, as it turns out, was a little bit different.