Debugging IBM’s New ‘Executive Guide’ For IBM i
February 8, 2017 Alex Woodie
Explaining the value of IBM i to a business executive is not an easy thing to do. Because so much of the computing world today runs on the Intel X86 architecture, many execs aren’t even aware there are alternatives. But there are, and the IBM i server, along with the System z mainframe, are among the last of a dying breed.
IBM recently rolled out an online resource designed to help IBM i professionals explain this weird thing called IBM i. Weighing in at nearly 7,000 words, the IBM i Strategy and Roadmap attempts to lay out the basics of the IBM i phenomenon, which is simultaneously a computer operating system, a marketplace, a development community, a social network, and a support group.
As a value-added service to you, dear reader, IT Jungle will assign either a rose or a raspberry depending on the specific claim.
IBM gets a rose for beginning by declaring that “all Power Systems server models include innovative reliability, availability, and serviceability features that help avoid unplanned downtime.” It’s accurate to state that Power servers are “optimized for the rigorous demands of enterprise computing.” Without getting too specific, IBM gets credit for stating up front that this is important stuff that differentiates the box.
But it soon became clear that the marketing people grabbed hold of the document, especially when IBM declares that Power servers “are especially designed for companies looking for a more efficient and lower cost scale-out environment than x86 commodity servers can deliver.” While it’s true that IBM i servers compete with X86 boxes, Power servers running IBM i are predominantly scale-up affairs. (It considers smaller entry-level IBM i servers “scale out,” but that’s a misnomer, as they’re not connected in a cluster to function as a single server, as scale-out X86 servers typically function.)
IBM gets a rose for explaining that the IBM i has primarily been used as a system of record, which is true. But it gets a raspberry when, rather than explaining how well the server actually performs that task—which is really the crux of the argument—it instead gives equal treatment to the other legs of the IBM marketing triangle: system of engagement (i.e. mobile) and systems of insight (i.e. analytics).
IBM professes that “thousands of businesses around the world are transforming their organizations by infusing intelligence into systems and processes,” which is a dubious, raspberry-worthy claim when there is no proof. IBM also claims that they’re embarking upon these transformative adventures by using public and private clouds, Linux, and even IBM i itself, which again earns it raspberries.
The truth of the matter is that only around 8 percent of IBM i shops are also running Linux on the same Power Systems server where IBM i resides; the number is slightly higher, about 9 percent, when separate Power Linux servers is concerned, according to HelpSystems recent Marketplace study. It may be true that IBM i clients may have a “clear advantage” when Power Linux is there to “extend business solutions,” but it’s also true that hardly anybody does that.
What’s more, there are no public IBM i clouds–only private ones hosted by business partners. While plenty of data from IBM i applications are finding their way into public cloud systems, these off-the-rez movements really have nothing to do with IBM i proper. Yes, Big Blue was SoCloMoAn before it was the hip thing to do, but it’s really isn’t pertinent to the IBM i argument, which is primarily about running boring old business applications in a secure and reliable fashion. Raspberries all around.
Another claim that may need to be addressed is this one: “Power Systems offers common software technologies, such as PowerVM for server virtualization, PowerVC for cloud management, PowerHA for high availability, PowerVP for managing and monitoring the performance of virtual workloads, and PowerSC for security and compliance.”
Yes, it’s true you can get all that stuff, but the insinuation that a Power Systems server (yes, even if you just have one box, it’s a Power Systems server) commonly comes with these items is misleading.
IBM gets a rose when it says: “IBM i has helped companies over many years to focus on innovation and delivering new value to their business, not on managing their data center operations.” The low total cost of ownership (TCO) is a core part of the value of IBM i, and IBM rightly points this out in its executive guide several times.
Big Blue deserves a dozen roses for its description of “the integrated SQL standards-compliant DB2 for i database” and for mentioning additional integrated middleware components, including multiple file systems, LDAP directory, an HTTP Web-server, and built-in security capabilities, much of which costs extra in other servers. (But really, we can admit that the IBM i server’s greatest strength is its database, at the end of the day.)
A mixed bouquet of roses and raspberries may be in order for the claim that there are “more than 2,300 registered solutions…available from more than 850 registered ISVs around the world.” Those numbers may sound nice on their face, and are accurate when looking at ISVs supporting IBM i 7.1 and IBM 7.2. But anybody who has tracked this platform for any length of time knows there used to be far more pre-built applications for this platform, and that consolidation has taken a heavy toll on the number of ISVs.
