IBM i 7.3 Philosophy Includes Marketing

Analysis of News Events
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IBM releases IBM i 7.3 along with a commitment for marketing IBM i to the masses.

IBM i Chief Architect Steve Will and IBM i Product Offering Manager Alison Butterill were nice enough to take a few minutes to talk to me about some of the new features of IBM i 7.3 and the IBM i marketing campaign surrounding the 7.3 release and beyond.

Steve Pitcher: When IBM came out with the Technology Refresh concept, I think people had the perception that the time between releases would be a little longer. With 7.1 to 7.2, it seemed to be the case. Now it's only two years since 7.2, so why couldn't all of this go into a TR instead of a point release?

Alison Butterill: Technology Refreshes are great for us when delivering function that can be slipped into the existing operating system. So we use that whenever we can to add significant new functions. However, some of the things being asked for by our clients, ISVs, and by our partners are things that are pervasive in the operating system and file structure and as a result cannot be done as part of a Technology Refresh. So our dilemma has always been balancing when we're delivering those pervasive things. Do we deliver them as part of a new release, or do we hold onto those and keep that technology and the release for another year or two in order to not rush a release?

What we have in 7.3, there are some components that are pervasive and require a new release. We wanted to bring those capabilities to market specifically because of the workloads our clients want to run require some of that technology.

SP: You know my next question then. How does this impact 7.1? Is there an official statement on that?

AB: We haven't determined that yet. When we were on the two-year cadence, it was pretty predictable. We went four years with 7.1 out there. We have a lot of clients sitting on 7.1 today. Would we like them to move forward? Absolutely. But we have not determined when we plan on withdrawing 7.1 from either marketing or support. Having said that, you'll notice in this release there is no Technology Refresh for 7.1. We will continue to do PTFs in order to keep 7.1 viable and continue to do things with 7.1. That should be a good indication.

SP: Can you foresee potential future releases coming out just as quickly as 7.2 to 7.3, or do you foresee a longer release cycle, similar to 7.1 to 7.2?

Steve Will: We'll put out another release when we have enough pervasive elements that we think the market needs, and we're going to make sure it gets done with the kind of quality that people expect. That could be two years, three years, four years. It's hard to tell. As Alison said, what we're focused on is to get things to the market that our customers need for their workloads, and if that requires a Technology Refresh or a new release, then that's what we'll do.

SP: Can you talk about the marketing campaign? That's very important, not only to have one but to tell people about it. Parts of the community seem to think that IBM doesn't market IBM i. Steve, I saw one of your slides in Anaheim last year which showed all the events around the globe where you and Alison had been to promote IBM i and Power Systems. It had customer sites, user groups, roadshows, webinars, and the like. I knew you two were out there a lot but really had no idea where and how often until I saw your slide. What's the difference between this and the usual travels and promotions?

AB: We are building a bigger social presence. That's where the marketplace is going and where new industry is getting their information. We've got the statistics and can back that up. Over 80 percent of millennials get their information from Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and so on. With that being the case, we need to build our social awareness and our social presence. We did it somewhat during the IBM i 25th anniversary campaign. What we're looking to do is do that again but maintain that. We haven't maintained the momentum very well over the last couple of years. That's on IBM. We have some incredibly well-read bloggers, like Steve, who has one of the top blogs in all IBM in terms of readership. We know that a social presence works. The Power team is really helping a lot this time. Having said that, we're also going to do that with physical presence as well. We're certainly not diminishing our travel schedule in going around the world! We're supplementing it. We're looking to build awareness online as well.

SP: You mentioned the Power Systems team is helping you. How, specifically, are they helping you?

AB: So, in IBM i we all work under the Power team. For the last number of years Power has really been focusing on establishing the Linux business, and as a result they've pushed really hard into the Linux space. Now that that business is growing and becoming more successful, they're able to devote some of the resources to help in other areas (AIX and IBM i) to drive us to a social presence as well. We have some marketing folks to help us on a more consistent basis.

SW: Steve, I'm a developer. Alison is a Product Offering Manager. We're not the kind of people that go out and design great infographics. There are people who are trained in that area; designing things to grab people's attention and make them want to learn more. We got that kind of help with the 25th anniversary, and that was really wonderful. It helped our social presence and awareness and our products that year. Having a more consistent social presence now is really going to help.

SP: How important is it to reassure the RPG community that you're committed to RPG?

