Dissecting the HelpSystems IBM i Marketplace Survey

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Progressive stability is a major characteristic of the IBM i community.

Now in its sixth year, HelpSystems’ IBM i Marketplace Survey is one of the strongest state-of-affairs indicators of the IBM i community.

The first metric I want to see is the IBM i operating system disbursements. Given that my company did over 400 upgrades in 2018 (the majority of those 7.1 to 7.x), it’s important to see where things stand now. It’s a number I care about greatly and have a little insight on.

First off, the IBM i 7.4 uptake is only 4%. I originally thought that it’s maybe not really worth having on this survey because it’s so new. It was announced only around nine months ago and became generally available to the community just over six months ago! So is 4% a good number for six months from GA date? Yes. In fact, 7.3 was released in 2016 and there are no 7.3 customers listed on this survey for that year. So while 7.4 is still very new, people are being a little more carefree with regard to upgrading to it.

In 2016, IBM i 7.1 was the primary version used by 64% of respondents. That number dropped 10% each year until 2019, when only 21% of shops were running 7.1. In the last year, that number dwindled to a mere 12%.

The 7.2 numbers have been steady since 2017. On the other hand, 7.3 ballooned from 16% in 2018 all the way up to 50% in 2020. That’s a massive increase.

This corresponds to my experience. The majority of 7.1-to-7.x upgrades I’ve been a part of have been directly to 7.3. People have two main reasons to go only to 7.2: “support” for Java 6 and hardware that won’t support 7.3 or higher (i.e., POWER6). Now, Java 6 isn’t supported anymore, but it’ll run without a problem (other than security holes that won’t get any more patches) on 7.2.

Coincidentally though, POWER6 machines made a 19% drop between 2018 and 2019, then down another 6 points to 15% in 2020. There was a 10% uptick in POWER8 boxes between 2018 and 2019, and POWER9 systems did a big jump to 31% since being released. It’s fair to say a lot of POWER6 customers jumped three generations up to POWER9 in the last couple of years. Given that the most common POWER8 (i.e., the S814 or 8286-41A) went end-of-marketing in the spring of 2019 and that POWER8 systems are literally six-year-old technology, it’s no surprise that companies are making that big jump to the POWER9 systems.

There was an implied push for companies to get off POWER7 machines (think E4B and E4C models) that went end-of-service on September 30, 2019, but the reduction of POWER7 machines in the survey was a slower decline of 11% in the last two years. The survey doesn’t go into detail about what vintage the POWER7s are. The larger SMB shops running POWER7 E4D machines are still supported until December 31, 2020. I would expect, given the amount of rumblings I’ve heard, especially in the last couple of weeks, that a lot of those E4D boxes will be moving to POWER9 machines in 2020. I would expect to see POWER7 systems to drop off in a similar fashion to how POWER6 systems did; however I’d pull out my crystal ball and say the drop will be a little stronger in 2021 given those bigger E4Ds may have more storage attached to them...and those extra storage enclosures are more expensive to keep paying maintenance on.

An interesting statistic in this year’s survey is that 51% of respondents have concerns about the accuracy of vendor recommendations, internal skill sets, or software capabilities to predict their capacity planning needs. I would venture a guess on why that’s the case: Many vendors are expanding and diversifying their offerings rather than focusing solely on IBM i. When vendors do that, they lose a little focus on what IBM i customers need. I can think of a couple of POWER9 proposals in the last year that I’ve competed against that left me kind of scratching my head: “So in your first kick at the can, you proposed 10k RPM spinning drives, and in the next configuration a week later you have all flash drives. Make up your mind.”

“Top concerns” in the community are always fun to review because it’s one of those lists that doesn’t seem to change much. Once again, security is at the top of the list. Yet if you look at the HelpSystems State of IBM i Security surveys every single year since forever, it’s interesting that some of the real basics are still not being addressed en masse: accounts with default passwords, special authorities given out like hotcakes, and a lack of proper object authority are low-hanging fruit. So where’s the disconnect here? I wish I had a good answer. A lot of those things don’t cost anything more than a little time and elbow grease. I showed my 12-year-old the 2001 Band of Brothers miniseries back in November. It tells the true story of American paratroopers in World War II. The later episodes, which focused on the defense of the area around the Belgian town of Bastogne, come to mind with this analogy. During the Siege of Bastogne, the 101st Airborne took position with very little food, low ammunition, and no winter clothing. Poor weather and thick cloud cover prevented them from being resupplied. Now the analogy: Foxholes are great for protecting yourself from bullets flying. But eventually someone’s foxhole will be hit by artillery. We as a community need to be on the attack rather than digging into the ground and hoping we don’t get a direct hit by a shell. Unlike the paratroopers defending Bastogne, we have all the resources we need to fix our security problems.

I would certainly recommend you download a copy of the survey. Moreover, be sure you participate in the next survey yourself when it becomes available later this year.

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