An IBM i Year In Review
December 10, 2018 Alex Woodie
Another year is just about wrapped up for us here at IT Jungle. That means it’s time to ease off the news pedal just a tad and enter into a retrospective mood, with the hope of gaining some perspective on where we’ve been in 2018 and perhaps how we’ll start off 2019.
It all started off rather poorly, way back in. . .
. . . when the big news was about Spectre and Meltdown, the two vulnerabilities that brought everybody rudely back to the real world following the New Year’s celebration. Nearly all types of processors, including Intel and Power, were impacted by the speculative execution security vulnerabilities represented by Spectre and Meltdown. IBM issued firmware patches that fixed the problem, but not without considerable performance impacts.
The topic of cybersecurity picked up in 2018 where it left off in 2017 – as the number one most pressing issues facing tech executives (with disaster preparedness typically number two). HelpSystems helped drive the conversation in the IBM i world with the fourth iteration of its annual marketplace security, which placed security at the top of the list.
Despite the dismal security outlook, IBM managed to put together an impressive string of quarters, including reporting a 15 percent increase in Power revenue during the last quarter of 2017. Mind you, these figures were based on the Power8 servers, as the Power9 servers weren’t yet available to IBM i shops, which means things were just going to get better.
Fresh of its acquisition of Vision Solutions, Syncsort was at it again, this time nabbing Trader’s, the French provider of high availability solutions. The acquisition gave Syncsort three major IBM i HA products to sell, including iTera Availability, MIMIX Availability, and Trader’s Quick-EDD product line. That acquisition came right on the heels of its deal for Cilasoft, the French IBM i security firm. Do the moves spell a Syncsort shift toward the continent? Oui!
After introducing several specialized versions of its new Power9 server in late 2017, IBM was prepping its mainstream Power9 server for launch by early February. By late February, IBM took the veil off the new “ZZ” systems, which would make it to market later in the year as the Power S914, Power S922, and Power S924 servers.
As it prepped its Power9 server, IBM also announced two new Technology Refreshes for IBM i in February, including IBM i 7.2 TR8 and IBM i 7.3 TR4. The big news was the introduction of the DATA-INTO function in the Rational development tooling, including improved support for JSON documents in the Db2 for i database. Also seeing enhancements were Access Client Solutions, Web services, BRMS, and security features. The TRs shipped in March.
IBM also took the opportunity to name 60 Power Systems Champions for 2018. As it has in recent years, Big Blue honored a range of folks around the AIX, Linux, and IBM i communities. From an IBM i point of view, there were no big changes to the Champions list in 2018. Perhaps we’ll see some fresh faces in 2019?
We started getting wind of Domino’s resurgence this month, which featured a rather upbeat webcast by HCL Technologies, the company IBM called on in late 2017 to help revitalize the platform and the brand. Much of the focus was on the forthcoming version 10 release of Domino, which would ship later in the year.
The performance impacts of the Spectre and Meltdown flaws would become more clear this month, when IBM published the first edition of a report. The reports show that the performance cost of the firmware patches for the Power9 servers was around 5 percent – not a huge amount, and certainly less than some Intel-based servers, but a measureable impact nonetheless.
The aging of the IBM i workforce has been a recurring theme in 2018, as organizations shops try to come up with creative ways to fill vacancies left by senior IBM i developers and administrators. One IBM i recruiter gave IT Jungle his take on getting organizations to consider younger folks who don’t have decades of experience, but have the willingness to learn.
As the “ZZ” Power9 systems came to market, Timothy Prickett Morgan decided to take a look at the cost differential between IBM i systems and those running Linux. We all know that IBM i isn’t free – unlike Linux, the posterchild for free software. However, perhaps some of us weren’t expecting IBM i to cost that much.
2018 marked the 30th anniversary of the IBM i platform, and IBM took the opportunity to celebrate it all year long. The fun started in April, when IBM launched a website that would be dedicated to telling some of the stories of the companies that rely on the platform.
What’s in a platform? And how much does the operating system matter? TPM took to his keyboard to argue that, while platforms are growing in importance, the role that operating systems play is mattering less and less. What role will IBM i play in a world that’s increasingly running in containers and managed by Kubernetes? That’s not exactly clear.
In the old days, applications drove server sales and determined what other parts of the stack (operating system, databases) you would be using. Jack Henry & Associates has a long reputation of developing banking software for IBM i. In April, the company announced that it’s seeing a surge in de novos, or new bank creations, which is actually helping to drive sales of its IBM i banking applications. Apparently, some things stay the same.
This month the IBM i ecosystems converged on San Antonio, Texas, for the first inaugural POWERUp, the new name that COMMON gave to its annual conference. Around 1,000 folks made it to the show, which ported a good vibe, thanks in part to the ongoing 30th birthday of the AS/400, a string of good quarters for IBM, and new Power9 servers. The potential for actually growing the IBM i installed base seemed possible, at least for a while.
IBM i chief architect Steve Will wowed the May POWERUp 2018 crowd with a candid discussion of a potential blockbuster deal: Google was preparing to offer IBM i cloud service! We all know that IBM and the Alphabet subsidiary have collaborated on Power servers, but the potential for a public IBM i cloud service seemed amazing. However, six months later, we haven’t seen anything of the sort.
Open source is a driving force in the software industry, and that includes IBM i. We took a look at what’s cooking on GitHub with IBM i, and weren’t disappointed with the breadth and depth of open source software available on the platform. From terminal emulators and Nagios plug-ins to language add-ons and testing tools, if free stuff is your thing, then GitHub is your place to get it.
