In the Wheelhouse: What Can We Do for IBM i in 2014?

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As IBM i professionals, we need to ensure our community is growing along with the operating system. And in that spirit, how do we give our IBM i community the equivalent of a Technology Refresh?

Just what can we do for IBM i in 2014?


I've been thinking about this question as others have written their 2013 wrap-ups, looking back on advances such as IBM i 7.1 Technology Refresh 6 and 7, the POWER7+ announcements and teasers about POWER8, finally having IBM Connections and IBM Notes Traveler on IBM i (which I'm still just ecstatic about), the PowerLinux investments, updates to IBM Access Client Solutions, IBM Navigator for i, and much, much more. Many people have covered all of these topics throughout the year by way of articles, blogs, tweets, webcasts, and conference sessions. It's been a grand year for the platform, and for many, talking about it has been a labor of love done in the true spirit of volunteering.


Personally, I think the best thing we as a community can do for IBM i is to contribute to the visibility of the community.


Contribute, you say? Absolutely. The IBM i and greater Power Systems community is out there. We need to reach out to each other to share content, increase our visibility, and network with each other so that our numbers are not as abstract as they appear. While there are over 150,000 businesses using IBM i in the world today, we tend to over-dissect that numberfor both the right and wrong reasons. Some pundits who are not even in the IBM i community anymore and who make a living by selling other solutions like to take that number and twist it in such a way as to make it look like the IBM i install base is falling apart at the seams, with companies dropping the platform like a bad habit. They see RPG as a dead language although it literally had major updates as recently as a few weeks ago. They like to overlook the fact that companies consolidate IBM i instances from older, weaker hardware onto modern, higher-horsepower machines for equal or less cost and then talk about the decline of IBM Power Systems sales. It may not be the glory days of the AS/400 anymore, but we're certainly not near death's door. In fact, I see more of a start of a new resurgence than anything. It's a new age with new tools, both on the IBM i and Power Systems platforms and with technology in general. PHP and Ruby are modern web development tools. IBM Connections is a complete social software solution. RPG Open Access allows us to leverage our existing skill sets and provide a browser experience for our users, which is what the world not only demands but expects as an interface by default.


So how can we all contribute?


First, we can help increase the amount of online content and general IBM i chatter. The IBMi25 campaign this year was tremendous, and the spirit of that really needs to continue. IBMers like Steve Will, Tim Rowe, Dawn May, and Mike Cain have been blogging on a regular basis about areas of IBM i they work on. There are many customers and consultants who write about IBM i, but the more people who do that the better. Step up and write about what you do! Reach out and make yourself known as a loud and proud IBM i professional.


Tweet about what you're doing on IBM i with the #IBMi hash tag. Create a blog about it. If you feel confident about blogging, install WordPress on IBM i and then write about how you did it! It doesn't take that much effort, and it gets the content out there for other IBM i professionals to absorb.


Attend the next COMMON User Group conference in Orlando. There are more than 200 sessions on IBM i alone! Even outside the sessions you can get so much value from talking to people in the hallways or standing in line getting a cup of coffee.


Another thing we can do is to leave the old names behind and say goodbye to the "AS/400." Indulge me for a moment.


There's no doubt that IBM i has a rich history, and the advent of the AS/400 and OS/400 in 1988 was a milestone for computing for many reasons that we all know about. There's no reason to elaborate.


Terms like "AS/400," "iSeries," "System i" and their associated operating systems OS/400 and i5/OS need to be retired from our vocabulary when talking about our modern systems. Slang such as "the 400" needs to go too unless of course we're talking about history.


IBM i came to life six years ago as a rebranding of OS/400 (well, technically it very briefly was i5/OS) along with the Power Systems brand, which is a new hardware platform to replace the System i and System p, allowing IBM i, AIX, and PowerLinux to run alongside each other. Companies wanting to run both AIX and IBM i no longer need separate hardware to do so. Simplicity and streamlining of manufacturing were also big reasons those lines converged.


