2022: An IBM i Year in Review, Part One
December 14, 2022 Alex Woodie
Well, it’s that time of year again – time to look back on the year and contemplate what happened. It was another eventful year in the midrange, with new servers and new operating systems. The IBM i user and vendor communities also worked to make it a rewarding year.
2021 started innocently enough back in . . .
Cybercriminals earned a gazillion demerits for their early 2021 Christmas present to cybersecurity professionals: Log4j, the most critical security vulnerability to hit the IT world in years. With a perfect CVSS severity rating of 10, Log4j sent security professionals scrambling in early January to update just about every application running Java. On the IBM i, several components were impacted, including the heritage version of IBM i Navigator, hastening customer adoption of the new version of IBM i Navigator, released by IBM just months before.
IBM made it easier for IBM i customers to move their applications to the cloud in January with the unveiling of virtual serial numbers. Long used as a way to restrict software to running on a particular machine, the serial number had become a detriment to cloud adoption. With virtual serial numbers for machines in the P05, P10, P20, and P30 software tiers, IBM i customers gained an important new capability to move workloads.
A lot of people quit jobs and started new ones in 2022, a trend that has been labeled the Great Resignation. In early January, we got inklings how the Great Resignation would impact white-collar workers, including IT professionals, thanks to a survey by Robert Half that found 49 percent of workers think that they are underpaid, 46 percent plan to ask for a raise, and 31 percent say they will consider quitting their jobs if they don’t get a raise. And those numbers reflect the employment world before inflation had yet to kick into high gear.
Security and ransomware were the top concerns of IBM i customers, according to the 2022 IBM i Marketplace Study from HelpSystems (now known as Fortra). It was the fifth year in a row that security had garnered top concern status in the annual report, which HelpSystems started in 2015. A string of high-profile ransomware attacks in 2021 persuaded the company to add ransomware to the list of possible topics of concern for the 2022 report.
We all know what legacy hardware is. But what about legacy people? It turns out, in the IBM i world, about half of people who participated in the HelpSystems 2022 IBM i Marketplace Study webinar started jobs in the midrange during the System/38 and System/36 eras (1978 to 1987). About one-third got their first midrange jobs during the AS/400 era (1988 to 1999), while only 6 percent joined during the iSeries era (2000 to 2007). About 14 percent joined during the IBM i era, which started in 2008 and is still going.
In February, TPM sat down for an interview with Ken King, who was named general manager of the Power Systems division in July 2021. The big news in King’s world, of course, was the looming launch of the entry and midrange Power10 machines, as the follow-on to the launch of the enterprise Power E1080s earlier in 2021. TPM asked King if IBM could run older operating systems, like IBM i 6.1 and even i5/OS V5R4 and V5R3, in a sort of emulation mode on Power10 and its PowerVM hypervisor. So far, it doesn’t appear to have happened – but it’s still a good idea.
IBM i professionals run some of the most critical systems on the planet, so you would think they would be well-compensated. But according to two job recruiters interviewed by IT Jungle, it turns out that IBM i folks are underpaid relative to what their compatriots in Windows and Linux are earning. A senior RPG programmer who makes $115,000 would likely earn $150,000 or more in the .NET world, according to Bob Langieri, CEO of Excel Technical Services, told us.
We broke news of a secret IBM plan to port .NET to Power in March. The plan mirrored a similar effort to get .NET running in the Linux on mainframe environment, IT Jungle learned. However, IBM denied the report.
The big architectural trend in mainstream computing is running applications as a series of microservices in a containerized, cloud-based environment. That trend would seem to preclude IBM i, which isn’t supported by Kubernetes.
Banking software maker Jack Henry & Associates this month shared its long-term plan to shift from developing IBM i-based applications to developing its banking software as a series of microservices that run in a containerized, cloud-based environment. The transition will take 15 years, and when it’s over, nothing will run on IBM i – unless a miracle occurs and IBM i becomes compatible with whatever the container platform du jour is in 2037.
With inflation raging earlier in the year and the scale-out Power10 rollout looming, IBM decided to raise prices on a variety of Power Systems products. IBM jacked up its licensing and maintenance costs for IBM i, AIX, and PowerHA. It also increased prices for Power9 systems, including various base system, processor card, memory card, and networking systems. Services also got some price hikes.
Cybersecurity finally got the attention of the executive suite in corporate America, thanks to a series of high-profile ransomware attacks in 2021. But in the IBM i world, things tend to move a bit slower. According to HelpSystems’ (now Fortra) State of IBM i Security report for 2022, there were still a remarkable number of gaps in customers’ server configurations, with too little monitoring of exit points, too low of a security level, overuse of powerful user of user profiles, and underuse of the audit journal as the top five concerns.
IBM renamed its popular Request for Enhancement (RFE) program as IBM Ideas. It was one of several moves IBM has made in recent years to revamp its community websites, including phasing out developerWorks. IBM moved RFEs for all of its products to the new portal. Among the Power set, new Ideas for IBM i submitted by the community dwarf the number of new Ideas for other products.
Early this month, IBM announced IBM i 7.5 as well as IBM i 7.4 Technology Refresh 6. The big headline grabber was Merlin, the new product that combined a lightweight development tool based on VSCode and modernization tools from partners, all packaged up in an OpenShift container. But that wasn’t all, as the delivery of IBM i 7.5 also brought a number of new security enhancements, database enhancements, RPG features, and more.
As part of the IBM i 7.5 launch, IBM also unveiled in May a new subscription pricing scheme for IBM i and Power Systems hardware. IBM started its subscription plan with an entry-level Power9 box running at the P05 software tier with one- to five-year ranges, but talked about plans to add P10, P20, and P30 tiers and bigger boxes in the future. The idea behind the plan is to allow customers to account for IBM i processing as a steady operating expenditure (OpEx) item in their budget rather than as a one-time capital expenditure (CapEx) item, which competes better with cloud options and presumably would improve the quality of life for accountants everywhere.
COMMON convened its first annual meeting in three years in May, when it held its POWERUp conference in New Orleans. The mood was festive in the Big Easy, as longtime members of the North American IBM i community could finally meet up in person. Following two years of Zoom meetings and virtual conferences, the annual meeting was a major success. Plus, it didn’t hurt that the IBM i community was hungry for more information on IBM i 7.5 and Merlin.
With Power10 announcements looming, IBM in June decided to start the process of withdrawing Power9 boxes, features, and peripherals. The Power9 features IBM started withdrawing in June – including networking components and memory modules – carried use-by dates of September and December. Undoubtedly, many of the components will be snapped up and offered on the used server market.
IBM is an interesting company, with competition among divisions a built-in feature designed to improve final products. The prospects for IBM i getting more resources from the corporate bosses in Armonk, New York grew brighter thanks to something that we wrote about in June: the promotion of IBM i Chief Architect Steve Will to the position of Chief Technology Officer. The Boilermaker alum also added distinguished engineer to his cv, which now reflects that of a technical executive within the IBM company. With a bigger seat at a bigger table, Will’s hard work and good fortune will hopefully rub off on the platform he has worked on since he joined Big Blue in the mid-1980s.
The IBM i server is often denigrated for being an expensive platform. But with the new subscription pricing plan unveiled by IBM, it turns out that IBM i is actually cheaper than an iPhone. For about $79 per month, one IT Jungle editor gets the full capabilities of an iPhone 13 Pro Max (out the door, with everything included, including parental controls). By comparison, IBM will rent you access to an entry-level S914, including an IBM i subscription, for about $41 per user per month, so it’s actually about half the cost of an iPhone. So much for those complaints being IBM i being too expensive.