HelpSystems released its 15th annual State of Security report for the IBM i platform in May. Despite being one of the most secure-able platforms in existence, the majority of IBM i shops continue to operate the platform without properly configuring the security controls. Broken records have more variety than these reports.
As the IBM i platform celebrated its 30th birthday on June 21, IBMers were giving us grist to take to the server mill to answer the question: How do you win with IBM i? Among the examples we can learn from are TruGreen and Ecolab, which IBM i Chief Architect Steve Will held up as prime examples of how to win the platform war with IBM i.
The dot-com boom ended in an epic bust, leading to a glut in server capacity that took years to burn off. We’re now in the midst of a similar explosion, according to IDC, which reported in June that global server revenues increased more than 38 percent during the first quarter of 2018. (It would grow even faster – 44 percent — during the second quarter.)
As the sun rose high in the month of June, the good news rolled in. One of the most bullish signs was the fact that Fresche Solutions raised $60 million to finance an expansion of its operations around IBM i modernization, not to mention some consolidation. Where some folks see old and tired IBM i applications, the Quebec firm sees a large and mostly untapped potential for modernization.
Fourth of July means bar-b-ques, fireworks – and now pictures of TPM’s chicken coop and orchard. Relying on oneself during the boom-and-bust cycles that define the economy is an American tradition. And so is figuring out how to make sure that you’re getting your money’s worth when it comes to buying servers, which has been the focus of The Four Hundred for just about as long as IBM has been selling the ‘400.
In an effort to make open source software easier to use on the platform, IBM introduced RPM and Yum, two pieces of software that have been used to distribute software on Linux. The feedback from the IBM i community was swift and positive, with Liam Allan declaring that it’s probably going to the operating system.”
The news around open source on IBM i is mostly positive (see above). But some folks schooled in the traditional ways aren’t happy the fact that everything new seems to run in PASE, which complicates efforts to manage it. The growing call for transparency in open source software would be a recurring theme for 2018.
IBM completed the rollout of the Power9 servers, including “Zeppelin” Power E950 and the “Fleetwood/Mack” Power E980 machines, in the middle of August. The high-end machines offer plenty of punch for big shops with big processing needs, but the lack of a true midrange Power9 box stumped TPM.
IBM refreshed its IBM i operating system with IBM i 7.3 TR5 and 7.2 TR9, which were unveiled in August and shipped in September. The two TRs focused on familiar areas, including enhancements to the database, to ACS, and the formal introduction of RPM and Yum, among others.
The death of our friend and colleague Dan Burger of a sudden illness in August shook all of us here at IT Jungle. When you work with somebody for nearly 20 years, like we all have, saying good-bye is not easy. Dan was a trusted and irreplaceable part of our team, and we all miss him.
IBM rolled out a new crop of “Fresh Faces” for IBM i, which we covered in September. The new group features a handful of promising folks from less-than-40 crowd, including people who work at vendors like Profound Logic, Cilasoft, Fresche Solutions and LANSA.
Following the introduction of the final high-end Power9 systems, IBM polished off its year of Power9 announcements with a range of tweeks, including new processor options and new network adapters. It also announced the end of marketing for a range of IBM i software products, and introduced some new support options.
Much of what IBM does seems so foreign to us, so it was interesting when IBM revealed how it thinks about the server business in a series of documents as part of its Power9 rollout. There are five categories – general purpose (including IBM i and Unix); cognitive infrastructure (including machine learning); enterprise Linux (including Web serving and HANA workloads); highly scalable data center (HSDC) servers, including cloud; and custom high performance computing (HPC). Apparently, the market has collapsed for RPG (role playing games).
IBM i workloads don’t run on the public cloud, but that’s not stopping massive growth in the sector, which Gartner says is poised to generate $175.8 billion in infrastructure, platform, and software services in 2018. Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud Platform have emerged as the Big Three dominating the cloud, which is changing the nature of computing.
Most open source software for IBM i runs in PASE. But not intERPrise, a new ERP platform that was introduced this month by a handful of IBM i professionals. Developed in ILE RPG, intERPrise backers hope to jumpstart an ecosystem of open source software developed in ILE, as opposed to software that run in PASE.
Bain Capital bought Rocket Software – which has significant IBM i holdings – in a deal valued at $2 billion. The deal put to rest months of speculation that Rocket – which holds Seagull, Aldon, iCluster, and BlueZone products – was looking for a buyer.
The United States is the largest single country for IBM i sales, but did you know that Japan is number two? It turns out that 15,000 IBM i shops in Japan generate a good bit of revenue for IBM and the IBM i partner ecosystem – and in fact, have been a big driver of open source software on the platform.
What does it take to track the ever-shifting cost of RAM from IBM? Probably a small army, if TPM’s essay on the difficulty of maintaining persistent memory of RAM prices is any indication. Sometimes they’re up, sometimes they’re down, and sometimes IBM changes the prices in hopes of getting you to buy completely different systems.
In the 1950s, plastics was the future. Today, when it comes to enterprise systems monitoring, the future is just as clear: Nagios. The open source software is on the rise, and don’t be surprised to see IBM back the technology even stronger for IBM i in the coming years.
The transition to Power 9 is well under-way, and for customers at the high end, IBM is keen to streamline the move from Power8 servers as much as it possibly can. The company is offering good terms on high-end Power9 migrations, including swapping out Power8 components for Power9 ones, which lets them keep serial numbers.
Are high schools the hot new recruiting grounds for IT workers – including IBM i developers and admins? It’s starting to look that way, if the information IT Jungle received is any indication. The high cost of college, the low unemployment rate, and the need for on-the-job training are combining to make CIOs look to high schools for the new generation of workers.