In My Opinion: IBM's New Openness Policy

  • Smaller Small Medium Big Bigger
  • Default Helvetica Segoe Georgia Times

The AS/400 is known for its closed architecture. Does it have a future in an open systems world? It seems like the computer trade press is giving a lot of attention to open systems lately. Should AS/400 users regard it as media hoopla or a real phenomenon?

A recent International Data Corporation (IDC) white paper explains, "Since 1946, the International Standards Organization (ISO) has been involved in worldwide standards development and adoption on behalf of its almost 100 represented countries. In 1977, the ISO decided to expand its standards- setting work to include computer-to-computer communications. At that time, a formal working group was given the charter to develop the OSI Reference Model."

OSI means Open Systems Interconnect, and IDC forecasts that it will be, "the next big step in the evolution of networking computers to computers, applications to applications and, most importantly, end users to information."

The U.S. government now mandates that its computer acquisitions meet OSI standards. And it's no surprise that IBM announced, with OS/400 version 2, its OSI Communications Subsystem/400, OSI Message Services/400 and OSI File Services/400. IBM sells computers to the government, and without OSI support, the AS/400 would never get in the door.

But open systems can have different meanings, depending on whom you talk to. The IEEE says, "an open systems environment supports a comprehensive and consistent set of informational technology standards and functional standards to accomplish interoperability and portability of applications, data and people." So the IEEE thinks that an open system is one based on standards. But in a recent Computerworld editorial, Scott McNealy said, "Many vendors equate open systems with standards. However, these are not the same thing." And on the same page, Bill Gates of Microsoft said that open systems simply means, "Customers are able to choose their products and solutions from a host of hardware and software vendors . . . the personal computer industry shows how this can be accomplished with great benefits to the user."

Personally, I like Bill Gates' definition best. The PC marketplace swarms with vendors, and customers have a multitude of product choices at very reasonable prices. Unfortunately, that's the very reason why IBM planners are ambivalent when it comes to AS/400 openness. They want to expand their market, but they don't want to lose control over it.

Wanting to have it both ways, IBM is using its propaganda machine to convince users that the AS/400 will be open, proudly touting the application programming interfaces (APIs) provided first in OS/400 version 1, release 3, and now in OS/400 version 2, release 1. Although these APIs will provide end users with at least a limited degree of access to OS/400 internals, some vendors have found them to be unacceptably slow, and cannot use them for developing performance-intensive system tools and utilities.

While turning its openness smiley face towards users, IBM is choking independent software vendors that need internal interfaces to build compilers, productivity aids and other system utilities. Level 40 security blocks access to any OS/400 interface that IBM designates as off limits. If a needed function is not available through an API, vendors are supposed to ask IBM to create a new API. And while the vendors' product plans are on hold, IBM gets to preview them by examining the API requirements. In today's fast-paced market, that may mean death for software vendors caught between IBM and a market that doesn't want to wait.

IBM planners may imagine their strategy will create an AS/400 world with little competition from independent software vendors -- a world where customers sing the IBM openness song. But reality will quickly set in when Hewlett Packard, NCR, DEC, Bull and other vendors penetrate the market with their own open systems, stealing market share from IBM. The propaganda will burn away like morning fog.

If the IBM planners could overcome their lingering fear of the plug compatible manufacturers from the System/370 days, they could lead the open systems parade with an AS/400 that is truly open. Hidden beneath OS/400 is an architecture that computer scientists would call a virtual machine. IBM simply calls it machine interface, or MI. It's the result of the 1970's Future Systems project into which IBM poured untold millions to develop a successor to the System/370 mainframe line. That project was scrapped, but the architecture survived, first in the System/38, and now in the AS/400.

Some developers who use MI wonder why IBM doesn't publicize it and open it up to the world. It could be the most significant advance in computer architecture since the System/360. It has the performance characteristics of assembly language, but eliminates much of the pain involved in low-level programming. Its powerful, simple elegance is ideal for building compilers, system utilities and high performance application software. If IBM wants to lead the market with a standards-based, open system, MI would be the ideal platform on which to build it.

But IBM planners may be afraid that opening MI would allow hardware competitors to clone the AS/400, the same way the plug compatible manufacturers cloned the System/370. However, the MI specification could not be cloned directly -- the way the System/370 instruction set was. The hidden function embedded in the layers of microcode is orders of magnitude more complex than the function driving the System/370 instruction set. Cloning it would be prohibitively expensive, even for a vendor with deep pockets. And after 12 years in production and enhancements too numerous to list, who could ever catch up now?

