Rocket Talks Up IBM i Biz in Wake of Restructuring
February 26, 2020 Alex Woodie
When Bain Equity bought a $2 billion stake in Rocket Software 16 months ago, it was largely viewed through a mainframe lens. Rocket was a mainframe software company, and Bain was investing in that mainframe business. But as the new general manager of the Power Systems Business Unit, Chris Wey, tells it, the company is getting ready to make some moves in the IBM i market, too.
Wey joined Rocket Software at the beginning of the year, immediately following the 30-year-old company’s most recent restructuring following the Bain acquisition. Andy Youniss, who co-founded Rocket back in 1990 to capitalize on the opportunity to sell tools and utilities to IBM mainframe shops, is still leading the charge, and he’s relying on lieutenants like Wey to carry out the orders in each business unit.
Wey says his mission is to grow Rocket’s IBM i business. That includes enhancing and building upon its current stable of IBM i products, which includes Aldon Lifecycle Manager, iCluster, LegaSuite, Rocket API, and BlueZone. But it also includes tapping into new owner Bain’s bank account to fund acquisitions in other areas, including some for potentially bolstering its IBM i customers’ ability to utilize and leverage cloud, mobile, and AI.
“What I’d like to do is really be a go-to partner for companies using the i and the Power platform,” Wey tells IT Jungle in an interview last week. “We’re going to continue to develop ways for customers to leverage the data and the capability of their existing systems, and extend the value of IBM i across their organizations.
“We’re going to grow our portfolio of solutions within Rocket to help with those activities,” he continues. “That’s going to consist of an organic and inorganic strategy of adding to our portfolio. So we’re going to be developing additional features around our lifecycle management product, our application modernization, and our high availability portfolio that we already have for IBM i today. And we’re also going to be on an acquisition strategy to acquire new business in that space that complement our existing portfolio solution for IBM i customers
From the sound of it, the company is closing it on its first acquisition target in the IBM i space, although the company was understandably mum on the details. Nevertheless, Wey, who left a job at Carbonite to take the top Power Systems job at Rocket’s office in Boston, Massachusetts, sounds bullish on the potential to line the company’s product portfolio with a little inorganic growth.
The potential funding comes from two areas, Wey says. “Number one, Rocket is a profitable organization. We have positive free cash flow to fund acquisitions,” he says. “The second is Bain Capital as a new sponsor as a private equity investor. They’re supportive of our path and further acquisitions.”
Homecoming for Wey
Wey is only in his fifth week on the job, but from the sound of it, he’s already finding it a nice fit. Wey started his career in 1998 working in IBM’s microelectronics division, where he worked on designing chips for the computer giant. After spending nearly 13 years at IBM, he went on to different roles at Avaya and then Carbonite, and now his journey has reunited him with IBM systems once more.
“We were building the chips for the large-scale computing systems on the mainframe side, the RS6000s, and AS/400s,” Wey says. “I really got to know the teams in Rochester, Austin, and Poughkeepsie and got to know the space and then moved into the software business from there.
So I got a really good foundation with IBM and since then I’ve done a couple of other roles. But this feels like returning to where I started my career and I’m back in the IBM space with these really robust systems.”
Wey would appear to have an affinity for Big Iron. These underappreciated IBM i servers and mainframes continue to run the core systems of thousands of organizations around the world, despite repeated predictions of its imminent demise. (For some fun light reading, check out the New York Times’ article predicting of the death of the mainframe. The year? 1984.)
“These AS/400 and Power Systems that run in … thousands of companies around the world, they’re just extraordinarily robust and really flexible and cost effective,” Wey says. “I’m really overjoyed to join Rocket because I see exceptional value in these legacy systems.”
The installed base may not be growing much these days. But on the flip side, there aren’t a lot of companies getting rid of their IBM i servers and mainframes either, Wey says. That momentum makes Big Iron something of an immovable object in IT departments. And if you want to get that corporate data for your cloud, mobile, or AI project, Rocket wants to the be the company that paves the way for you.
“The thing with the IBM i and the mainframe is it’s so core to thousands of enterprises across the world around core transaction processing and the running of the business,” Wey says. “It’s not as simple as just throwing everything out and starting anew. But the opportunity to extend the legacy platform to get the best of both worlds is what I think Rocket has the opportunity to help customer with in the long term.”
Legacy Powers Legendary
As part of its restructuring, Rocket has launched a new marketing campaign, titled “Legacy Power Legendary.” A lot of the messaging appears to be targeted at mainframes, which, according to Rocket, “host 70 percent of the world’s data.” But the messaging works at the IBM i level too.
Check out this short video that the company posted online – featuring fighter planes, race cars, and farm equipment — and you get a feel for where this marketing campaign may go in the future.
“We think legacy systems might not be new technology, but they’re core technology, and without these systems, business simply can’t operate around the world,” Wey says. “Most of these customers not unplugging their IBM mainframe and IBM i machines. These components of their overall IT architecture are core to what they do.”
Rocket’s customers are telling it that they need helping bridging the old with the new. They need help connecting the legacy systems that run core transaction processing in a reliable and safe manner with the new analytics systems and systems of engagement that move the business needle in today’s always-on society.
“What we’re hearing from customers is help us bridge those worlds,” he says. They’re saying “Help us play with the capabilities of machine learning and AI. Let us maintain the stability and maturity of our core applications, and let us tap into the data that’s on the mainframe and the IBM i and leverage it in the cloud environment, with AI, and with mobile users.”
That, in short, is the outline of Rocket’s new Power Systems strategy. All it needs now is to be filled in. It’s Wey’s job, with guidance from Rocket’s leadership and Bain advisors, to make it happen. He’s currently hiring to engineers and product mangers to make it a reality, and says the company is committed to making it work. Wey wouldn’t be the first one tasked with trying to breathe new life into a legacy business. If he’s successful — and we wish him luck — it would be good for Rocket as well as the IBM i midrange.