2017: An IBM i Year In Review
December 13, 2017 Alex Woodie
It’s mid-December, which means it’s time to look back upon 2017 and reminisce on the biggest stories of the year for IBM i and the overall midrange community. From a pair of Technology Refreshes and the scheduled demise of IBM i 7.1 to acquisitions and security breaches, there was a lot to take in.
It all started off innocently enough in…
IBM has had a good run of not changing the name of the platform. In fact, it hadn’t changed the name since 2008, giving it a line of uninterrupted starts that even Giants quarterback Eli Manning could appreciate. But Big Blue couldn’t leave well enough alone when it came to the name of the division within which the IBM i lives, and so in January it announced that the Power Systems division would be renamed Cognitive Systems.
Security was on the minds of the LUG. During the January meeting, the agenda was dominated by security topics, including discussions by IBM i security experts on how to properly configure the machine and on high-level security concerns. The “Heartbleed” vulnerabilities in OpenSSL were still a relatively recent memory, but the Equifax hack hadn’t happened yet. Good times:
We’ve known for some time that the days were numbered for IBM i 7.1, which IBM first shipped back in 2010. But we didn’t know just how determined IBM was to kill it until January, when IT Jungle learned that IBM was putting its foot down when it came to supporting the latest TLS encryption algorithms. Despite the fact that several IBM i 7.1 shops had communications halted when trading partners rejected their out-of-date ciphers, IBM declared that it would not be adding the new ciphers to the old OS.
The Db2 for i database was the big winner in the year’s first Technology Refresh (TR), which introduced IBM i 7.2 TR6 and 7.3 TR2. Better JSON support in SQL topped the list, while other features, like LISTAGG functions, will also improve things in the database. On the open source front, the new release brought new tools like sync, Wget, and cURL, while the Java-based client, Access Client Solutions, also got some love.
IBM loves you. It really does. And it proved it this Valentine’s Day when it presented the midrange community with a heart-felt card – or perhaps a processor card, anyway. The scaled-down single-socket Power S812, or what TPM affectionately referred to as “IBMini,” was a nod to the growing realization that many IBM i shops simply don’t need – and definitely don’t want to pay for — all the processing power that IBM has offered in its supercharged, turbo-powered Power8 lineup. Hopefully we’ll see more of this sort of thinking early in the Power9 cycle.
We all know that IBM i doesn’t require a database administrator – not like those Unix and Windows boxes that need so much hand-holding. But who knew that we’d be called on to hire database engineers? We reported on a growing chorus of IBMers who are adamant that, owing to the greater complexity and capability of the integrated Db2 for i database, that midsize and larger shops should really think about bringing a skilled database engineer onto the team.
Digital transformation is one of those catch-all, feel-good phrases that technology marketers love to bandy about to trick you into feeling that your current IT gear is so out of date that you’ll fall hopelessly behind the times. Or is it? We dug deep into the intrawebs to scout the rationales behind the heavy hype, and presented it in eminently readable form to you, dear readers.
How do you tell IBM what you want in IBM i? There are a variety of methods to communicate technical requirements to Big Blue, mostly through user groups and vendor associations. But earlier this year IBM debuted the newest and most personal requirements process. Dubbed IBM RFE Community, it’s a Web-based forum where users can propose new features and even vote on them. Because of its transparency and how it brings the midrange community together, the RFE Community may be one of the best things to happen on the platform this year.
The release of the IBM i Marketplace survey has become somewhat of a spring tradition for HelpSystems, which conducts the survey. This year’s survey provided a plethora of good data on our inestimable platform, including one particular statistic regarding the “jumpiness” of IBM i shops. In short, IBM i shops are less jumpy these days – that is, less likely to jump ship and move their processing off the platform.
April is a cloudy month – and rainy too, resulting in those spectacular May flowers. But IBM took that old saying to heart when it announced a new plan to offer cloud providers a special price on IBM i, but shut out the rest of the installed base. Evidently, IBM wanted to cut managed service providers (MSPs) a break on OS licensing costs in a bid to boost its cloud bona fides. https://www.itjungle.com/2017/04/03/msps-get-monthly-ibm-pricing-not-everyone/
Every year, PowerTech rolls out its State of Security report, and every year, the report is grim. This year’s report detailed how many IBM i shops are running without the sorts of security precautions that would normally be required, such as strong passwords, few super users, and controls over network access and exit programs. Here’s hoping the situation will improve in 2018. (Yeah, right!)
IBM officially pulled the plug on IBM i 7.1 this month and gave customers until April 30, 2018, to migrate off the aging operating system or go without technical support. It was a long time in coming for IBM i 7.1, which was getting long in the tooth, and a necessary move to spur customers to move to more modern OSes.
The world at large got a rude awakening in mid-May, when WannaCry ransomware impacted hundreds of thousands of computers around the world. No IBM i servers were impacted, that we know of anyway. But the episode was a stark reminder of the dangerous and deceptive new turn that malware has taken.
