Why Open Source Is Critical for Digital Transformation
March 3, 2021 Alex Woodie
In 2019, digital transformation seemed like the latest buzzword to come out of the hype-heavy technology business. But in 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic upturned life as we know it, the idea took on new importance. For IBM i shops looking to stay alive in competitive markets, digital transformation is now a requirement. And according to IBM’s Jesse Gorzinski, the digital transformation path runs squarely through open source.
2020 was a bizarre year in many ways. But there’s no doubt that it was a watershed year for open source on IBM i, with the delivery of a number of significant new open source products on the platform. This blossoming of open source capabilities, along with the market forces unleashed by COVID-19, drove an increase in IBM i customers taking a hard look at their approaches to IT, with an eye to digital transformation
According to Gorzinski, whose official title is senior business architect for open source software on IBM i 2020 brought a marked increase in executive briefing center requests. In a normal year, this would have brought an untold number of folks to the Rochester, Minnesota, campus. Instead, these meetings were conducted virtually.
“We have a lot of people who were kind of reassessing their IT infrastructure investments,” Gorzinski told IT Jungle in an interview last week. “They said, well now is a good time to think about what we’re doing, to think about the best way forward. Because whatever industry you’re in, 2020 showed people that if you were quick to respond to some unpredicted events you are the winner at your industry.”
When local health authorities shut down indoor dining in restaurants, the businesses that were able to pivot quickly to curbside pickup won customers, while those that failed to adapt to the change went out of business. According to the National Restaurant Association, 17 percent of restaurants across the country, or about 110,000 businesses, permanently shut their doors due to COVID-19.
This dynamic played out across other industries, as in-person business interactions were banned and digital replacements had to be quickly constructed. From manufacturing and distribution to banking and retail, the shift to online B2C and B2B interactions intensified. As a core platform for business applications, IBM i was at the center of many of these discussions.
According to Gorzinski, you can draw a straight line between digital transformation initiatives and adoption of open source software.
“We had a lot of lot of customers kind of re-analyzing how they solve their business problems with the platform,” Gorzinski said. “We had a lot of clients looking to open source and saying, we’ve kind of had this on the back burner for a while, and now’s the time we should really get serious about it.”
It’s possible to innovate on the IBM i platform without using open source technology. There is a lot of great work being done with modern, free-format RPG. But in Gorzinski’s view, the majority of modernization efforts — that is, digital transformation initiatives — involves open source technology in some way, shape, or form.
“You look at who’s innovating and what technologies are able to keep up with all the latest trends, and to do so the most quickly, open source is always there,” he said. “There’s always open source solutions on the leading edge. And so, if you have open source as part of your digital transformation strategy, that’s how you get to that point of being agile and reactive to be able to just succeed regardless of what comes your way.”
Flexibility is the biggest advantages that open source brings to a digital transformation initiative, according to Gorzinski. New technologies, whether it’s a new database like MariaDB or a new way of storing streaming data, like Apache Kafka, bring the potential to provide new or more efficient ways of collecting or processing data, thereby disrupting older ways of doing business.
Hooking your IBM i initiatives to these newer technologies doesn’t automatically mean you have digitally transformed yourself. Feeding IBM i data into a Kafka stream running in a Linux server and then using Apache Spark to apply machine learning algorithms against the combined stream doesn’t, in and of itself, get you anywhere.
How you use these new open source technologies to modify your business model or your business process as part of a digital transformation strategy is the important thing to focus on, Gorzinski said.
“It’s not just thinking of things in the old way of what’s the business requirement and how do I satisfy it. It’s what’s the business requirement how do I satisfy it and then how can I become kind of the best in industry,” Gorzinski said. “And the best in industry tends to be something where you say, well I really have to have something that sets me apart from a competitor down the street or around the world. And that’s where, in IBM i in particular, the whole hybrid approach comes in.”
By hybrid, Gorzinski is not talking about running some stuff on-prem and some stuff in the cloud. Rather, it’s more about melding newer, open source technology solutions with the older established solutions, which tend to be proprietary (at least on the IBM i platform).
“The hybrid approach essentially means that you continue to leverage all of these attributes that we’ve grown to love about the platform, whether it’s the reliability the security the low TCO, the protection of investment and this notion that you can run applications that were written in 1988,” he said.
“You can leverage all of those things but also leverage IoT technologies, the latest enterprise messaging technology, the latest microservices frameworks, the latest automation frameworks like Ansible and so on,” he continued. “Being able to leverage all of those things that the open source realm brings you — that’s how you get to that point where digital transformation gets you to best in industry.”
The IBM i server has established itself as a workhorse platform in many industries. It doesn’t get the credit that it deserves from the mainstream IT press, as we know, but that doesn’t matter to the businesses that see the actual results, year in and year out.
Now these companies have the opportunity to meld proprietary IBM i applications with open source technologies to create something new. In Gorzinski’s view, they shouldn’t definitely take it.
“You can’t be best in industry with just proprietary, in my opinion,” he said. “You can’t be best in industry with just open source. You become best in industry when you have a mix of something like IBM i, which is its own very valuable unique benefits. When you have those very valuable unique benefits that that the IBM i platform gives you and you can couple that with the open source tech — that’s how you get to best in industry.”