Wanted: A Real ROI Study For Midrange Platforms
October 28, 2019 Timothy Prickett Morgan
There is no shortage of IBM i shops that are sitting on back releases of the operating system and related systems software, or older Power Systems iron, or both. Sometimes, it takes a little convincing to get upper management to listen about how IT operations could be improved and extended if the company would only make some investments in upgrading the hardware and systems software. Sometimes it takes a lot of convincing, particularly when many small and medium businesses are run by their owners and in a certain sense any money that would be allocated for an upgrade is their own.
But in other cases, the very idea of being on the IBM i platform has become suspect, particularly with the rise of public clouds, which by and large are designed to run Linux and Windows Server workloads on virtualized X86 servers with clever networking stitching it together to storage that keeps the system fed. So sometimes, even before you can make the case for investing in the IBM i platform, you have to make the case for why the company should not be investing in some other, supposedly more modern platform.
That is why IBM has commissioned the consultants at IDC to put together all of the arguments about getting modern with hardware and systems software in a new whitepaper entitled, For Many Businesses, It’s Time to Upgrade Their Best-Kept Secret: IBM i. You can go to the IBM i portion of Big Blue’s site, which seems allergic to talking about systems even though this is where, one way or another, IBM gets its money. The IBM i area on IBM’s site is at this link, and you have to be pretty tenacious to find it from the homepage, and we give that to you just in case IBM moves the IDC whitepaper around someday. The direct link to the whitepaper is here.
The whitepaper, which was done under commission of IBM, is written by Peter Rutten, who is research director for the infrastructure systems, platforms, and technologies group at IDC. Rutten worked as a business and market consultant prior to joining IDC and among his many distinctions, he was a co-founder of a magazine founded in Amsterdam called Electric Word, which eventually morphed into a little thing called Wired. The point is, Rutten is not some B Team hack, but an analyst who knows mission critical systems such as IBM mainframes and Power Systems running IBM i as well as high-end RISC/Unix machines, accelerated systems using GPUs and FPGAs, and far out technologies such as quantum computing and neuromorphic computing.
Not surprisingly, then, the IDC whitepaper that Rutten has written does a good job discussing the uniqueness of the IBM i platform, how it is in fact a modern system that can and does encapsulate and run lots of modern software. (The PASE AIX runtime is clearly one of the most important things that ever was added to the OS/400 and therefore IBM i platform.) And it makes a pretty good case for why customers should get current on hardware and software, so in this regard it is extremely useful in the arsenal of arguments for protecting the investment in the IBM i platform.
Rutten brings up a lot of issues, but does not provide hard answers as are required for those who are defending the platform’s existence at their companies, but oft-repeated parables about the better return on investment that is inherent in the IBM i platform as a counterbalance to the higher prices that IBM charges for this system of hardware and software. Here is an example, in one long sentence – See? I am not the only one prone to long sentences – that talks about the higher price tag and ROI return for IBM i systems that justifies it: “IBM claims ROI advantages with IBM i that are based on the continuing integration of more capabilities inside the operating system, the low staff requirements needed for the platform, and the ongoing evolution of the Power Systems hardware which, measured in core performance cost, is considered to be extremely competitive with the most advanced alternative offerings.”
It goes on to talk about how the integration of the IBM i platform simplifies installation and operation of the system compared to other systems that have to be built piecemeal and may not have the same fit and finish as a stack. There is plenty of automation that has always been inherent in the OS/400 and IBM i platform, which allows it to be easily administered and programmed and maintained. There are so many things in this IDC whitepaper that we can all rattle off, and that we know anecdotally to be true. That’s all well and good, and useful to a certain extent. What we need, and what Rutten was not paid to deliver, is an ROI study across platforms, which is what I have always argued IBM should be paying for. I was hoping this might be happening this time around, but it didn’t and Rutten said as much: “This white paper is not an ROI study; therefore, IDC cannot state definitively whether IBM i customers end up paying less over time than businesses that leverage alternative platforms. IDC, however, has some anecdotal evidence that customers can indeed achieve cost efficiencies. ”
That’s as far as it goes, and we think it is not far enough. We would love to see how a Windows Server and Linux software stack on X86 iron compares running exactly the same applications, in the field, for various size workloads. Actually spend a few years watching real customers use real applications in geographies where costs – real estate, electricity, people, and such – are the same. See who has more issues and who has an easier time maintaining applications. Then, on the same hardware configurations, we want to examine how those who run their own applications as well as maintain their own systems have an economic or time to market advantage (which is just another way of saying it helps make money after spending some). We want to qualify and quantify the advantages that IBM i offers.
Here is the thing that we know instinctively, and that has yet to be quantified: If you use the tools you know well, you can do a lot with a much smaller pool of resources than someone using tools they are not as familiar with. No one talks about this, ever, in these reports. They never talk about the risk of moving or porting or buying applications, switching databases and operating systems, and so on. This is, in fact, what customers are facing, and in many cases they are being force-marched to a different platform for dubious reasons. What do real budgets look like, including real salaries, in the field for various platforms running ERP and such software? What are real success rates for such porting projects or shifts to different databases and applications running on different platforms? What would it cost to stay on IBM i and not take such risks? How does this compare to a Windows Server or a Linux stack?
These are the kinds of questions that any consultancy commissioned to do a whitepaper defending IBM i should answer. Give us the access to the data and we will gladly do it.