IBM rolled out a new disaster recovery service called Geographically Dispersed Resiliency (GDR) that essentially lets you take a production logical partition (LPAR) from one IBM i server and restart it on another IBM i server. The software, which is controlled from the PowerVC console, comes from the AIX side of the house and is really easy to use, IBM says.
The AS/400 turned 29 on June 21. That’s certainly a long life in terms of computer platforms. But with more than 100,000 organizations still running on the IBM i platform or its predecessors, there would appear to be a lot of life yet. As the Big-Three-Oh approaches, we’ll be looking more closely at what this all means for IBM i shops.
IBM is ramping up deliveries of its first Power9 servers, but you won’t see them running IBM i. No, that wasn’t a mistake by IBM – that’s part of its strategy to win the war for scale-out Linux workloads. Yes, the 14-nanometer chip will eventually come to the platform, and it should be awesome, in all its scale-up glory. But it’s very clear that symmetric multiprocessor (SMP) servers running IBM i is not the priority for Power – scale out big data and AI workloads are.
Db2 for i is the heart of the IBM i server, and this month IBM i shops got a new choice for maintaining that database when Rimini Street announced that it will provide operational break/fix support, diagnostics and troubleshooting, and support with configuring the database.
Among IBM i shops, the phrase “hyperconverged infrastructure” probably isn’t uttered that often. But HCI is the phrase du jour among the smart tech people selling gear to the data center folks. Take a bunch of compute and storage, lash it together with high-speed connections, virtualize the whole thing with software, and voila – HCI! But as TPM wonders, is HCI really that much different than what the AS/400 has been doing all along? There are important differences in the approaches, and understanding them will give you a leg up in figuring out where this server racket is headed.
Over the course of two days, high availability software provider Vision Solutions was involved a series of transactions that resulted in it being bought by a private equity firm and then merged with Syncsort, a provider of ETL for mainframes and big data clusters. It also bought Enforcive, an IBM i security software company, for good measure.
Outsourcing has become a common way to cut costs, and IBM is famously enthralled with it. But we didn’t expect it to come to IBM i – not like this. In August, we told you how IBM has outsourced development of several key products, including Rational Developer for i (RDi), PowerHA System Mirror for i, and Backup, Recovery and Media Services (BRMS) to HelpSystems. And it has done similar things for Cloud Storage Solutions, which was co-developed by Rocket Software. Maybe it needs help with TIMI too?
Why not overclock Power chips running IBM i? Intel wasn’t able to get to 10GHz, but IBM might be able to with its Power line, including the Power8 and Power9, which have nominal clock speeds of about 4MHz, but which can run much faster. IBM i shops may not need the added capacity for classic transactional workloads, but think how much faster compiles would run.
IBM issued a new total cost of ownership (TCO) report that offered up more rationale for the IBM i platform. Compared to the X64 platform duos of Windows/SQL Server ($1.2 million) and the Linux/Oracle database ($1.3 million), the combination of IBM i and Db2 for i on Power Systems won hands down on the three-year TCO comparison at $430,000.
What will the forthcoming Power9 servers look like? All told, they’re expected to pack about twice the oomph of comparable servers running Power8. So with the entry-level Power8 servers packing 10,000 CPWs, there’s a crying need for a scaled-down entry-level Power9 box to attract IBM i workloads. Will IBM oblige TPM’s recommendations? We’ll have to wait and see.
The fall Technology Refresh (TR) brought a range of new features for IBM i 7.2 and 7.3, including support for publishing JSON in DB2 for i, the new Nginx Web server, new RDi features, new cryptographic processors, enhancements to Db2 Web Query, and more.
Following the massive Equifax hack, which led to the compromise of 143 million people’s records, security experts of all stripes offered up postmortems for how they would have prevented the breach. Relying on database encryption was one common refrain, but this IBM i security expert explained why that may not be such a great thing.
With Power9 looming, IBM opened the floodgates on its older Power8 gear by cooking up a request for price quote (RPQ) special bid system for Power Systems master resellers and downstream resellers.
IBM gave its Notes/Domino platform new life when it announced that it was handing development of the product over to HCL Technologies. The $7 billion Indian firm won’t have exclusive rights to the product, but IBM is clearly leaning on it to bring new features.
IBM i 7.1 is going out of mainstream support at the end of April 2018. But customers who can’t find a way up to IBM i 7.1 or 7.2 will have the option to purchase extended support contracts, as IBM announced this month. It also announced an extended support contract for PowerHA 7.1.
There are a lot of ways to “modernize” your IBM i application. You could create Web and mobile user interfaces. You could adopt free form RPG and migrate the database to modern SQL. You could host it all on the cloud. You could integrate analytic capabilities into it. Or, if you’re the IBM i ERP software vendor VAI, you could do all those things.
That’s it from IT Jungle for 2017. Have a happy holiday and we’ll start making memories again in January.