Coronavirus Takes Its Toll On The Midrange
March 23, 2020 Alex Woodie
The IBM i midrange community has lived through a lot: hurricanes, fires, global recessions, and even terrorist attacks. And now it can add “viral pandemic” to the list of external events impacting the day-to-day operations of IBM i shops around the world, not to mention the cancellation of nearly all in-person meetings and conferences for the next two months.
As the national reels from the spread of the novel coronavirus and the pneumonia-like disease that it causes, the IBM i midrange community has been forced to make substantial changes to its daily operations. For many office workers, that means forgoing the commute into the office, as state and local governments have ordered non-essential businesses to close and shuttered schools across the country.
In the past week, there’s been a huge surge in people working from home, including many IBM i professionals and IBM i software vendors. “The majority of our employees will be working from home and are set up to work collaboratively with you and support you through virtual means,” IBM i modernization specialist Fresche Solutions stated in a March 17 message.
Syncsort, which develops the MIMIX high availability software, has asked all employees to work from home. “We have encouraged all employees to work remotely, to avoid unnecessary business travel, and to follow CDC/WHO guidelines,” CEO Josh Rogers stated on Friday March 20.
HelpSystems, developer of IBM i systems management, backup, and HA software, is making a similar move. “We are taking steps to safeguard our continued availability and business continuity through technology, processes, and staffing for as long as the pandemic may persist, including assessing and testing a large-scale remote working arrangement for critical staff,” the company stated in a March 11 message.
IBM has suspended all domestic travel for internal company meetings, and will allow international travel only when “virtual methods are insufficient,” the company says in a March 4 blog post. It also canceled participation in all events with more than 1,000 attendees.
COVID-19 has completely decimated the spring conference season, forcing the cancelation of hundreds of conferences across all industries and leading hotel operators and airlines to seek billions in bailouts from the federal government. In many cases, the conferences have been converted to virtual events, but many have been canceled outright. The IBM i sector of the IT industry has been no exception.
COMMON had been holding out hope that it would be able to hold its annual POWERUp conference, which was set to attract about 1,000 people in Atlanta from April 19-23. As other conferences were being canceled or rebooked as virtual events, the largest IBM i user group maintained that the conference — its 60th anniversary celebration, no less — still fell within the guidelines offered by the City of Atlanta and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC), which is headquartered in Atlanta.
But last week, as government agencies around the country clamped down on large public gatherings, the user group finally relented and was forced to cancel the conference. “In the last few days the situation has changed very quickly,” COMMON president Larry Bolhuis stated in a message posted last week. “After careful evaluation of currently available information, including guidance and directives from the CDC, health and medical experts, and federal and local governmental agencies, we have taken the decision to reschedule POWERUp 2020.” It has rescheduled it for August 31 through September 3 in Tampa, Florida.
System i Developer last week also moved to cancel its upcoming RPG & DB2 Summit, which had been scheduled to take place today and tomorrow near Dallas, Texas. “We’re currently pursuing other options for delivering equivalent education in 2020, including the possibility of rescheduling a live event in the same location,” state Jon Paris, Susan Gantner, and Paul Tuohy, the principals of System i Developer.
IBM has transitioned its Think 2020 conference from a physical to a virtual event. The event, which attracted 30,000 people last year, had been scheduled to take place May 4-7 at the Moscone Center in San Francisco, California. Instead, the company has is still happening but has been recreated as a new digital experience.
Coronavirus has also impacted events hosted by local user groups serving the IBM i midrange community.
The Fairfield Application Systems Users Group (FASUG) canceled its March 17 meeting. The Midrange User’s Group of Western New York (MUG) has postponed its March 24th meeting to April 14th. It’s still planning to hold additional events in April and June. The New England Midrange Users Group (NEMUG) postponed its regular March 25 meeting to an undetermined date in the future.
The North Eastern Systems Technology Users group of New Jersey (NESTU) also cancelled its March meeting and is watching the situation to determine plans for its April and May get-togethers. “We will continue to monitor the situation and make a concerted effort to reschedule the ‘SQL with John Robinson’ topic at a future date,” the group says on its website.
The New Hampshire Midrange User Group (NHMUG) also canceled its March meeting, which was to feature a presentation by Donna Westmoreland, and will try to reschedule it for a future date. The North East Users Group Conference postponed its annual conference. It was originally scheduled for April 6-8 in Framingham, Massachusetts, and now it’s slated for June 1-3.
The Toronto User Group for Power Systems (TUG) cancelled its meeting of the members last week. “We are closely monitoring the latest updates to determine what the best decisions will be for our group going forward,” TUG president Leo Lefebvre wrote. The QUSER group of St. Paul, Minnesota, shifted its March 24 meeting, which will feature a presentation by Larry Bolhuis, to an online-only event. Its April event, featuring Birgitta Hauser, could also go online.
The Wisconsin Midrange Computer Professional Association (WMCPA) canceled its 2020 WMCPA conference, which had been scheduled to take place last week in Delavan, Wisconsin. The West Michigan IBM i User Group has shifted its March 31 meeting, featuring a presentation by Charles Guarino, from a physical event to an online-only event. The Michigan IBM Power Systems Technical Education Conference (MITEC) is still scheduled to take place June 22 and 23 in Livonia, Michigan. The event will feature more than 45 sessions.
Out West, the OCEAN User Group of Southern California turned its St. Patrick’s Day meeting, featuring Barbara Morris, into a virtual event. At this point, the group is still planning on holding its OCEAN TechCon20 event in late July.