The descriptions of security capabilities are mostly on point (and thus rose-colored). “The object-based architecture allows companies to be sure that viruses masquerading as files cannot be introduced onto the system,” IBM writes. The part about support for row and column access control in the database is also spot-on, as these are key attributes savvy business architects will look for in any new solution.
It may sound nice when IBM says: “PowerVM also features dynamic resource allocation and balancing, extensive virtual I/O capabilities, as well as Live Partition Mobility to move active workloads between servers.” These capabilities can also be found on other platforms (even if you have to pay for a separate VMware license).
The bit about “PowerVC extending the value of PowerVM virtualization” may also be true, but it’s not really something that traditional IBM i shops deal with on a daily basis; PowerVC is mostly relevant to OpenStack practitioners running Linux and AIX on Power. It’s available for IBM i, but do you know of anybody using it?
IBM raised some eyebrows (but didn’t induce the roses) when it repeated the claim that there are more than 150,000 companies using IBM i around the world. While that’s the same number that Power Systems general manager Collin Parris shared with the community 4.5 years ago, the most recent analysis of IT Jungle‘s editor in chief Timothy Prickett Morgan points to a number closer to the 100,000 to 125,000 range.
IBM tells us about 85 percent of IBM i shipments in the last few years are entry-level machines, while the other 15 percent go to big companies that benefit from the scale-up capability of Power8 servers with 192 cores. It earns a rose for admitting that the platforms’ true strength is in the scale-up configuration.
But raspberries are soon in the offing when it states that “banking and financial services, insurance, healthcare and retail have contributed to tremendous growth of IBM i use.” This is at best a dubious claim; IBM no longer tells us how IBM i is selling, and we seriously doubt there’s consistent annual growth in the market.
Roses are in order for descriptions of IBM i 7.1 through IBM i 7.3. The addition of OLAP and geospatial capabilities, of course, are great, as are things like Git and Orion. But it’s unclear if these details matter much to an executive mulling which platform to run transactional applications on. (At least they don’t hurt, but we all know the IBM i server is not designed to execute heavy analytics beyond basic querying and reporting.)
Rose-flavored kudus for IBM for talking about IBM i’s single-level storage architecture, which is a true differentiating factor for a poorly understood platform that has consistently been a generation ahead of mainstream tech trends. But this should have been mentioned in the first 4,000 words, not buried near the bottom of the document where executives will probably miss it.
IBM gets roses for name-dropping the names of its top software partners in the mobile and app modernization section. LANSA, Fresche, Profound Logic, ARCAD, and Linoma Software (now part of HelpSystems) have stepped up to offer solutions that build on IBM’s technology. But it only gives one sentence to RPG Open Access, which is curious.
In the storage department, IBM accurately characterizes customers’ long-term migration from using internal disk to using external disk connected via “high-speed RAID adapters,” which earns it a rose for accuracy. However, it gets a raspberry for its casual treatment of DS8000, Storwize V7000, Storwize V5000, Storwize V3700, XIV, SVC, DS5000, FlashSystem 900, and FlashSystem V9000 arrays. (Storage may not be the only topic in this guide, but it surely could have used some more detailed information about the physical devices used to store the all-important database.)
IBM gets a rose for giving a better treatment to the high availability options available for IBM i, which includes hardware clustering (via its own PowerHA) and logical replication (available from Vision Solutions, Maxava, Rocket Software, Trader’s; it skipped HelpSystems and its new Robot HA, probably because the guide was written before Help bought Bugbusters). But Big Blue gets a raspberry for glossing over how hardware clustering is tied back to the storage (which we admit would probably take a few thousands of extra words owing to the greater complexity of this approach).
A rose is offered for providing 90 words on social applications and at least mentioning the Lotus Domino, Traveler, and Sametime offerings. But a raspberry is deserved for not laying out a more detailed roadmap for these products, which is up in the air. It also gets a rose for mentioning systems management and IBM i Navigator for i, the easy-to-use Web-based interface that IBM i pros use on a daily basis, and which is the face of the IBM i server in many ways. But alas, a raspberry is in order for ending the executive guide on the systems management topic, and not concluding it properly.
Like many things in life, IBM’s executive guide is not perfect. But it’s a useful piece of literature. Nobody could explain everything relevant about this platform in 6,000 words–we know this only too well at IT Jungle after migrating millions of them to our new website earlier this year.
You can get your own copy of the IBM i Strategy and Roadmap paper at www-03.ibm.com/systems/power/software/i/smartpaper.