Where Is IBM i?
May 13, 2020 Alex Woodie
If you’ve worked with the IBM i platform for any length of time, you realize that it can be hard to find. That’s true in the field, where companies sometimes aren’t even aware their applications are running on an IBM i system. But it’s also true when it comes to IBM’s own website, where you’d think i might be easier to find.
Finding the IBM i homepage by navigating IBM’s website (www.ibm.com) is a bit like searching for the bathroom in the mall by walking the entire length of every floor. You know it has to be there. In fact, you’re dying to find it. But for the life of you, it’s not showing itself. And time is running out.
IBM changes its website about as often as a teenage girl changes her hairstyle (no offense to teenage girls). I checked it the week of May 4, and by the time this story has run, it’s quite possible that IBM has overhauled its window to the world once again.
My journey to IBM i e-discovery begins by visiting the homepage at www.ibm.com. There is no mention of IBM i on the homepage, but that’s not surprising, considering how many products IBM has in its catalog. There are a lot more important things to put on the homepage, like how OpenShift 4.3 makes Kubernetes easy, how the Summit supercomputer is helping with the coronavirus response, and how the financial services provider Primerica migrated a “legacy” solution to the cloud.
IBM offers several pull-down menus to help the intrepid digital traveler find his way about the site. One can choose from Products, Services, Industries, Developers, and Support. When I click on Products, I’m presented the following options: Analytics, automation, blockchain, cloud, Internet of Things, IT infrastructure, mobile, security, supply chain, talent, Watson, and Watson health. No IBM i there.
IBM i didn’t show up when I hover over any of these, either, so I decided to go deeper. Under the Products tab, I can choose from free trials, current deals, technologies, business needs, services, hardware, software and view all products. I know IBM i technically is software, but I have a hunch it might be lumped into hardware.
When I click on hardware, I’m encouraged to drill down into the “featured hardware.” Surely the venerable IBM i server – with roots dating back more than 40 years to the System 3X line of minicomputers – will be featured here. I scan through the list, and see platforms like IBM z15 and IBM LinuxONE III featured. But wait — it’s encouraging me to customize my own IBM Power solution, and it says that IBM i runs on Power Systems. Finally, I am getting somewhere!
On the following page, I’m told about the Power System S914, which is a fine looking machine. Here I finally find the words I’m looking for: IBM i. I’m told that the Power System S914 is able to run AIX, IBM i, and Linux. Unfortunately, it doesn’t tell me what IBM i is, so I keep looking.
Back on the hardware page, there’s a list of servers. IBM apparently sells all kinds of servers: Small enterprise servers, large enterprise servers, mainframes, scalable servers, Power Systems, IBM LinuxONE, and IBM z, which, if memory serves me, is another type of mainframe. The IBM i server is sometimes, erroneously, called a mainframe, but would IBM make that error? I doubt it.
On the small enterprise servers page, I’m re-introduced to the Power System S914, and get to meet two of its stablemates in the Power Systems family: the Power System S922 and the Power System S924. These, too, are fine looking machines, and IBM offers many meaningful tech specs. That includes the types of operating systems that can run on them, including IBM i. At least IBM is referring to the platform that once drove billions in annual revenues, but, alas, there’s no information about what IBM i actually is or why I should care.
It’s the same story on the larger enterprise servers page, which sport the IBM z15, which, according to IBM, is simultaneously a single frame and multi-frame, although most people I know would just call it a mainframe. IBM LinuxONEIII gets the same curious label, while two Power Systems servers, the Power System E950 and Power System E980, present imposing looking frames of their own.
The mainframe page leads me to pages about the IBM z15 single-frame and multi-frame, which I know from history are different from IBM i. I point my mouse in the direction of the scalable servers page, but only find descriptions of the IBM Power System S922, the IBM Power System LC922, the IBM z15, and the IBM LinuxONE III – no IBM i server there. The IBM Power System S922, as we learned before, can be loaded with IBM i, but it doesn’t tell me what’s unique about it or why I should care.
We get a bit warmer with the Power Systems page, however. Right at the top, we’re presented answers to the six most common questions from Power Systems clients, which apparently are about AI and disaster recovery, and how Red Hat OpenShift and IBM Cloud Paks impact IBM i and AIX clients. Clearly, we are now getting somewhere!
Further down the page, we’re told there are different types of Power Systems servers. There are accelerated servers, enterprise servers, scale-out servers, and “hyperconverged infrastructure” (which apparently is something powered by a company called Nutanix).
We’re presented information on an IBM Power Systems Private Cloud Solution, which has to do with things like “dynamic cost optimization,” “automated enterprise IT management,” and “increased flexibility with hybrid cloud.” These all sound incredibly important, but unfortunately, they’re not the magic words I’m looking for.
Finally, a little over halfway down the page, under “Software solutions that grow with you,” (which IBM says are based on something called “OpenStack”), I find it: IBM i. It’s “a platform for innovators, by innovators,” IBM says. I click on it and travel to the webpage that I know as the IBM i homepage.
On the IBM i homepage, I find the links to more information about the platform, which once was so important to IBM, its prospects, and its profits, but today is buried halfway down a page that itself is buried three levels down from the surface.
IBM clearly is not the same company that it was in 2000. It recently hired a new CEO, and its focus has shifted from selling server platforms to selling software and services, which have a greater margin.
IBM still makes solid gear, despite its new focus, but it’s disheartening to see that hardware has taken a backseat to software and services. Blockchain, Watson, AI, and IoT are a lot more flashy than the IBM i server, and are certainly talked about quite a bit by CIOs and covered at length in mainstream IT publications. The IBM i server, by comparison, is a legacy machine, a vestige from a previous age that most IT professionals have forgotten.
It’s ironic that IBM, which sells legacy systems, talks about the need to migrate off legacy systems, but I guess that’s par for the course in today’s topsy-turvy world. Primerica, the company that managed to get off its legacy system, presumably is a lot happier now that it’s re-platformed onto an “open hybrid cloud” environment using “micro services and Kubernetes,” which is the hottest thing in IT at the moment. We’re never told what the legacy system that Primerica escaped from, but from the sound of it, it was holding the company back from reaching its true potential, which really is a horrible thing to do company.
The IT world has gotten a lot more complicated over the years, and even some websites (ahem) have become difficult to navigate efficiently. As for the first problem, IBM did the world a favor by building a computer system — then called the AS/400 — that hid a lot of that complexity from the user.
Over the years, technical complexity has crept into the platform – VIOS anybody? – as needs of enterprise customers have grown more complex. But at its core, the IBM i platform retains a lot of the simplicity that made it such a popular system back in the day. The “i” in iSeries, System i, and IBM i, I recall, stood for “integrated” first and foremost. It means you don’t need an army of technical specialists to run the applications that automate your business. It’s kind of a shame that IBM hides from that heritage today.
But then again, few folks are buying these IBM i systems to run new applications. Why choose the simple IBM i when instead you can have an open hybrid cloud system your running IoT, Blockchain, and Watson AI on top of the latest microservices and Kubernetes? Maybe that’s why IBM i is so hard to find these days.