With new application development and system management tools, a powerful new hardware chipset, and a commitment to preserve customers' software assets, IBM customers have much to look forward to.
Having returned from COMMON's 50th Anniversary conference and exposition in Orlando last week, I think it's clear to everyone who was there that the IBM Power Systems platform and IBM i operating system will be with us for many years to come. If I could summarize the themes of the show, they would be these: modernization, consolidation, automation, and virtualization.
Business computing as we know it is evolving. While it has traditionally lagged behind the leading edge of technology—which today might be exemplified by gaming—business computing never stands still. IBM has in years past taken its share of criticism for lagging behind other solution providers with technology development, but IBM is committed to protecting its customers' investment in software. For many businesses, their software solutions and business processes are among their most valuable assets. This commitment is paramount to IBM and one that the company continues to honor, unlike some other technology firms that have jerked their customers around by creating expensive stipulations necessary for them to move forward with technology. While the exception to this might be IBM's requirement to convert objects in order to run on IBM i 6.1, running the ANZOBJCVN utility gives users an accurate heads up of whether their applications will have any hiccups working on the advanced IBM i operating systems—either 6.1 or 7.1.
That said, announcements coming out of the COMMON conference were significant, and developers and ISVs appear to have their work cut out for them for years to come. Companies including IBM, Halcyon, CCSS, Help/Systems, Vision Solutions, and Maximum Availability, among others, have upgraded their management and monitoring solutions, giving administrators the ability not only to manage vast numbers of inter-dependent systems but even to do it from mobile devices. The introduction of PowerVM into the midrange space greatly expands the utility of the Power Systems platforms, allowing the incorporation and consolidation of IBM i, AIX, and Linux onto a single box. No, Power doesn't run Windows, and it probably never will (thanks to Microsoft, we're told), but Windows servers can be integrated into Power Systems with a simple x86 card, thereby allowing for shared storage.
The industry's big challenge today is how to modernize thousands of legacy applications to run on the advanced POWER7 platform. This chipset is so powerful, so fast, and so efficient that it has catapulted IBM into the forefront of the hardware technology space. Ross Mauri, general manager of the IBM Systems and Technology group, told a gathering of editors at COMMON that for the first time he felt he could compete with any platform on the market, based on cost or speed, given the characteristics of the POWER7 systems (more and smaller systems, including POWER7 blades, will be rolled out later this year, he said).
As usual, the hardware is evolving at a pace that exceeds software developers' abilities to keep up, and only the nimble will survive. The irony is that because of IBM's commitment to preserving its customers' assets, nearly all the applications written to date already run on POWER7. That's the good news. The bad news is that many of these are green-screen applications that senior management is embarrassed to have running in their organization for fear their bosses or their boards of directors will mistakenly conclude that they are treading water and content to have their employees work with tools out of the dark ages.
Dr. Frank Soltis, AS/400 founder, gave a Webinar recently in conjunction with Vision Solutions, and he pointed out that the AS/400—Power Systems/iSeries/System i—platform is really a mainframe computer. Users of mainframes, however, seem content still to work on terminals with green-screens—but not users of midrange "mainframe" computers. Go figure. Could mainframes be the next modernization frontier?
Nevertheless, the move is on to modernize IBM i platform applications, and the tools that vendors such as BCD Software, looksoftware, Profound Logic, LANSA, mrc, Zend, Databorough, CNX, and IBM Rational, as well as others, have developed at a cost of many millions of dollars are now providing developers with the tools that they need today to offer an unobstructed path to modernize their legacy applications while reducing the cost and risk of doing so.
This challenge is now at the doorstep of developers and ISVs, who have the wind at their back through the growing efforts of the iManifest members, who seem determined to expand the rallying cry around IBM i. Regardless of whether you buy into the RPG Open Access approach or go with an alternative method, there is no reason today not to act. IBM has given the industry a chipset that is extremely powerful and cost-effective, the tools community has created some very sophisticated modernization tools to work with, and now the baton is being passed to the developer community to learn the skills, obtain the funding from management, and get the job done.