AB: With the 7.3 announcement, it was just good timing to put it out there now. It depends completely on the company. Programmers, developers, and IT executives alike. People sometimes wonder how long we're going to have RPG around. RPG is an incredible language for IBM i, but it doesn't run everywhere. It's not everywhere in the global IT community as, say, Java. There's always questions about longevity and commitment. I think that having a statement that firmly commits IBM to support and provide enhancements to RPG is something we can point to. Companies will find it very reassuring to see an IBM executive commit to that language. We have millions and millions of lines of RPG code running thousands and thousands of businesses around the world. Publishing that document and providing that message is very important.

SW: People tend to think that any document that has a date on it two years older than this date is old and doesn't carry any value anymore. We need to refresh our material like that more frequently than one might expect. If you're paying attention to what we're saying at conventions and on our blogs, you'd know we're behind RPG. It's really for the people who need to have a one-pager put in front of them to show them the commitment. And right now it's a good time for us to tell people it's a consistent message.

SP: Since I have Steve on the phone, I wanted to talk a little about DB2 temporal support. Can you talk a little about that?

SW: Over the years, people have realized that they want to get information about what's happened to their data. You can run your business for a long time just generating transactions and that's great. But if you want to learn something about the future, then you're going to need to look at the past. Databases, as they've been designed, keep track of your data right at this very moment. If you wanted to do something to find what data looked like in the past, you'd have to do some special procedures. You'd have to save data off every once and a while and create special programs to go look at it. Temporal support is there because more and more businesses want to look at their data, past history data, to find things to help them do better in the future. The way to accomplish that in the past is to make stable copies of their data so when they want to ask questions they have a way to look at what their past was. There's no reason to do that. If you've got temporal, you have the ability to view what your data looks like today and what it looked like yesterday, the day before that, or six months ago. The database keeps track of the changes and enables you to identify what your data looked like at any time in the past. You can also use it for other things, like if you found a messed up record in a table. You can find out pretty quickly what happened to it and when. Very useful.

In the past, for either situation, you'd have to go through journal objects or data you've had squirreled off somewhere. That's labor intensive. It's not easily repeatable. What temporal does is simplify that, and that's a thing that databases are becoming expected to do.

SP: For me personally, I could get rid of about 60 libraries. It's the same scenario. We'd have people who copy certain libraries for not only year-end, but for month-end too! For years! And then have a copy of the copy as a “working” library to play with and the other one nobody is allowed to touch. I see immediate working value for temporal support.

SW: Your story isn't unique. As we work with clients, we find companies who keep much more data than they need, but they have to have it for the reasons I spoke about.

SP: I remember reading about temporal, and my mind immediately went to, “How much more storage will I need to keep track of all that database history?” I saw it from the wrong angle immediately. It's really the exact opposite. For me, it should be a tremendous space-saver.

SW: If you were doing your own archiving just to prepare yourselves for these kinds of questions, you should be able to get rid of all the archiving, therefore freeing up space. We'll take up a little more space in the database but be far more efficient doing it.

As per the April 12, 2016 announcement, some of the high points about this release are as follows:

  • DB2 for i now includes the long-awaited, highly requested temporal support and enhanced OLAP function. These new capabilities can help you to perform more advanced analytics on your data, to plan and forecast, to define gaps, and to build new strategies for business.
  • IBM i 7.3 adds a new Security Authority Collection that tracks how applications and application users use an object. Inquiries against that collection provide advice on securing critical business data and applications from intrusion by identifying who needs to have access to data and in what context. This major enhancement to security management, unique to IBM i, was driven by client requests for better insight and management to secure their systems.
  • IBM PowerHA SystemMirror for i 7.2 HyperSwap Cluster allows clients to reduce planned and unplanned storage server outages to near zero by enabling a configuration whereby the servers in a DS8000 two-site Metro Mirror cluster will have continuous access to the data on one of the DS8000 servers should the other DS8000 server be unavailable.
  • As with previous releases, IBM i 7.3 continues to extend both the traditional application development environment with new features and functions in RPG IV, but is also extending the open-source environments that are available by adding Git and Orion. These environments give you more choices for selecting business solutions for your business challenges.
  • A new version of the popular data analytics tool IBM DB2 Web Query for i, V2.2.0 has improved ease of use and numerous enhancements, providing richer environments for report development, data access, and output capabilities.
  • As with each IBM i release, many other enhancements support client requirements, industry standards, and the latest technologies.