IBM's Ian Jarman talks with MC Press Online editors and says that while the platform is enhanced to run three operating systems in a virtualized environment, many customers will continue to buy the more traditional solution.
Editor's Note: I'm traveling this week, but below is one of my more popular articles, which first appeared in the March 17, 2008, issue of MC Systems Insight. It is an interview with Ian Jarman, manager of IBM Power Systems Software, in which Jarman lays out the future of the Power Systems platform, including RPG and IBM i OS, as envisioned by IBM. We invite readers to express their views in the MC Press Online forums about whether the vision expressed here more than a year and a half ago is coming to pass or whether there have been more abrupt changes in direction of the platform.
The future of the System i may be a virtualized environment that offers customers their choice of operating system platform along with a vast set of applications to meet their specific business needs, but many customers will continue to choose the easily managed and highly integrated computer we know today that runs i5/OS exclusively.
Quite simply, there will be different approaches for different types of customers, with some preferring the reliable simplicity of today's machine and others integrating their servers into a BladeCenter form factor to achieve a simpler and more efficient data center from the complex server farms they face today. So says Ian Jarman, manager of IBM's Power Systems Division, Systems and Technology Group, who spoke with MC Press Online editors last week.
"Our strategy is to have AIX, Linux, and i5/OS running all together in a virtualized environment," says Jarman. The idea is to offer "a choice of solutions across the three different operating environments. Each has its own strengths and its own specialty market, and we believe they complement each other very well together."
Jarman says that IBM recognizes its approach to the marketplace needs to be flexible and that the company is working hard to gauge, understand, and project customer needs so it can offer the right solutions in the right way to meet those market-driven requirements.
"A lot of customers buy the System i just to run i5/OS applications, and if they want it, they can have that fully integrated experience: simple to deploy, simple to manage with one operating system that has very high resiliency. We already have that, and we will continue to provide that [integrated server solution]...and the majority of our customers are going to continue to buy [that].... But we also recognize that we need to be flexible," says Jarman.
IBM is implementing that flexibility as a virtualized environment in which i5/OS, Linux, and AIX will run concurrent applications in a seamless package of highly specific industry applications that offer the best of each platform for a particular industry segment. Already there are subsets to this multi-platform approach designed to broaden the choice of applications. Announced along with i5/OS V6R1 earlier this year is a unique means of running Linux x86 applications on POWER6 machines in a virtualized environment along with applications written for the POWER6 processor. The solution avoids the need to recompile the x86 Linux solutions and is a way of offering customers a much broader selection of applications than currently are available for Linux on POWER. At the moment, the virtualized x86 Linux solution is available only on System p, but Jarman says users can reasonably expect to see that implemented on System i sometime in the future, though no date has been announced. Users of Nortel's and 3Com's VOIP solutions for the System i run them today in a Linux partition, but the number of solutions for Linux on POWER are far less than the number available for Linux on x86. Instead of waiting for the ISVs to recompile all their applications for POWER6, IBM has figured out a way to run them on its hardware platform in a virtualized environment. IBM midrange users are familiar with virtualization techniques, says Jarman, and the medium-sized companies will be increasingly interested in virtualization as time goes on.
As to the future of RPG, Jarman acknowledges it is a "specialty language" in the eyes of younger IT professionals, but knowing RPG can be a great asset for a young programmer who also has Web 2.0 skills. "Obviously, people are going to learn the new technologies like Java and PHP, etc., and that's part of the reason we've made sure those technologies are available on i5/OS," he says. "We want to make sure [it's]...an attractive platform to new talent." For the programmer who wants to differentiate herself from the herd, having i5/OS or z/OS skills can be a tremendous advantage, particularly when paired with knowledge of new Web-based technologies. "There is a very strong demand for these types of skills in banks and other institutions where you have a lot of in-house programming," he says. "I believe you're not going to choose one or the other...the future is having both." Jarman noted that IBM's Academic Initiative in which businesses' IT requirements are matched with local college studies programs is proving successful for both students and businesses alike.
Jarman says that figuring out exactly what customers want and meeting those needs takes having the right hardware products, but it's more often the software solution that will make a sale. IBM's Vertical Industry Program (VIP), in which the company addresses needs not only within a specific industry but also within a particular region or city, is achieving good results, Jarman says. Staying competitive with the low-cost Windows solutions providers is challenging and is what prompted the company's introduction of the smaller Model 515 and Model 525 that have been tuned to offer superior performance running Java-based applications. At the same time, customers were offered a granular and user-based pricing structure on the smaller systems that, he says, "is very easy to understand if you're looking at Windows because it's similar to a structure that you would buy in Windows-based applications."
"At the end of the day, to be competitive there, we need a competitive machine, but we also need a compelling solution.... What people look at is the solution, so to address the question of picking up new customers, we always need to be focused on solution-selling and making sure we have our attractive offerings featured through our solution provider."