Others within IBM may want to keep independent software vendors away from MI and the system internals just to avoid headaches. IBM doesn't like to be annoyed by a bunch of software vendors asking for internals documentation, pointing out all the ugly little design and coding flaws they find in the operating system. But I think IBM would better serve its own interests by cooperating with the nerdy vendors. Some have the expertise to teach IBM developers things they don't even know about their own products.

Hidden within OS/400 is a developer's paradise of untapped function. If IBM wants to sell more AS/400s, they should publish parameter lists, function descriptions and other vital interface specifications for the OS/400 system modules, and encourage vendors to use them. Like the PC market, the midrange market would swarm with vendors, customers would have choices and IBM would sell more AS/400s.

Security level 40 can be maintained, even with vendor openness. There are only a handful of system modules that comprise the security kernel. They can remain off limits, and the rest (around 3,000!) can be opened to vendors who want them.

Wake up and smell the coffee, IBM. It's going to be an open systems day.



Support MC Press Online





  • White Paper: Node.js for Enterprise IBM i Modernization

    SB Profound WP 5539

    If your business is thinking about modernizing your legacy IBM i (also known as AS/400 or iSeries) applications, you will want to read this white paper first!

    Download this paper and learn how Node.js can ensure that you:
    - Modernize on-time and budget - no more lengthy, costly, disruptive app rewrites!
    - Retain your IBM i systems of record
    - Find and hire new development talent
    - Integrate new Node.js applications with your existing RPG, Java, .Net, and PHP apps
    - Extend your IBM i capabilties to include Watson API, Cloud, and Internet of Things

    Read Node.js for Enterprise IBM i Modernization Now!


  • Profound Logic Solution Guide

    SB Profound WP 5539More than ever, there is a demand for IT to deliver innovation.
    Your IBM i has been an essential part of your business operations for years. However, your organization may struggle to maintain the current system and implement new projects.
    The thousands of customers we've worked with and surveyed state that expectations regarding the digital footprint and vision of the companyare not aligned with the current IT environment.

    Get your copy of this important guide today!


  • 2022 IBM i Marketplace Survey Results

    Fortra2022 marks the eighth edition of the IBM i Marketplace Survey Results. Each year, Fortra captures data on how businesses use the IBM i platform and the IT and cybersecurity initiatives it supports.

    Over the years, this survey has become a true industry benchmark, revealing to readers the trends that are shaping and driving the market and providing insight into what the future may bring for this technology.

  • Brunswick bowls a perfect 300 with LANSA!

    FortraBrunswick is the leader in bowling products, services, and industry expertise for the development and renovation of new and existing bowling centers and mixed-use recreation facilities across the entertainment industry. However, the lifeblood of Brunswick’s capital equipment business was running on a 15-year-old software application written in Visual Basic 6 (VB6) with a SQL Server back-end. The application was at the end of its life and needed to be replaced.
    With the help of Visual LANSA, they found an easy-to-use, long-term platform that enabled their team to collaborate, innovate, and integrate with existing systems and databases within a single platform.
    Read the case study to learn how they achieved success and increased the speed of development by 30% with Visual LANSA.


  • Progressive Web Apps: Create a Universal Experience Across All Devices

    LANSAProgressive Web Apps allow you to reach anyone, anywhere, and on any device with a single unified codebase. This means that your applications—regardless of browser, device, or platform—instantly become more reliable and consistent. They are the present and future of application development, and more and more businesses are catching on.
    Download this whitepaper and learn:

    • How PWAs support fast application development and streamline DevOps
    • How to give your business a competitive edge using PWAs
    • What makes progressive web apps so versatile, both online and offline



  • The Power of Coding in a Low-Code Solution

    LANSAWhen it comes to creating your business applications, there are hundreds of coding platforms and programming languages to choose from. These options range from very complex traditional programming languages to Low-Code platforms where sometimes no traditional coding experience is needed.
    Download our whitepaper, The Power of Writing Code in a Low-Code Solution, and:

    • Discover the benefits of Low-code's quick application creation
    • Understand the differences in model-based and language-based Low-Code platforms
    • Explore the strengths of LANSA's Low-Code Solution to Low-Code’s biggest drawbacks



  • Why Migrate When You Can Modernize?

