Want to Hear Nice Things Said About IBM i? Go to Saudi Arabia

Analysis of News Events
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Frequent business presentations in the Mideast clearly articulate the benefits of the i operating system.


With all the talk about iManifest in Japan, Europe, and the United States, we couldn't help but notice a report out of Saudi Arabia last month about a series of IBM promotional events called "Move Up to i Roadshows."


The symposia were held in three Saudi cities—Jeddah, Al Khobar, and Riyadh—on October 5, 6, and 7. Topics included Power Systems and the IBM i roadmap; high availability, business continuity and resiliency; virtualization strategies; DB2 Web Query, and IBM's Dynamic Infrastructure—the company's new approach to making an infrastructure that is ready for a "smarter" and more resource-conservative planet. The message was directed primarily at existing IBM customers in an effort to get them to upgrade, but it got a fair amount of press in the local media and undoubtedly attracted IT professionals and business leaders considering moves from other competing platforms.


The events were hosted by IBM and Saudi Business Machines (SBM), the general marketing and services representative of IBM World Trade Corp. (WTC). It was not the first time that SBM had hosted such events in Saudi Arabia, having given similar presentations in spring 2008 with good results. Saudi Arabia is a valued customer of IBM's, and the country is in the process of upgrading its entire governmental infrastructure using IBM hardware, software, and services.


What I found interesting about the roadshows, from the standpoint of publicity, is that the true benefits of the IBM i platform were extremely well articulated within the context of the newer Power Systems hardware platforms. For some reason, the message that IBM i running on Power Systems servers offers a highly scalable and virus-resistant architecture with a proven reputation for exceptional business resiliency gets drowned out in the U.S. by the drumbeat of Microsoft and the company's youthful followers. Perhaps it's because the U.S. prides itself on being a youthful culture. Or perhaps it's because Madison Avenue has captured the hearts and minds of today's trendsetters with the iPod and the iPhone. Whatever the reason, the enduring message of the IBM i's 5,000 proven solutions (from more than 2,500 ISVs) that run on a highly stable database and middleware foundation, tested and pre-integrated prior to delivery, has less sex appeal than a buggy, virus-prone operating system that hasn't quite gotten it right in 20 years.


The word "trust" comes up in the copy used to describe the Saudi roadshows, specifically in the form of "a platform you can trust." A story in the Saudi trade press says, "…getting there with IBM i means implementing proven solutions on a platform you can trust."


The story goes on to say, "IBM i integrates a trusted combination of relational database, Web services, networking, and storage management capabilities. It provides a broad and highly stable database and middleware foundation for efficiently deploying business processing applications with support for over 5,000 solutions from over 2,500 ISVs. i solutions are offered through an extensive highly skilled worldwide network of IBM Business Partners [that's exaggeration!] that is backed by IBM's trusted services and support infrastructure."


In discussing the roadshows, the publication talks about IBM i having "more customers than any other IBM system platform" and being "present in 115+ countries" across more than 20 industries. The operating system runs on the "fastest processors in the industry"—the POWER6 5.0 GHz chip on servers with from 1 to 64 cores.


"IBM develops, fully tests, and pre-loads the core middleware components of i together up front," the article states, pointing out that with other platforms, the operating system, database, and middleware integration "is done in the data center." The article notes that "the pre-integration and testing of i is a key factor in enabling companies to deploy applications faster and maintain them with fewer staff."


The press also covers the virtualization and workload management features that are "also built into i to enable you to run multiple applications and components together on the same system, driving up system utilization and delivering a better return on investments."


There are so many features that can be discussed and elaborated on with regard to IBM i that one wonders why there isn't more emphasis in public forums at home about the operating system. Is it that the early evangelists for the system—men such as Dick Bains, Al Barsa, Frank Soltis, and others—have either passed away or retired? Or is it because the management within IBM is so focused on profits, stock prices, and ensuring a good return to shareholders that it has lost touch with the core values that helped make the company what it is today?


We can only wonder if Robert Moffat Jr. was as interested in promoting the message behind the IBM i operating system as he apparently was in discussing with Wall Street insiders the latest moves IBM was making prior to acquiring yet another technology company. There is a difference between developing technology that you're proud of and explaining it to other people—as Frank Soltis and Dick Bains each did for me over the years—versus acquiring companies that have developed technologies you believe you can market successfully to the IT industry. Developing technology by yourself takes long hours, imagination, and lots of hard work, and it's fraught with risk. Selling technology that somebody else develops, while admirable in its own way, doesn't carry the same authority.


The IBM i operating system is technology that IBM pioneers built, technology that has carried the company a long way. It seems only right that the company should continue to acknowledge its heritage with an adequately funded and dedicated IBM i business unit—with its own high-level evangelist—who has a genuine passion to deliver the message about IBM i in the United States as effectively as Saudi Business Machines seems to be doing in Saudi Arabia. That Business Partners around the world feel compelled to create an organization like iManifest is, in fact, a disgrace to the company that built a small empire on this fine platform.