Four Signs That Point to More IBM i Modernization in ’22
January 19, 2022 Alex Woodie
IBM i shops are under the gun to do something about their aging applications, perhaps more so than any other group of computer users out there, save for System z mainframe shops. Here are four factors that increase the odds that more IBM i shops will embark upon modernization efforts and start updating those heritage applications and databases in the new year.
The White-Hot Economy
Increased consumer spending is likely to continue in early 2022, thanks in part to the strong recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and the unprecedented financial support provided from the government. The economy is running white hot at the moment, with 7 percent inflation–unprecedented in the past 40 years.
American consumers were sitting on $2 trillion in savings in April 2021, a figure that grew to $2.7 trillion by October, according to a report in Bloomberg, and the figures in much of Europe were similar. That “excess savings” could help drive growing consumer spending in 2022, which could have a wide impact on the economy as a whole.
This effect could be most heavily felt by IBM i shops in industries that are exposed to consumer spending. As we saw early in the pandemic, companies in certain manufacturing segments, such as high-end furniture, automotive, and consumer goods, had their best years ever in 2020, as consumers in lockdown sought goods they could use during the lockdown.
Economists are still trying to hash out exactly what happened, but if that pandemic buying pattern holds into 2022 – and so far it looks like it has – then IBM i shops in these segments may benefit.
While the economy’s impact on the bottom line will vary by user and region and industry, the economy as a whole will likely result in growing top lines for companies across the board. The hope is this rising tide will also fatten IT budgets, and perhaps fuel a growing appetite to finally take on big, hairy modernization projects that companies have put off for years.
Higher revenues is one factor that could convince executives to finally take on major projects, such as application modernization. Many manufacturers and retailers rely on aging packages that have been highly customized and require specialized skills to work on. Upgrading to a modern codebase not only makes it simpler to maintain the applications, but also makes it easier to enhance the code to keep up today’s digital demands.
The Aging IBM i Community
While IBM i servers are more self-sufficient than many types of servers, they still require some attention. And many companies run their own, highly customized applications, which can give them an even bigger advantage over their non-i competitors.
But there’s a problem looming in the IBM i community: its aging. Baby boomers who spent the bulk of their careers on the platform are starting to retire, and it’s not always clear who is going to replace them. By Roger Pence’s calculation, we have about 10 years left.
“By 2030, most RPG programmers will be, or rapidly approaching, 80 years old,” the ASNA product evangelist says. “Without their cadre of RPG programmers to maintain their system of record RPG applications, the business in is peril. The business can’t persist without those RPG applications.”
While the aging of the community is not a good thing, the flip side of this situation is that it could help to spur more modernizations. Faced with a personnel crunch, some IBM i shops will likely abandon the platform. But others will seek a better, more long-term solution on the platform, and that means a resurgence of more modern coding and administration techniques on IBM i.
Remember: it’s not the platform that’s old, but the code that’s running on it. And sometimes, the people are getting up there, too.
The Dicey Security Situation
The cybersecurity situation was bad in 2021, and the smart money is betting that we’ll see more of the same in 2022, with ransomware, spear phishing, and possibly API-based attacks leading the pack, often from organized criminal enterprises backed by countries hostile to Western capitalism.
For IBM i shops, the deteriorating security situation is a mixed blessing. On the one hand, the platform provides robust protection against some types of attacks, particularly those driven through Windows- and Linux-based malware. Aside from the IFS, which is vulnerable, traditional IBM i data and applications is mostly immune to these types of attacks. The downside is that this built-in protection causes IBM i shops to have a big blind spot when it comes to security. But if recent surveys are any indication, that tendency is starting to change.
Where this intersects with modernization is the following: As companies begin to realize their need for better security and their awareness of IBM i security shortcomings grow, it gives them the confidence to build it back better when they eventually embark upon modernization. In other words, as architects re-think the stack and how security should be a part of it, the IBM i becomes less of a black hole, which (hopefully) decreases the odds that it will be summarily discarded as so much copper and silicon.
The Hardware Refresh Cycle
IBM debuted its high-end Power10 server in late 2021, with entry-level and midrange servers expected later this year. IBM isn’t saying exactly when it will make the launch, but the expectation in the IBM i world is that the announcement should be made by May, when the community convenes in New Orleans for COMMON’s annual conference, POWERUp.
When companies upgrade or buy new servers, it often drives a lot of additional IT spending. With four years since the last major hardware refresh from IBM, the introduction of Power10 is likely to bring a resurgence of money and attention to IBM i applications. Considering the number of companies running older IBM i applications that may no longer fulfill the requirements of companies, this could be a great time to consider upgrades or modernization.
The fact that so many IBM i applications are so old isn’t a glitch or a defect. In fact, it’s the natural reward for decades of reliable service. Bringing that core capability forward into the modern age without breaking it should be the goal for thousands of companies considering a modernization exercise. With any luck, 2022 will be the year you finally get started.