    LANSABusiness users want new applications now. Market and regulatory pressures require faster application updates and delivery into production. Your IBM i developers may be approaching retirement, and you see no sure way to fill their positions with experienced developers. In addition, you may be caught between maintaining your existing applications and the uncertainty of moving to something new.
    In this white paper, you’ll learn how to think of these issues as opportunities rather than problems. We’ll explore motivations to migrate or modernize, their risks and considerations you should be aware of before embarking on a (migration or modernization) project.
    Lastly, we’ll discuss how modernizing IBM i applications with optimized business workflows, integration with other technologies and new mobile and web user interfaces will enable IT – and the business – to experience time-added value and much more.


  • UPDATED: Developer Kit: Making a Business Case for Modernization and Beyond

    Profound Logic Software, Inc.Having trouble getting management approval for modernization projects? The problem may be you're not speaking enough "business" to them.

    This Developer Kit provides you study-backed data and a ready-to-use business case template to help get your very next development project approved!

  • What to Do When Your AS/400 Talent Retires

    FortraIT managers hoping to find new IBM i talent are discovering that the pool of experienced RPG programmers and operators or administrators is small.

    This guide offers strategies and software suggestions to help you plan IT staffing and resources and smooth the transition after your AS/400 talent retires. Read on to learn:

    • Why IBM i skills depletion is a top concern
    • How leading organizations are coping
    • Where automation will make the biggest impact


  • Node.js on IBM i Webinar Series Pt. 2: Setting Up Your Development Tools

    Profound Logic Software, Inc.Have you been wondering about Node.js? Our free Node.js Webinar Series takes you from total beginner to creating a fully-functional IBM i Node.js business application. In Part 2, Brian May teaches you the different tooling options available for writing code, debugging, and using Git for version control. Attend this webinar to learn:

    • Different tools to develop Node.js applications on IBM i
    • Debugging Node.js
    • The basics of Git and tools to help those new to it
    • Using as a pre-built development environment



  • Expert Tips for IBM i Security: Beyond the Basics

    SB PowerTech WC GenericIn this session, IBM i security expert Robin Tatam provides a quick recap of IBM i security basics and guides you through some advanced cybersecurity techniques that can help you take data protection to the next level. Robin will cover:

    • Reducing the risk posed by special authorities
    • Establishing object-level security
    • Overseeing user actions and data access

    Don't miss this chance to take your knowledge of IBM i security beyond the basics.



  • 5 IBM i Security Quick Wins

    SB PowerTech WC GenericIn today’s threat landscape, upper management is laser-focused on cybersecurity. You need to make progress in securing your systems—and make it fast.
    There’s no shortage of actions you could take, but what tactics will actually deliver the results you need? And how can you find a security strategy that fits your budget and time constraints?
    Join top IBM i security expert Robin Tatam as he outlines the five fastest and most impactful changes you can make to strengthen IBM i security this year.
    Your system didn’t become unsecure overnight and you won’t be able to turn it around overnight either. But quick wins are possible with IBM i security, and Robin Tatam will show you how to achieve them.

  • Security Bulletin: Malware Infection Discovered on IBM i Server!

    SB PowerTech WC GenericMalicious programs can bring entire businesses to their knees—and IBM i shops are not immune. It’s critical to grasp the true impact malware can have on IBM i and the network that connects to it. Attend this webinar to gain a thorough understanding of the relationships between:

    • Viruses, native objects, and the integrated file system (IFS)
    • Power Systems and Windows-based viruses and malware
    • PC-based anti-virus scanning versus native IBM i scanning

    There are a number of ways you can minimize your exposure to viruses. IBM i security expert Sandi Moore explains the facts, including how to ensure you're fully protected and compliant with regulations such as PCI.



  • Encryption on IBM i Simplified

    SB PowerTech WC GenericDB2 Field Procedures (FieldProcs) were introduced in IBM i 7.1 and have greatly simplified encryption, often without requiring any application changes. Now you can quickly encrypt sensitive data on the IBM i including PII, PCI, PHI data in your physical files and tables.
    Watch this webinar to learn how you can quickly implement encryption on the IBM i. During the webinar, security expert Robin Tatam will show you how to:

    • Use Field Procedures to automate encryption and decryption
    • Restrict and mask field level access by user or group
    • Meet compliance requirements with effective key management and audit trails


  • Lessons Learned from IBM i Cyber Attacks

    SB PowerTech WC GenericDespite the many options IBM has provided to protect your systems and data, many organizations still struggle to apply appropriate security controls.
    In this webinar, you'll get insight into how the criminals accessed these systems, the fallout from these attacks, and how the incidents could have been avoided by following security best practices.

