Counting Companies With An IBM i In The Mix
July 10, 2017 Dan Burger
How many companies are running their mission critical business applications on Power Systems loaded with the IBM i operating system? Not as many as 20 years ago. That’s for certain. But who knows for sure? I mean, who knows the number? Three years ago, IBM was tossing out a worldwide estimate of 125,000. That number has not been officially updated but sources at IBM say the number of IBM i customers remains steady with that three-year-old estimate. On the other hand, I’ve heard people in the IBM i community guesstimate the installed base is under the 100,000 mark. It’s not hard to imagine IBM might be padding its number by a tad or two.
The point is no one really knows. And John Rockwell, self-proclaimed curator of the ecosystem, really wants to know. He’s been pursuing this number as if it was a white whale. Currently he’s sailing in a sea of 32,000 company names and locations. That number comes from a combination of lists turned over to Rockwell – everything from small personal inventories to vendors with statistics compiled from more than two decades in the IBM midrange business.
There is a fly in the ointment, however; the time it takes to verify whether 32,000 companies are still running mission critical apps on IBM i is not inconsequential. So far, the list includes 6,000 verified IBM i shops, or about 16 percent of the total. The oldest verifications were recorded in 2015, which means the list is probably no more than a few percentage points shy of 100 percent accurate. The lists are available without charge on Rockwell’s all400s.com website.
“We went from zero names to 32,000 in a little over a year and a half,” Rockwell says while noting 25,000 of those are companies are located in the United States. “We’re working our way through the list to find and update the current status of each company as fast as we can. The idea is to get the list big enough to combat claims by Microsoft and Oracle that the IBM i ecosystem is small and dying.”
People working in IBM i shops should keep tabs on their industry competitors that run on IBM i, Rockwell advises. Then if management considers moving off the operating system – which was formerly known as OS/400 and i5/OS – the IBM i team can demonstrate that while the move is costing millions of dollars, competitors that are staying on the platform can dedicate that amount to gaining market share while the company with migration on its mind becomes invested in a risky IT strategy.
Rockwell says his intent in building this list is to possibly end the erosion of IBM i shops by providing a verified accounting, which would demonstrate the widespread use of the system and inspire confidence.
“Many more vendors are contributing information to us about companies who are using the platform and letting their customers know about us so they can use us as a resource when the need arises,” Rockwell says. “A lot of it has to do with re-assuring the companies who use the platform that they belong to a large ecosystem that isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.”
The interest in the list of confirmed IBM i shops topped 400 downloads last month. Much of that action seems to be attributable to people participating in the all400s.com job board and gaining access to companies that might need to supplement their IBM i workforce. Software vendors and value added resellers are downloading the list to cross-reference with their own lists and determine if any additional companies can be added. The cross-referencing sometimes verifies companies on all400.com’s list as well.
“We think of ourselves as an information-sharing network,” Rockwell says. “The goal is to make the three main segments in our ecosystem – companies that use the platform, people who work on it, and vendors who support it – all visible to each other. That way companies will know they can find people if they need them, people can show they’re available for work, everyone will know the ecosystem is large, and vendors will be able to find new customers.”
Rockwell has worked in the IBM midrange area for more than 31 years. Although he considers himself to be semi-retired, the hunt for IBM i shops gives him a way to help people who are still working on the platform. “It’s a way of getting a ‘helper’s high,’ which for those who know what I’m talking about is a significant reward.”
Somewhere between 5,000 and 125,000 sits the peak of the IBM i installed base in 2017. Rockwell has his sights set on 60,000 to 70,000 active IBM i shops. That’s a goal that he considers the true number of companies using the machine. That will take the acquisition and verification of quite a few more lists. Rockwell is confident that in the future he’ll get more lists that are current.
According to the IBM i Marketplace Survey, an average of approximately 1.2 percent of users will be migrating off the platform during the next five years; however, shops with concrete plans to leave the platform are outnumbered by the businesses increasing their IBM i footprint.
“I’m getting 500 to 1,000 active users each month. There are more than 100 people from all over the world sending me information,” Rockwell says. “The confirmation work is tedious, but it’s like a treasure hunt.”