In September 1992, IBM released a significant SSP enhancement for all S/36 users. The Value Added Software Package (VASP) was provided free of charge to any S/36 customer who placed his order via a tollfree number. Within days of delivery, customers began reporting significant bugs in the code, resulting in apparent losses of data files and a couple of reported system lockups.
While the complaints have not reached any kind of significant proportions, the neversaydie IBM bashers began their work in force. "The VASP is a disaster," they said. "How could IBM release such a cruddy product?" Undoubtedly there have been some problems, including at least one actual case of a system lockup (more about that later); but another midrange magazine's report of users desperate to remove the VASP from their systems seems incredibly overstated.
Now, I do not hesitate to castigate IBM in print or take an issue directly to IBM management when I think the complaints are warranted. Yet, from my observations, the VASP seems to have no greater number of problems than any other significant SSP release over the years. And, make no mistake, the VASP is a significant new release for SSP, no matter what IBM wants to call it.
Certainly there have been some screwups in the provision of the VASP. First, IBM failed to alert its field force of the VASP's release. For a while it was difficult to track down the tollfree number needed to order the VASP. As a result, many customers who made the mistake of calling their IBM rep or SE for the VASP were met with silence or with misdirection.
Second, IBM rushed to finish the VASP in time for September delivery. I would rather have seen it subjected to more rigorous testing, even if it meant a delay of a few weeks. And third, IBM failed to include externally defined files for RPG and COBOL in the VASP, probably because some marketing executive decided that this omission might give us another reason to migrate to an AS/400.
These failures pale, however, in comparison to what IBM has done right with the VASP. First and foremost, IBM showed that it is not writing off its huge installed base of S/36s. The VASP is part of a concerted effort to provide ongoing S/36 support. And while that effort may seem light on field support, it does include major enhancements to SSP, new functions and features we have never had on the S/36, and easier migration paths for those who do take the plunge.
Perhaps most importantly, IBM has made clear that it will continue to provide SSP defect support-especially on the VASP-for all customers.
Does the VASP have some serious bugs? Yes! Is IBM ignoring them and hanging S/36 users out to dry? No way! VASP Release 1.1 includes fixes for almost all reported bugs as of November. IBM is so concerned about fixing the problems that it has moved quickly on bug reports-even going so far as to call customers after patches are applied to make sure things are working. IBM's support for the VASP has been nothing short of outstanding. When you consider that the VASP results in no additional revenue whatsoever to Big Blue, the response IBM has made is incredible.
I promised I'd return to the report of a massive disaster with the VASP. A customer applied the VASP while adding new disks and doing other hardware upgrades to his 5360. Given that the customer was doing far more than just applying the VASP to a stable system, it seems a bit premature to pin all the blame on the VASP. I suspect that while IBM bashers have attributed this problem solely to the VASP, the problem was much more complicated.
What's a S/36 shop to do? If you listen to the folks who feel IBM can never get it right, you could miss out on the best thing to happen to the S/36 since the original Release 5.0. You'll remember that Release 5.0 had bugs, too- hundreds of them! That's what PTFs are for. If we never made a move for fear of bugs, we'd never make a move. The VASP is worth the effort, worth the risk of a few bugs which have been, and will be, repaired as quickly as possible.
Not long ago, IBM was ready to write off the S/36. Powerful forces within IBM wanted to drop all support for the S/36 to drive customers to the AS/400. The VASP signifies a major turnabout in providing continuing S/36 support. It shows that IBMers who do care about customer loyalty and customer support occasionally manage to win the internal battles. It's just too bad that inveterate IBM bashers can't give credit to IBM when it does something right. By failing to do so, they give comfort to those within IBM who are driven solely by sales quotas for the next quarter.
Get the VASP. You need it and those in IBM who support you also need it.