IBM i Business Bucks The COVID Trend, Will Says
June 21, 2021 Alex Woodie
The COVID pandemic has slammed American business and the American economy in many different ways, and it has taken its toll on server sales. But according to Steve Will, the IBM i chief architect, sales of IBM i systems have grown over the past three quarters. In response, IBM has enabled Rochester to go on a bit of a hiring spree to bolster the IBM i development team.
“The IBM i business in 2021 is actually quite strong,” Will said during his presentation at the NAViGATE conference that COMMON held the week of May 24. “We had a very down quarter in the second quarter of last year while we helped clients, but didn’t sell much. But then, many of our clients, small to large, began to recognize how much they could do, and we actually grew in the third quarter, we grew in the fourth quarter, and we’ve grown in the first quarter of the year.”
Of course, IBM doesn’t break out IBM i sales from its overall Power Systems sales, which were down 13 percent in the first quarter at constant currency relative to the same quarter in 2020, as we reported back in April. Will did not provide any specifics, either, to show that IBM i sales grew while sales of AIX and Linux-based Power Systems servers, as well as storage and other things that IBM sells, pulled the overall number down.
Such a sales slump is not surprising, considering that IBM is nearing the end of the end of its server lifecycle, with Power9-based servers due to be replaced with new Power Systems servers featuring the Power10 chip later this year (although IBM i won’t get Power10 until 2022). But according to Will, IBM i grew despite the COVID-19 and Power9 headwinds.
“I’m not saying the pandemic is good for us,” Will said. “I’m saying that our platform was good for clients who had to deal with the pandemic, and that has shown up in growth over the last few quarters. And by the way, that has been well recognized by the IBM Company. So it’s all good for us that the platform has been ready for us to do that.”
One of the IBM i platform’s historic strengths – the ability to absorb and consolidate X86 workloads – helped to drive that growth, Will said.
“Even though we’re at the end of Power9 lifecycle, we’ve grown three quarters in a row,” he said. “And a lot of that is because folks like you who know what this platform can do started to put more workload on IBM i. We won some business from clients who were unhappy with their platform that they were on before, and they saw that this platform could handle it.”
As Will noted, the recent success of IBM i has not gone unnoticed 972 miles east, in Armonk, New York. IBM’s corporate leaders have given Will and his leadership team the go-ahead to ramp up hiring to bolster the IBM i development team.
“So many people have this fear that IBM is going to walk away from IBM i,” Will said. “The case against that is we generate too much revenue and too much profit. And we address a part of the market that no other part of IBM does. And so in recognition of that, we have been able to hire, hire, hire.”
Will shared two photos during his NAViGATE presentation, one from 2018 that shows a couple dozen new hires in front of the IBM sign in Rochester, and another from 2020 that shows a Zoom call with 35 new hires from Rochester and China. The message is that IBM is investing in its IBM i business.
“You can see that in the past three years or so, we have hired a great number of people to be on our development team,” Will said. “That represents a big commitment by IBM to the IBM i platform.”
The roadmap for IBM i stretches out well into the 2030s. Don’t hold your breath waiting for a major IBM i update in 2021, Will said, but you can expect a major release in the near future.
“Generally speaking now we’re on a three-year cadence,” he said. “So if a new release came out in 2019, and you add three, that’s likely when the next major release is going to come out.
“I didn’t announce anything,” Will clarified. “I just said ‘likely.'”
With IBM i’s near-term future starting to take shape, it leaves Will free to ponder a bit what the long-term future of the platform – and the people who develop the platform – might be. Will has been leading development of IBM i as its chief architect since July 2007. And before that, he spent 22 years at IBM as a software developer, architect, and strategist. He’s been at this for quite a number of years.
Will gave no indication his run is nearing an end, but he did ponder a bit about the possible career paths that the new crop of young IBM i professionals at Rochester might take, and which of those younger folks will step up to lead the development of IBM i in the coming decades.
“These new developers will be the next generation,” Will said, referring to the picture of the young hires. “I’ve jokingly said that somebody on this screen is going to be your chief architect 15 or 20 years from now, and it won’t be me.”