Why have those old names reached their "best before" date? Well, although the name AS/400 speaks of a rock solid system, it also conjures up negative adjectives ("old" being the most obvious). "Legacy" is another term I've detested for years since it's usually thrown about as a dig as well. However, Colin Parris made a neat comment at the COMMON Users Group meeting in Austin, Texas, last spring. He said very simply that "legacy means proven." You could almost hear the crowd shift their perspective on the word "proven." It's amazing what power words hold if you just see them in a different light.


From a branding perspective, I would say that IBM wants to put as much space possible between what they have on the shelf now and what they had on the shelf 25 years ago. Can you really blame them for that? If you like the name IBM i or not, it is what it is.


Celebrating historical achievements is one thing. Using old brands is entirely different, especially when technology gets reinvented so often. A little perspective? I was nine years old and playing the original Super Mario Brothers on a first-generation Nintendo console when the AS/400 was announced. That's two years before CD-R technology was introduced to the world and around the time Billy Ocean was singing "Get Out of My Dreams, Get Into My Car."


 So, what do we really gain by not using the AS/400 name?


If we run IBM i on Power Systems, we should educate our users and colleagues to use the correct name for two main reasons:


1. It's the actual name of the operating system and hardware that we use.


2. It ensures that everyone in the company, from shop floor to CEO, is aware we are investing in modern technology.


We can give users a greater appreciation of our IT departments and our modern systems. They'll have confidence that we can deliver solutions they perhaps thought were not possible on "the 400."


It also means we have to perform much less justification down the road.


We don't really have to change anything, other than our perspective and terminology. What do we gain by calling it "the 400?" Absolutely nothing. We can gain so much more by rightfully calling it IBM i on Power Systems and taking a minor amount of time to provide a little bit of education, something some IT folks have abandoned as not "part of the job." I strongly disagree. Education opens the doors that people aren't even aware exist.


So, if you use Power Systems but call it an AS/400 or an iSeries or a System i, please ask yourself: What do you gain from that? Familiarity? A comfort zone? There is no comfort zone if you're a true IT professional. We're on the edge, breaking boundaries and trailblazing new paths to productivity and savings. As IT professionals, where the tools of the trade change so very often, we have the opportunity to engage people and educate them on the technological monster combination that IBM i on Power Systems is! We can't do PHP or Ruby on an AS/400. We can't do Live Partition Mobility on an AS/400. Heck, we can't even plug a USB thumb drive into an AS/400. IBM i on Power Systems is not the same as an AS/400, so our community needs to update our collective language to reflect that.


Maybe it saves us the hassle or the uncomfortable feeling that we have to correct somebody. Why waste our time right? Why be "that guy" when users shouldn't even care what we have running under the covers? To be fair, for the most part users shouldn't ever care about the infrastructure. The users care about the application, first and foremost. But historically those users know the AS/400 by name, especially if they've been using traditional green-screen applications. They know it by the IBM i Access for Windows shortcut on their desktop labelled "AS/400" or "iSeries." They know that a system with that name is always available. They know you can't knock it down with a patch update. It's familiar to them...and that fact is important. So when we install the next fix pack of IBM i Access, we should update those shortcuts to say IBM i instead.


When we roll out new applicationsbe it through Java, PHP, Ruby on Rails, Domino, WebSphere, or anything elsewe need to be loud and proud about the fact that it runs on IBM i. When users hear that, they should feel the comfort and familiarity. It makes those solutions easier to sell internally in that they're cost-effective, stable, secure, and integrated. They have a past history with those undisputed benefits.


If we have Power Systems hardware, then we must make an effort to call it Power Systems. If we run IBM i, then we should call it IBM i. An AS/400 is from the '80s and '90s. We shouldn't want our names attached to any business decision that involves moving forward to 2014 with one of those old names.


We will change perspectives about IBM i. It starts with us first, then beyond.


Be loud.


Be proud.


Let's give back to IBM i.