There are some voices that say the IBM i might be declining as a platform. Profound Logic CEO Alex Roytman is not one of them.
The maturing of the IBM i market has been with us for some years, but the quality of that maturation sparks debate. Does the platform's current state, along with such other factors as IBM's boosting of Watson, mean the IBM i has reached a point in its life cycle where decline is inevitable, or has it simply reached an equilibrium at which it will continue to thrive for the foreseeable future?
Profound Logic CEO Alex Roytman, an IBM i market veteran from its earliest years, is among those in the latter camp. From his point of view, the i as a platform continues to prosper and still has a bright future.
App Modernization Is a Key to Continued IBM i Health
"We’re an application modernization company, and things have been booming for us," Roytman observes. "It seems there is so much development and so many exciting things happening in the IBM i space."
Not surprisingly, Roytman sees app modernization as a growth area for the IBM i.
"With modern tools, the IBM i is an amazing platform with better capabilities than most alternatives. We’ve seen many failed attempts for IBM i shops to try to migrate away—it’s a very difficult task, prone to failure. Often, the idea to migrate away from IBM i is driven by the perception that green-screen interfaces give the platform an antiquated look. In all other ways, the platform is stable and capable. There is high demand for good-quality solutions that help modernize applications on all levels: user interface, application code, and databases. All our customers are existing IBM i shops. We have no problems finding companies needing to modernize. We’ve nearly doubled our staff in the past year because of the growth we’re experiencing. In fact, we are experiencing growing pains because too much business is coming our way—a good problem to have."
Enterprises are often using the IBM i in mixed-platform environments, which may be fueling some envy when users compare green-screen interfaces to eye-catching Linux or Windows GUIs. Roytman sees this as an opportunity rather than a threat. "Although it's hard to gauge because we mostly deal with IBM i shops, it seems like nearly everyone had other platforms in their environments. However, IBM i is often the core system."
Roytman goes on to outline a typical modernization progression at enterprises that retain the platform.
"An effective method is to modernize iteratively, rather than 'rip and replace.' We have seen so much success doing it that way. Once the user interface is modernized, the desire to migrate from the platform quickly dissipates. Next, the company can look at modernizing the database and the application code. This is an iterative process. In computing, things are always changing and you need to keep modernizing continuously. This is the case whether you run applications on IBM i or on any other platform. What seemed modern yesterday looks antiquated today, and what seems modern today will look antiquated tomorrow."
Watson and Open-Source Tech Are IBM i's Big Opportunities
"Open-source technologies like Node.js will be key to integration and modernization of IBM i systems," Roytman predicts confidently. He also sees IBM's attention to the Watson platform as no threat to the IBM i.
"IBM i is typically the 'system of record' that uses traditional relational databases," Roytman points out. "This will not be replaced by Watson, but rather integrated with it where necessary. So embracing Watson means having the capability to integrate traditional IBM i applications with Watson capabilities. What helps here is the fact that IBM is now bringing lots of open-source technologies to IBM i. Most notably, the addition of native support for Node.js on IBM i.
"Our company is embracing Node.js, which provides an easy way to integrate with Watson and the cloud. Our customers will be able to convert RPG to Node.js and to call Node.js applications directly from RPG. Our tools already provide the capability of expanding to Watson."
However, Roytman views Watson as an IBM i ally rather than a threat. "There will forever be a need for traditional relational database 'systems of record' like the IBM i. So not everything will have to be built on Watson, but having the ability to integrate with it will be important."
The Impact of Cloud Computing and Mobile Devices
Another issue facing the IBM i market is the growth of cloud computing. Roytman simply takes its implications in stride.
"I do see that running software in the cloud will only become more popular as time goes on. [But] the type of software we sell doesn’t lend itself perfectly to a cloud licensing model, so we’re predominantly using perpetual types of licensing. However, many of our customers are other software vendors, and they use our technology to enable them to go to the cloud. A number of our customers are application vendors who use our development platform to host their applications in the cloud and offer those to their customers. So, cloud computing certainly has an impact on our business." On the other hand, Roytman also doesn't think his company will be offering its software on an application service provider (ASP) basis.
Like many enterprises, Profound Logic is also feeling the impact of increased user demand for application accessibility from mobile devices.
"Our company provides a mobile platform that enables migration of traditional green-screen and browser applications to mobile within a fraction of time of any other type of solution. The platform has been used successfully both internally and with many of our customers," Roytman reports.
"One thing that makes us stand out from our competitors is that everything we create runs natively on IBM i without middleware. We go 'deeper' when it comes to modernizing applications. For example, instead of putting something on top of a green-screen (the traditional approach for modernizing in the industry), we are able to eliminate the green-screen altogether. Once our customers modernize, they can retire their DDS and green-screens completely."
"Our Profound UI platform has had regular monthly updates since its launch in 2010. We incorporated close to 4,000 enhancements into the product since then," Roytman notes proudly. "I imagine this is different compared to many other vendors in the industry. I wouldn’t be surprised if the average is only a handful of enhancements per year for the typical vendor in the IBM i space."
As for the prospect of the current cadre of IBM i developers disappearing over the next few years, Roytman takes a common-sense approach. "The aging population of developers in the industry is a challenge. The solution is to hire new, younger talent. What helps with that is embracing open source and modernizing existing systems. For RPG, completely moving to free-format syntax will be very important. Continued adoption of open-source technologies like Node.js will also encourage people in their 20s to get involved with the IBM i platform."
Finally, Roytman is still views COMMON as crucial to the IBM i user base.
"I believe COMMON is still very important—you get exposed to much more (the latest and greatest) information at COMMON than just using online learning and so forth," Roytman concludes.