IBM i Finds A Youthful Swagger Down In Texas
May 23, 2018 Alex Woodie
The IBM i platform and ecosystem may not be what they once were. Thirty years of relentless OLTP processing will do that to you. But if COMMON’s POWERUp 18 conference this week in San Antonio is any indication, the box itself and the ecosystem it supports are far from dead.
Signs of life in IBM i-land were evident everywhere at the Marriott Rivercenter, the hotel where about 1,000 IBM i professionals, vendors, and IBMers spent the past four days holed up for COMMON‘s annual conference, which was renamed POWERUp.
Here are some of the highlights of the show, which is wrapping up today:
First, let’s go over some numbers. IBM has often been asked how big the IBM i installed base is, and IBM has often deferred, saying it has no way to count them (a dubious response at best). At a COMMON conference held at Disneyland a few years back (site of POWERUp 2019 by the way), Collin Parris, then the general manager of what was then the Power Systems division, put a number to it: 150,000 IBM i shops, he declared.
It turns out Parris may have been underselling the installed base, and perhaps by a large margin. During the Future of IBM i panel on Sunday, IBM i Chief Architect Steve Will said there are “at least” 100,000 companies around the world running IBM i applications, “and it could be as high as 300,000.” The discrepancy between the numbers, Will said, is due in part to companies that tap into IBM i capabilities but don’t actually own a box.
Will highlighted the work that Jack Henry & Associates has done hosting apps for thousands of banks and credit unions on a relatively small number of mammoth IBM i servers. Outside of the largest banks, a large share of banks and credit unions in the United States run on IBM i software from JHY, Fidelity or Fiserv. “We own banking in the Americas,” he declared. “If you go to your bank and you’re not one of the big ones, you’re probably running IBM i and they are running one, two, five, 10, 400 banks in one partition of IBM i. So there are lots and lots of business running on IBM i on those boxes.”
We’ve grown accustomed to thinking of the IBM i as a shrinking market. But it turns out IBM i sales are actually growing. IBM doesn’t usually share sales figures for particular lines, but it made an exception to that rule Sunday when Stefanie Chiras, vice president of IBM Power Systems offering management for systems of engagement, announced that revenue from sales of the IBM i OS grew 7 percent in the first quarter, which was the second straight quarter of growth.
“We didn’t release Power9 until the 22nd of March, so we grew 7 percent in first quarter on the back of Power8, which had been in the market since 2014,” she said. “That’s not driven by a new processor – that’s value in the platform that’s being recognized.”
COMMON President Justin Porter has demonstrated very capable leadership since he was elected president. Under his watch, the user group has rolled out several new initiatives, including things like the RPG Bootcamp, a revamped and renamed annual conference, and an expansion of virtual conference, webcasts, and webinars.
“Our mission, very simply stated, is to enhance the careers of our members. It’s that simple. It’s all about the career,” Porter told the audience Sunday morning during the opening session. COMMON members have access to over 175 hours of online video content, “right now, this second, today,” Porter said. New instructor-led videos are in the works for security and Domino, and COMMON is looking to its members for advice on what direction to go next.
To that end, the company released the results of two informal surveys of COMMON members regrind what they perceive as the biggest skills gap, and what their biggest IT concerns are. On the skills gap front, Web development led the way, followed by application modernization. The top concern of COMMON members is about keeping skills current and “generic modernization,” followed by security and regulatory compliance.
COMMON is using this survey to help it shape curriculum for the future. “How do we address the stuff that they don’t know that they need yet? How do we address the stuff we don’t know that we need?” Porter said. “That’s what we’re going to start moving more into, what can we do to help prepare for things that haven’t hit the docket yet. What can we do so that when somebody comes to us in a year and says ‘I’ve got to have this right now,’ you can say, ‘No problem.’ That’s what we’re focused on now.”
IBM used the COMMON conference to unveil its new crop of Fresh Faces, the annual program started a few years back that celebrates the addition of younger folks (read “fresh blood”) into the IBM i realm. The new class, which will be showcased in an upcoming issue of IBM Systems Magazine, is double the size of last year’s class. That’s a good sign for the future of the platform, particularly as elder Fresh Faces like Liam Allan, who just turned 21, turn into familiar faces on the IBM i speaking tour.
It’s tough not to look back on 30 years of the IBM i and not be lulled into a reminiscent state. IBM has been sharing lots of interesting stories about uses of the platform on its ibmi30.mybluemix.net website. But at the POWERUp show, Big Blue did its best to convince us that 30 years is just the start, that it’s the next 30 years when the platform can really show us what it’s made of.
“We want to look forward,” said IBM i Offering Manager Alison Butterill during a keynote address Monday. “There is so much capability in the system today and so many ways to integrate with modern technology that we want to talk about the next 30. We want to talk about just getting started, 30 years of innovating together, and where are we going for the next 30.”