IBM i Priorities For 2017: Pivot To Defense
February 1, 2017 Alex Woodie
IBM i shops around the country will be concentrating their efforts more on defensive IT measures like security and high availability this year, as offensive measures like application modernization and mobile app development take a back seat on corporate to-do lists, according HelpSystems’ recent marketplace study.
While digital transformation is still an important topic that IBM i shops should have on their radar, an even bigger priority in 2017 will be getting one’s digital house in order before hackers, disgruntled employees, or natural disasters conspire to compromise data and disrupt operations.
That message came through loud and clear in HelpSystems 2017 IBM i Marketplace Survey, which was based on surveys taken by nearly 500 IBM i professionals. But the need for better security has also been a commonly heard refrain in other conversations this year, such as the ongoing 2017 predictions that IT Jungle has been asking IBM i leaders to write about.
Here are the numbers from HelpSystems report:
Security was listed as the number one concern of IBM i shops for 2017, with about 71 percent of respondents listing security as a top concern in Help’s survey. It doubled from the 2016 results, when security was the sixth most pressing issue, with just 33.1 percent of respondents saying security was a top concern. (Customers are free to select as many top concerns as they like.)
This was not an expected result, and caught HelpSystems by surprise. “It was crazy to see,” says Erin Hofstrom, the company’s marketing manager. “We absolutely anticipated there being an increase there, because we felt that as well, as a security vendor. But that kind of a jump was larger than we anticipated.”
High availability also rose in prominence, if not the standings. About 39 percent of the IBM i professionals taking HelpSystems 2016 survey reported high availability as a top concern, which was good enough for second place. While high availability remained in second place for the 2017 study, about 59 percent of respondents in the 2017 study said it was a top concern, a healthy 20 percent increase.
The percentage of IBM i shops using high availability has also gone up, according to the report. Today, nearly 49 percent of IBM i shops have HA, up about 2 percent in the past year. IBM i HA provider Vision Solutions, which recently published its annual State of Resilience report, also has detected the new security thinking.
“Everywhere we look, when we look a trends, it’s HA/DR and security,” Vision Solutions’ director of product marketing, Becky Hjellming, tells IT Jungle. “Those are at the top of the list.”
Pivot To Defense
The defensive shift among IBM i shops dropped application modernization from first in the 2016 survey to third in the 2017 survey. The fraction of IBM i pros saying application modernization was a top concern dropped from about 58 percent in 2016 to about 50 percent in 2017, according to the results.
Mobile access, which was the third most cited top concern in 2016 with 38 percent of the vote, plummeted to 10th place in the 2017 survey, with a 24 percent share. Analytics and business intelligence–which can also be thought of as offensive measures designed to boost overall business as part of an overall digital transformation strategy–declined by less than a percent, although it moved up from 7th to 8th place in the standings.
Viewed together, the increased focus on security and HA on the one hand, and the drop in modernization and mobile access on the other, makes sense, according to Tom Huntington, HelpSystems vice president of technical services and the author of the 2017 Marketplace report.
“People have to think about, OK we’re going to make our data more mobile, yet we’re not sure it’s secure.’ We may want to rethink that,” Huntington tells IT Jungle. “I think that’s probably a little bit of what’s going on there. We need to make sure the lock is on the chicken coop before we open it up and let anybody go in to get the eggs.”
The level of concern that IBM i showed about data growth itself was relatively flat. About 34 percent of IBM i shops in the 2016 study listed “data growth” as a top concern, good enough for 5th place. This year, data growth remains in 5th place, although 1.5 percent more people listed it as a concern.
“I believe that customers are rethinking their data warehouses, and asking themselves, where am I putting my data?” Huntington says. “Maybe it’s secure in its source, but then it gets replicated and gets put into a spreadsheet or a data warehouse or gets replicated for testing. Are all forms of it secure?”
The growing awareness around security isn’t just an IBM i trend. The wider world seems to be waking up to the need to improve computer security. This is especially true in light of the high-profile hacks that took place during last year’s presidential campaign and the revelation from American national security agencies that the Russian government was behind some of it.
According to the 2017 Thales Data Threat Report, which surveyed IT professionals about security issues, 73 percent of respondents expect to increase spending on security in the next 12 months. That’s up sharply from the prior year, when 58 percent expected increases in security spending.
Data breaches are also up, according to the Thales study, which found the number of organizations reporting that their data has been breached increased from about 60 percent in 2016 to about 67 percent in the 2017 report. Increasing complexity and a lack of suitably trained staff were cited as barriers to better security.
The skills issue will continue to be an important topic in IBM i circles this year, as it was for much of last year, when surveys pointed to a lack skills being a barrier to digital transformation at IBM i shops. But the skills gap is evolving, and it’s not just a lack of knowledge of RPG or Control Language that matters anymore–it’s the lack of security skills.
“When you talk about IBM i skills being an area where people are concern, cybersecurity is there too,” Hofstrom says. “There’s no shortage of information out there about there being a cybersecurity skills gap. With the number of data breaches on the rise and some of the staffing challenges that companies are having to get up and running fast enough to defend against some of this. I don’t’ doubt this is a defensive move.”
Security Gets Its Day
Having security top the charts is also a validation of sorts for HelpSystems, which has been buying up independent IBM i security software vendors (including Bytware, PowerTech, Safestone, Skyview Partners, and Linoma) like they’re going out of style. (In another case of good timing, HelpSystems also rolled out its Robot HA product late last year after snapping up Bugbusters)
“It’s good to see this heightened awareness on IBM i security because I feel we’ve talked about it for so long,” Hofstrom says. “We definitely feel like people know now there’s steps you need to take to improve your security posture, and people are now interested in trying to identify those area and fix them. It’s really great to see.”
Will the increased focus on IBM i security issues translate into better, more securely configured systems, as measured in PowerTech’s annual State of Security study, which is due out this spring? The study measures how well security practices are followed in actual customers’ IBM i servers.
“It’s a lifestyle. It’s not a onetime event,” Hofstrom says. “You’ve seen how bad some of these systems are. There’s a lot of work for a lot of people to do. I think you’re going to see more incremental changes hopefully coming in the security space over the next several years.”
You can access your own copy of the 2017 IBM i Marketplace Study at this webpage. You can also watch the panel discussion webcasts, which included IBMers Ian Jarman and Alison Butterill and IT Jungle‘s own Timothy Prickett Morgan.