2021 Predictions for IBM i, Part 1
January 13, 2021 Alex Woodie
With an eventful 2020 thankfully in the rearview mirror, it’s time to start thinking about what 2021 might have in store for us. The IBM i community, like most of the world, could use a little bit of hope at the moment. We asked IBM i community leaders to deliver predictions, and they responded.
“My focus is mainly software. I do still predict Node.js gaining traction on IBM i,” Allan writes. “The tooling is really great for developing Node.js applications and I hope to see it continue growing. Other than that, I am still surprised that RDi is what it is. I am kind of hoping, much like IBM Z, that IBM adopts the use of Visual Studio Code and starts developing extensions to make writing and maintaining RPG and COBOL easier. It’s the way forward. It’s something that I’d like to tackle but there’s only so much time in the day really.”
Eradani CEO Dan Magid predicts that service enablement and APIs will take center stage in 2021. “An increasing number of IBM i users will begin investing in a flexible, ‘loosely coupled’ REST API architecture that will allow them to take advantage of whatever new technology arises,” he writes.
“More IBM i users will recognize the high risk of expensive rip and replace efforts. They will focus instead on leveraging proven RPG and COBOL applications by adding flexible APIs. These companies will use APIs to expose their existing IBM i functions and data to rapidly create advanced user experiences or provide automated application access to their customers and partners.”
APIs will also be at the forefront of IBM i development (and re-development) efforts, Magid says, particularly when it comes to tapping into Web services to bring IBM i apps data related to like shipment scheduling and tracking, weather data, banking functions, and government information.
“Sadly, many IBM i shops will fall further behind and miss opportunities as they are hamstrung by business leaders or even IBM i engineers who think of the IBM i as ‘legacy’ and thus limited. These organizations will fall further behind and expose their company to the costs and risks of IBM i replacement. Fortunately, I also see many IBM i professionals pushing back against that attitude and showing the business end users just how powerful, secure, and capable the system can be. I predict that in 2021 these efforts will meet with increasing success.”
COMMON President Gordon Leary is severely optimistic about the potential for the IBM i platform this new year. “When I think of the IBM i,” Leary says, “I hear, ‘The Future’s So Bright, i Gotta Wear Shades.'”
The cloud looms large in IBM i’s future, Leary says. “In 2021, we’ll see greater movement toward IBM i in cloud-based implementations. The platform is ideally suited for this, and the ease of operation allows organizations to manage their environment from any location in the world,” he writes. “The reliability of the platform ensures a company that their applications can run in a 24/7 environment that business demands today. I believe we will continue to see more companies migrating their systems to a cloud environment in the next five to 10 years. The global economy demands that our systems are always available, and high availability is a must if companies want to stay competitive in today’s economy — IBM i delivers that need.”
There will be a resurgence in using Db2 for i for data warehousing, he predicts, as well as a recognition of where IBM i fits into the grand scheme of things. “We usually say legacy is a bad term in the IT industry. But it can also be seen as a strength,” Leary says. “Legacy systems do not, however, mean that we should not change. An effective IT staff will work towards continuous improvement.”
Source Data Products CEO Bob Losey sees three trends standing out above the clatter.
“First, IT security is at the forefront,” Losey tells us. “All servers are vulnerable–not just Windows, Unix and Linux. IBM i as well. And not just IT departments, but businesses, their owners and their stakeholders will be more involved than before.”
Second, IBM i cloud hosting will continue to grow, Losey says. “Clients want to outsource IBM i administration, need greater security and redundancy offered by a data center, as well as have term flexibility if they are moving to a different platform.”
Third, IBM i server installations will continue as before, and some really old servers will get the boot. “These older servers are breaking more frequently, and non-IBM hardware support will not be the final answer. These users need newer, reliable servers.”
Jim Kandrac, president and founder of UCG Technologies, predicts there will be “continued pressure on CIOs to get more done with fewer resources and tighter budgets.” The number one concern for CIOs will be security and data protection. Most IBM i ERP systems will stay on-prem, “while larger organizations move to IBM i cloud hosting for administration and operations reasons.”
Kandrac closes with a toast: “To greater success and health for everyone in the IBM i world!”
Charlie Guarino, the CEO of Central Park Data Systems, begins his 2021 predictions with a toast. “Fingers crossed for all of us for a fruitful and healthy year.”
“With all the advances in IBM i application development technology, aligned with more pressure on faster delivery of more robust functionality, I see accelerated adoption of IBM i services and open source solutions in many shops,” Guarino continues.
“As each Technology Refresh packs more punch with the expanded reach and capabilities of SQL, its purpose of being used solely for database manipulation is a distant memory,” Guarino says. “Coupled with easy and ready to use code examples of each service in Access Client Solutions (ACS) adoption could not be any easier.”
“In the sphere of open source, developer’s toolboxes have been greatly expanded,” he continues. “And with so many code examples online, ramp up time is dramatically reduced. This has given new meaning to the Integrated Language Environment (ILE), where we can now truly use the best tool for any requirement. Moreover, with the increased use of these new tools, developers will be further incented to contribute back to the community.”
Richie Palma of iTech Solutions Group has is reading the tea leaves on storage and security trends on IBM i.
