Out of the Blue: Midrange Perspectives

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

Three years and 42,000 words ago, publisher Mark Fleming brought forth in this space, a column. "Perspectives on the IBM Midrange Industry," the subhead announced, and leafing through three ensuing volumes of Out of the Blue, reveals an industry that has originated and survived considerable change.

For midrange customers, the AS/400 embodies a technology that is tortoise- dependable and hare-quick. But while the hardware steadily im-proves, the industry bounds about unpredictably like the racing rabbit, alternately chasing and creating trends. Just in the last thirty-six months, midrange customers have endured: the epic decline of IBM, the elimination of on-site technical support, the introduction of remote AS/400 Technical Services, the ascendancy of business partners, ousting Akers, greeting Gerstner, downsizing, rightsizing, open systems, client/server, and four generations of AS/400s. Congratulations.

From a writer's perspective, the ever-transitioning midrange industry offers a target-rich environment. Start with the experiences of 250,000 global customers. Add the unpredictable impacts of technology, the vicissitudes of the economy, and the long-range plans, both overt and covert, of the IBM Corporation. Where these interests conflict, the best stories are found. For in the resolutions of conflict are glimpsed the clearest expressions of human nature.

For me, chronicling the midrange industry began in January 1992, with the changes that were rocking the IBM Corporation and recasting the delivery of technical support.

During those dark days, when IBM was still searching for solvency by shedding employees like a cat sheds summer hair, I wrote in my first column, ...employees are truly the wealth of a corporation; the only resource not available to competitors. And the loss of that wealth should not be mistaken for an increase in income.

But did IBM listen? Nah. The company kept shoveling dirt on the still-twitching body of the systems engineer. By December 1992, IBM was ready to announce its SE replacement: Remote AS/400 Technical Services. The best AS/400 brains have been boxed and shipped to Rochester, I reported, but not without qualms. Operating system upgrades, configuration changes and performance tuning can all be done remotely, like course adjustments beamed to a distant satellite...But the customer-as-satellite model, while efficient, hints of deep space abandonment.

Customers, however, weren't as attached to the form or delivery method of their technical support. They wanted help, and if that help was phoned in from Rochester, so be it. If technology displaced people, it could also replace them. Like it or not, I observed, technology is as primal as forces get, its encroachment as inevitable as tomorrow's sunrise.

In early 1993, I was invited to visit Rochester and find out for myself. In May, I wrote a piece about my experiences titled, "Co-opted At Last." The title was intended to be humorous, but in fact reflected a shift in my own thinking: If I could share just one golden nugget that I unearthed in Rochester, I wrote, it would be this: Everyone I spoke with-from the people on the manufacturing floor, to those in user documentation; from the technical reps in the Support Center to managers-all seemed genuinely and vitally invested in the welfare of their customers and in perfecting the products and services that comprise the AS/400 family.

I had gone to Rochester to argue for the power of human connection in customer service and discovered, not a bloodless corporation, but some very likeable folks. People. Any story about the AS/400, after all, was inescapably a story about people; IBMers, customers. Meeting, working with, learning from, and sharing the experiences of people-literally around the globe-who are bound by nothing more than the common use of an uncommon system, has been a happy privilege. Their unfailing generosity has made this column possible, and for that I am grateful.

Two interviews stand out. The first took place in Eastern Europe and was chronicled in December of 1993. I had traveled to Poland and while in Warsaw, visited the IBM office housed in an 18th-century building renovated in office chic. In a country struggling to transition to a market economy, where all but the largest businesses still calculate transactions on a piece of scratch paper, the optimism and enthusiasm of the IBM sales force was poignant. Supporting many of the nation's larger industries, the AS/400, and the business know-how provided by IBM, is in its own way serving to smooth the arduous transition.

The second interview was with Frank Gerald Soltis, father of the AS/400, and inveterate auto racer. Within the IBM midrange community he is what Michael Jordan was to the Chicago Bulls; he is The Franchise. I wrote about him in March, 1994 and recall that even with a grindingly busy schedule, he was gracious with his time, willing to offer our readers a glimpse into his private life and his passion for racing. His legacy is the enduring architecture of the AS/400. His motivation, as he explained it, has been the protection of the customer's investment and the delivery of a product with long life and adaptability to changing technological trends. More than once I have reflected that we're all employed, in part, because he succeeded.

After three years of sampling, the range of business problems solved by the AS/400 seems inexhaustible. For sheer scope and complexity, the support of the 1996 Summer Olympics places the AS/400 center stage. I wrote about the ongoing preparations in May 1994. Eighty AS/400s, 6,000 PS/2s, a mainframe and ancillary equipment, will link 40 separate event sites in a one-chance-to-get- it-right performance in front of the world.

Application variety seems likewise boundless. Artificial Intelligence supports a medical supply company ("Chip for Brains," September 1994); wireless communication facilitates the movement, tracking, and storage of goods ("Waking Up to the Leading Edge," January 1994); and the German national railroads employing nearly a half million people (one big bratwurst of a personnel system) rely on the AS/400's relational database capabilities. ("Parlez- Vous/400?" March 1993.)

A cruise ship line employs the AS/400's connectivity to put passengers aboard its floating tax shelters by linking thousands of travel agents to its reservation system ("Technology Haven," August 1994); whichever Italian government is in power this week distributes social security to 48 million people who are tracked by a network of AS/400s in 160 locations ("Parlez- Vous/400?" March 1993), and the improbable Hockey Hall of Fame where visitors enter a display area featuring Famous Goalie Masks, which goalies started wearing when they ran out of famous goalie teeth, uses the AS/400's client/server and multimedia capabilities to enhance the visitor's experience ("Toothless in Toronto," April 1994).

As if the AS/400 and the breadth of applications were somehow inadequate to attract new customers, the midrange industry periodically invents silly, elitist-sounding trends to boost business. My favorite is rightsizing. It's the sort of pretentious twaddle that has little meaning beyond devaluing the usefulness of your present system and goading you into buying a new one. In August 1993 I wrote, Rightsizing. As a masterful bit of incentive marketing, it ranks right up there with light beer and eco-tourism...Even before you know exactly what rightsizing is, you can be pretty damn sure that whatever size you are, it's the wrong size. And just when you're almost out of your mind with worry over being wrongsized, IBM offers an easy, purchasable way to ease the discomfort.

Finally, some of the strangest anecdotal material never makes it into the column because it's hard to fit into the context of an AS/400 article. On the occasion of this retrospective, I've bent the rules to share one of my favorites. It dates back to my days in computer operations management and involves a young man who worked on the graveyard shift.

He fancied himself something of a gun collector and one night invited a friend to stop by the computer room to see his newly acquired handgun. One thing led to another, and before long these two geniuses decided it would be great to see what the firearm could actually do.

So they piled up boxes of computer paper against the wall and emptied six rounds into the pile. The bullets ripped through the paper like it was-well, paper (imagine that)-then through the wall where they rattled around in the adjoining bathroom. By happy coincidence, due to the lateness of the hour, no one was in the bathroom at the time.

Both management and the police took a dim view. On the bright side, at least I didn't have to call IBM to report a slug in the CPU. All things considered, I'd rather be writing.

Victor Rozek has 17 years of experience in the data processing industry, including seven years with IBM in Operations Management and Systems Engineering.



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.