    • Learn which security gaps cyber criminals love most
    • Find out how other IBM i organizations have fallen victim
    • Get the details on policies and processes you can implement to protect your organization, even when staff works from home

    You will learn the steps you can take to avoid the mistakes made in these examples, as well as other inadequate and misconfigured settings that put businesses at risk.



  • The Power of Coding in a Low-Code Solution

    SB PowerTech WC GenericWhen it comes to creating your business applications, there are hundreds of coding platforms and programming languages to choose from. These options range from very complex traditional programming languages to Low-Code platforms where sometimes no traditional coding experience is needed.
    Download our whitepaper, The Power of Writing Code in a Low-Code Solution, and:

    • Discover the benefits of Low-code's quick application creation
    • Understand the differences in model-based and language-based Low-Code platforms
    • Explore the strengths of LANSA's Low-Code Solution to Low-Code’s biggest drawbacks



  • Node Webinar Series Pt. 1: The World of Node.js on IBM i

    SB Profound WC GenericHave you been wondering about Node.js? Our free Node.js Webinar Series takes you from total beginner to creating a fully-functional IBM i Node.js business application.
    Part 1 will teach you what Node.js is, why it's a great option for IBM i shops, and how to take advantage of the ecosystem surrounding Node.
    In addition to background information, our Director of Product Development Scott Klement will demonstrate applications that take advantage of the Node Package Manager (npm).
    Watch Now.

  • The Biggest Mistakes in IBM i Security

    SB Profound WC Generic The Biggest Mistakes in IBM i Security
    Here’s the harsh reality: cybersecurity pros have to get their jobs right every single day, while an attacker only has to succeed once to do incredible damage.
    Whether that’s thousands of exposed records, millions of dollars in fines and legal fees, or diminished share value, it’s easy to judge organizations that fall victim. IBM i enjoys an enviable reputation for security, but no system is impervious to mistakes.
    Join this webinar to learn about the biggest errors made when securing a Power Systems server.
    This knowledge is critical for ensuring integrity of your application data and preventing you from becoming the next Equifax. It’s also essential for complying with all formal regulations, including SOX, PCI, GDPR, and HIPAA
    Watch Now.

  • Comply in 5! Well, actually UNDER 5 minutes!!

    SB CYBRA PPL 5382

    TRY the one package that solves all your document design and printing challenges on all your platforms.

    Produce bar code labels, electronic forms, ad hoc reports, and RFID tags – without programming! MarkMagic is the only document design and print solution that combines report writing, WYSIWYG label and forms design, and conditional printing in one integrated product.

    Request your trial now!

  • Backup and Recovery on IBM i: Your Strategy for the Unexpected

    FortraRobot automates the routine tasks of iSeries backup and recovery, saving you time and money and making the process safer and more reliable. Automate your backups with the Robot Backup and Recovery Solution. Key features include:
    - Simplified backup procedures
    - Easy data encryption
    - Save media management
    - Guided restoration
    - Seamless product integration
    Make sure your data survives when catastrophe hits. Try the Robot Backup and Recovery Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • Manage IBM i Messages by Exception with Robot

    SB HelpSystems SC 5413Managing messages on your IBM i can be more than a full-time job if you have to do it manually. How can you be sure you won’t miss important system events?
    Automate your message center with the Robot Message Management Solution. Key features include:
    - Automated message management
    - Tailored notifications and automatic escalation
    - System-wide control of your IBM i partitions
    - Two-way system notifications from your mobile device
    - Seamless product integration
    Try the Robot Message Management Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • Easiest Way to Save Money? Stop Printing IBM i Reports

    FortraRobot automates report bursting, distribution, bundling, and archiving, and offers secure, selective online report viewing.
    Manage your reports with the Robot Report Management Solution. Key features include:

    - Automated report distribution
    - View online without delay
    - Browser interface to make notes
    - Custom retention capabilities
    - Seamless product integration
    Rerun another report? Never again. Try the Robot Report Management Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • Hassle-Free IBM i Operations around the Clock

    SB HelpSystems SC 5413For over 30 years, Robot has been a leader in systems management for IBM i.
    Manage your job schedule with the Robot Job Scheduling Solution. Key features include:
    - Automated batch, interactive, and cross-platform scheduling
    - Event-driven dependency processing
    - Centralized monitoring and reporting
    - Audit log and ready-to-use reports
    - Seamless product integration
    Scale your software, not your staff. Try the Robot Job Scheduling Solution FREE for 30 days.