“In 2021, I think we will see a big uptick in adoption of external storage and full stack virtualization by small to mid-sized IBM i shops to take advantage of NVMe Flash technology, encryption at rest, Flashcopy backups to support 24×7 operations, and the ability to deploy new IBM i environments as needed without investment in additional hardware,” Palma writes. “Many IBM i shops will get the push they need to finally upgrade from IBM i 7.2 as they see the looming end of support on 4/30/2021 fast approaching.
“Security will continue to be a major focus for IBM i shops with many customers moving to 7.4 specifically to use Authority Collection in an effort to safely and accurately turning off the prevalent usage of root directory shares,” Palma continues. “Moreover, many customers will begin to view their system as something they have to protect rather than viewing it solely as a shield in and of itself. IBM i is a shield you need to protect.”
Bob Langieri, the CEO of IBM i recruiting firm Excel Technical Services, has his finger on the pulse of IBM i job availability, and that pulse is not the strongest at the moment.
“As the COVID lockdowns continue throughout the U.S., we expect the vaccines to begin the battle to getting back to normal,” Langieri writes. “But what will be normal? Not much I suspect. We have been fortunate that our economy has grown for the past four years and we avoided a recession that was supposed to happen in 2016. But it could be around the corner. The average boom last five years. And we have had one major boom for the last four years, dampened in March 2020 by COVID.”
The jury is still out on when business might get back to normal, Langieri tells us. “But rest assured, it will be a new normal,” he says. “Hiring has stalled. I have seen layoffs and furloughs at a number of companies. Restaurants and retail stores are hit especially hard. Remote work is becoming more widespread and accepted, but that is for existing employees. Successful online models for retail will decide who stays and who closes. One Federal Reserve Chief on January 7, 2021, speculated a slight tightening of money supply and slight interest rate hikes by the third quarter of this year. Typically, that can slow borrowing and home sales. Bottomline, there will be another recession soon in the next one to two years and you need to be aware and safeguard your career.”
Langieri is seeing IBM i developers and support staff retiring in sizable numbers. “Could this spell disaster for the future of the IBM i?” he asks. “The young developers and technophiles are not even aware of the IBM i or RPG. Corporate heads’ number one concern is the availability of the next generation of RPG and IBM i support staff. In addition, there is little demand for RPG talent compared to ‘open source’ developers. Nationwide there are typically 3,000 job openings for Java, C, C#, .Net compared to less than 30 jobs for RPG developers. Several of my long time IBM i clients are telling me that they are basically phasing out the IBM i and replacing with SaaS solutions or only running part of their business on IBM i.”
“If I were in college majoring in IT, what would I be studying?” Langieri asks. “You guessed it: Not RPG! You can teach those young IT grads RPG, but only if you are modernized and show that you are incorporating ‘modern’ languages and tools along with the legacy RPG. Also, they need to learn from the experienced RPG developers and those senior staff need to learn from the young IT replacements who typically know 5 languages and everything about IOT and cybersecurity. The battle for the future of the IBM i and RPG is on, and I believe the next five years will determine its fate! Some shops are winning the battle, but too many are not. If 20 percent of the typical RPG shops are progressive and 80 percent are still doing things the old way, IBM i using RPG will become a smaller niche than it is today. The main problem is lack of new talent. The great thing about the IBM i is also the worst: You can still run RPG II or RPG III and your business will function like a Swiss Watch and always give you the right time. But you will be missing out on new tools and features you could deliver to your users and customers. Liken it as a good wind up or battery wristwatch compared to the latest Apple Watch.”
“Note: I am still holding on to my IBM stock,” he says.
Ira Chandler, the founder of IBM i payment software provider Curbstone Corporation, watches the industry closely and is always good for some IBM i foresight. He once again delivers:
“In the payment space, based on the astounding resilience we have seen on our credit card processing portal doing $5 billion in transactions a year, we expect to see continued economic growth, as we saw 11 of 12 months in 2020,” Chandler writes. “The adoption of SaaS-based ERP applications is exploding, and the savior for IBM i-based apps is hosting them to run in browsers or thin clients. Deploying individual systems with ERP is going away. With the outsourcing of ERP, we will continue to see an increased interest in reducing vulnerabilities from handling credit card data, using remote tokenization and even IVR to stop touching card data.”
“With the deployment of EMV for retail, we will see a continued explosion of fraud in the e-commerce and phone orders, making ‘billing address verification’ even more critical,” Chandler continues. “Alternative mechanisms for direct payments are gaining steam — slowly. This includes systems that use bank account debits to transfer money for the users, like Venmo, Zelle, Square Cash App, Paypal, Facebook Messenger, etc. They avoid the credit card fees but will be slow to be accepted due to the demonstrated hesitance of the population to rely on phones for retail payments. Other ways will be introduced, to lukewarm acceptance, that bypass the merchant’s credit card interchange fees. In the IBM i space, the whirlwind consolidation of software companies will accelerate, as the platform becomes more challenging to address and have few new adopters.”
Stay tuned next week for our second and final batch of IBM i predictions.
Editor’s note: This story has been corrected. The 1986 song “The Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades” was written by Timbuk 3, not Huey Lewis. IT Jungle regrets the error.