You’re Only As Old As The Applications You Feel
June 24, 2020 Timothy Prickett Morgan
You didn’t actually think that we would have forgotten that Sunday, June 21st, was the 32nd birthday of the Application System/400, did you? Of course we didn’t forget.
It was also Father’s Day and the first day of summer, and to be perfectly frank (Soltis), I got a new smoker from my wife and I spent the afternoon learning about the joys of hickory smoked barbeque ribs. It is a gift that just keeps giving, because I made about 40 pounds of meat in various kinds and flavors because I needed to try everything all at once. Like a certain machine we know that can do just about anything.
As a man of a certain age, whose career nearly perfectly overlaps with the AS/400 and its progeny, I feel a certain kinship to the platform – the machine, or rather the system, that taught me the true meaning of the word platform – and to the many, many thousands of you who are faithful readers of The Four Hundred and who feel the same way I do, although many of you date back to the System/36 and even the System/38. More than a handful of you can go back to the System/3. I bow to your longevity and am inspired by it.
Aging is a funny thing, and the lesson of the System/38 to the AS/400, with the System/36 carved into its brain in emulation mode, to the AS/400e (remember that one?) to the iSeries to the System i to the Power Systems running IBM i, is that you can change the name but that doesn’t affect the underlying flexibility of the system we all love one bit. This machine is truly the last of its kind still standing, and it has done what customers have needed it to do for more than three decades. This is an accomplishment in a world where companies change platforms every decade or so. As I have said before on these occasions, we have to accept the changes, absorb them as we can and learn from them, but it is the things that persist that matter as much. It is very hard to strike a balance between being always modern and yet embodying and supporting history. It takes not just IBM, but the entire ecosystem of software tool makers, the efforts of hundreds of thousands of programmers, and the continued investments by IBM i shops to make this all happen. And I can tell you that we here at IT Jungle are deeply and emotionally grateful that we are part of this absolutely unique ecosystem.
We have played in many different parts of the IT sector, and continue to do so because we have to as a way to earn our keeps, but we have never heard of any community like the AS/400 through IBM i community. And despite the difficulties over the decades – too numerous to rattle off in what amounts to a long birthday card to the platform we are still proud of – we remain firmly committed to doing our job in this ecosystem. We don’t owe that to IBM, by the way. We owe that to you, the IBM i shops who have taught us so much and who we have served for so long.
It is our pleasure to serve. And we serve at your pleasure. Without you, none of this works.
It is funny to contemplate how old the AS/400 is, as if it was a dog with a limited life span compared to humans. Data processing and storage architectures are like that – they have dog years, and like I said, tend to last about a decade out there in the world. So like a dog, every year translates into something like six or seven or eight human years. So, in that regard, the AS/400 is something like 224 years old, and the IBM mainframe is nearly 400 years old. This is some Old Testament-class aging, right there.
But a machine is only as old as the applications it feels, to paraphrase a funny adage – no longer politically correct – from Groucho Marx, which is itself a twist on an old phrase: “You’re only as old as you feel.”
Most days, I do not feel my age and to be frank (Soltis, again), I have felt 35 most of my life and I am good with that. At this point, with kids ranging in age between 20 and 2, I have no choice but to be 38 and that’s my age and I am sticking with it. In this, the AS/400 and me are kin.
So happy birthday, old friend. Er, I mean, young whippersnapper. Or maybe a little of both. And there is nothing at all wrong with that.