7 Reasons To Be Thankful For IBM i
November 16, 2022 Alex Woodie
Despite problems around the nation, Americans still have a lot to be thankful for. We have really good schools, a strong U.S. dollar, and a tech sector that’s the envy of the world. And while the IBM i server plays a smaller role in the day-to-day running of our country than it used to, there are still many reasons to be thankful for platform.
IT Jungle will take a break from publishing next week to rest, eat turkey, and think about what we’re thankful for, which definitely includes the IBM i. Thankfully, we have prepared a list ahead of time (much like that premade pie that your sister-in-law always brings).
Here are seven reasons to be thankful for IBM i in 2022:
The IBM i Installed Base
The IBM i installed base is smaller than it used to be. By some estimates, there were a quarter-million organizations running the AS/400, the legendary predecessor to the IBM i. The business pushed several billion dollars in annual spending, rivaling the S/390 mainframe in revenue (if not prestige).
Nowadays, it’s generally understood that there are less than 100,000 organizations in the world running IBM i. Yes, many organizations have moved off the platform and to industry standard platforms or the cloud. IBM i continues to be misunderstood by younger tech leaders, who take one look a greenscreen IBM i app and decide the whole platform is a liability.
No matter. The platform still demands loyalty among those who have stuck with it, who see it as the unrivaled IT asset that it truly is, rather than a liability. In head-to-head matchups, the IBM i trounces standards-based systems in total cost of ownership. When was the last time you saw a Windows Server user proudly proclaiming that her company runs on Windows? Answer: Never.
IBM i Professionals
IBM i pros are the hardworking men and women who make the world go ‘round for the companies that rely on the IBM i to run their businesses, day in and day out, rain and shine. The platform is legendary for its uptime and resilience, but it’s not doing anything without the talented humans who make it all work.
IBM i professionals are a unique lot in the IT world, as they bring a multi-threat capability to their daily game. They’re one part developer, one part business analyst, one part operator, and one part IT firefighter. They were “full-stack” before full-stack became the latest thing in the “look at me” mainstream IT world.
But human resources are also a big concern for the platform at the moment, as numerous IBM i shops report how difficult it is to find replacements for retiring professionals. They are a precious resource on the platform, and truly something to be thankful for.
IBM i User Groups
One of the strengths of the IBM i community is the multitude of user groups that help to keep IBM i professionals united. That includes the dozens of smaller local user groups scattered across the country, the larger regional groups like OCEAN, and well as the national groups, like COMMON and the Large User Group. Outside of the United States, groups like COMMON Europe and the Japanese IBM i user group (formerly known as iSuc) have kept the IBM i community together, through large events and monthly meetings.
These groups were tested during the COVID-19 pandemic, as in-person meetings and large events had to be cancelled. Many of these groups pivoted to virtual events, to varying degree of success. While Zoom meetings have some benefit, there is no way to replicate the full spectrum of benefits that come from a good in-person conference or meeting. Luckily, many of these groups survived the pandemic and have continued with in-person meetings, which is so crucial to maintaining the continuity of the community and the platform.
IBM i’s Deep Technical Roots
The IBM midrange server was once described as a “farmer’s box” by the CEO of a major ERP vendor. While it may have tickled the fancy of a farmer or two in the vast fields south of the IBM Laboratory in Rochester, Minnesota, the comment was not a compliment.
The truth is, the IBM i server can be as sophisticated or as rudimentary as you want it to be. Yes, you can treat it like rusting, 50-year-old plow if you’d like, and it will continue to run your business despite the abuse. But the platform can also run some of the most cutting-edge applications on the planet, if you give it the chance.
All the cool kids today are running containerized microservices in the cloud, which is supposedly “the future” of computing. Never mind that there is essentially no visibility into the interactions between these containerized microservices applications, the Docker container, and the Kubernetes scheduler. Just cross your fingers that you never have to troubleshoot those types of application performance issues – and thank your lucky stars that currently IBM has no plans to co-mingle IBM i and Kubernetes in any kind of direct way.
Instead, the old dog has a few nifty tricks left to teach the younger canines, as it turns out. IBM i has an exceptionally strong architecture, thanks in part to its single-level storage system. That apparently attracted the attention of some pretty high-level folks who asked the retired Dr. Frank Soltis back in 2020 for some direction on how to scale supercomputers and AI systems. Yes, there is a reason this architecture is still kicking in its sixth decade.
New Web and Mobile Applications
The investment protection in code is a double-edged sword for IBM and its midrange customers. On the one hand, code written 40 years ago can still run on the platform. But on the other hand, code written 40 years ago is still running on the platform. Every good deed, apparently, will be severely punished.
There is a lot of ancient code powering old applications on the IBM i server, which is a very bad thing. In fact, all that old code arguably is the main reason for the widespread perception that the IBM i server is a “legacy” box that should be left out in the field (maybe next to that rusting old plow).
This is why you we should all be thankful for new Web and mobile application development. IBM i shops that are embracing open source technologies such as PHP, Node.js, and Python to develop new Web and mobile applications are a true beacon of hope for the IBM i installed base.
While you can continue to run that old greenscreen RPGIII program until the cows come home, your users and customers would probably much rather work with an application that behaves like other modern apps they’re used to using. That alone should be worth the investment.
But here’s the kicker: Adopting these newer technologies will also make it easier to attract younger programmers to the platform, and give IBM i shops a shot at turning them into the multi-threat developer-analyst-ops people that will be so desperately needed in the next generation. That’s a triple-win across customers, employees, and owners.
The IBM i Vendor Community
Like the installed base, the IBM i independent software vendor (ISV) community has shrunk a bit over the past 10 to 15 years. The number of software houses developing and selling system utilities and business applications is not what it used to be.
But there remains a core group of ISVs that have stuck it out. They rolled with the punches and refused to quit during the Great Recession from 2008 to 2009 and COVID economic shutdown in 2020 and 2021. They stuck to their guns and continued developing good software and providing solid customer support.
While the ranks of the ISVs has dwindled due to consolidation, there is a new generation of leadership emerging in the vendor community. A computer platform is only as strong as its weakest link, but thanks to hard work of independent business owners, the ISV community is not it in the IBM i world.
Few companies in the country have a corporate history as long and storied as that of International Business Machines. And no other company has had such a hand in guiding the IT business over the past 100 years as IBM.
However, these are not the best of times at the company with the iconic striped logo. While IBM’s cloud competitors soar to valuations in excess of $1 trillion (and over $2 trillion for a time for Microsoft), IBM has stayed stuck at around $129 billion.
Despite the competitive situation and the shift away from on-prem gear, the Armonk, New York company has persevered. It continues to develop cutting edge hardware, such as the Power10 processor, which sports the sort of memory bandwidth that X86 chip vendors can only dream of. IBM has led the world in the number of new patents issued for 29 straight years, and there’s little to believe it won’t lead in that category when the next list comes out, in January 2023.
Yes, IBM has made some questionable decisions when it comes to the IBM i platform from time to time. But as a whole, the work that it does to keep this platform going and make it viable is something to be honored and be thankful for.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.