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Reports of System i's Death...

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Anyone who read the columns that I used to write for this space is well aware that to call me a wee bit neurotic is roughly equivalent to saying that the molten lava at the center of an active volcano is a wee bit hot and dangerous, the ocean is a wee bit wet, and light travels a wee bit fast. An exceptionally wise, eminent sage recently suggested to me that, far from regretting my neuroses, I wrap them around me like a cape and revel in them. At least, that was the gist of it. By that point, I had started my second glass of wine and completed my seventh course of whine, so I might not have the quote exactly right.

Unless they visit me in my home, I normally pay little attention to sages, no matter how wise or eminent they may be, because whenever I'm out I'm always way too distracted with worries about whether I've left on some appliance that's about to burst into flames or whether someone is breaking into my condo and stealing my prized dust bunny collection*. This line of fret is particularly prevalent when I'm out of town, which I was on this occasion. Nonetheless, despite my normal inattentiveness, this particular sage was uncommonly beautiful so I listened to her with rapt respect.

The "wrap them around me like a cape" part of the sage's astute words is not literally true. I've never worn a cape. Shirts, pants, underwear, jackets, coats, overcoats, sweaters, socks, shoes, glasses, parkas, and even, on occasion, long johns, yes, absolutely, but never a cape. Then again, metaphorically, she is probably bang on. I do feel comfortable in my angst. I figure that you do what you do best and what I do best is worry and whine, which is probably why I feel so comfortable in the System i crowd. Worrying and whining is a long-standing tradition among many of that ilk.

What am I on about now, you ask? Don't be so impatient, my dear overeager reader. I'm getting to that. But first, a little background.

My initial exposure to what was then called AS/400 came about as a result of a subcontract from a marketing communication firm that IBM had hired to produce what ended up as a 28-page, tabloid-sized advertorial magazine that was handed out at the launch event for AS/400 Advanced Series. (It was originally supposed to be an eight-page magazine, but IBM kept adding to what it wanted to say about Advanced Series.) I was the author.

That was back in 1994, about 13 years ago. At the time, when I told a few of my IT-ensconced associates, some of whom were working on the platform, that I was doing work for AS/400, their response was, almost to a person, something along the lines of, "Why would you ever want to get involved with AS/400? It's a dying platform. IBM is going to kill it."

I was recently at COMMON in Anaheim. (I began writing this rant on the plane back, but I use the word "recently" to be vague as I don't know when I'll finish writing it. Nor do I know when MC Press will find a slot to publish it because I didn't warn Victoria, the gifted editor, that it was coming.) Guess what I heard from the mouths of some people at COMMON. (It would have been truly amazing if I had heard it from any other parts of their anatomy.) That's right, I heard comments to the effect of "IBM is ignoring System i." "Nobody is buying AS/400 anymore." "iSeries is a dying platform." And, among other similar laments, "IBM is killing System i." (Yes, I really did hear all of those different names for the same platform spoken at COMMON.)

Hmm. Do you detect a continuing theme? In the past, I have made fun of IBM's nom du jour approach to branding the system formerly known as AS/400, but I've never considered IBM to be incompetent. If I were one one-millionth as competent as IBM, I'd be spending my enormous wealth flying first class, staying in five-star hotels, and eating in the finest of restaurants as I travel leisurely through Europe. Instead, I'm sitting in steerage class on a flight to Toronto, typing this with my ThinkPad rammed into my gut because the guy ahead of me just leaned back; my elbows are digging holes into my seatback to make it possible, even with my abnormally short forearms, for my fingers to land on the keys rather than, say, punching through the screen; and I'm forced to make constant corrections due to the typos that are induced by the jostling of my shoulder every time someone walks by to go to the restroom. No, IBM is not the incompetent one here.

Despite currently thinking that IBM is, for the most part, quite competent, after listening to all of the talk at COMMON and elsewhere about how IBM is killing System i, I'm beginning to reassess my opinion. If IBM is trying to kill System i, née System i5, née iSeries, née AS/400, it's certainly doing an incredibly incompetent job of it.

The statistic I found for the number of System i (or whatever you want to call it) boxes that are out there in the world today is 800,000+. I have to admit that I'm not sure of the reliability of that factoid as I didn't get it from IBM. I got it from some notes for a System i–specific college course that Google found for me. (Hmm...a college course specifically about System i. Someone should warn those ill-fated instructors and students about the looming death of System i.) Furthermore, IBM is still aggressively launching new models and making current technologies, like PHP and MySQL, available on System i. If that's a dying platform, I want to see what these people call "thriving." It must be a truly glorious state of being.

I have a theory about why there is a discrepancy between the perception and the reality of the market for the system formerly known as AS/400. Here it is: The System i community is a cult. Plain and simple; it's a cult. Cult i members revere the platform so highly that anything less than perfection in IBM's System i marketing and promotion is looked on as blasphemous. At the first sign that System i sales may be temporarily leveling off or, heaven forbid, dropping a few percentage points, Cult i members immediately interpret that as a sign of the imminent Apocalypse.

I've been to only two COMMON conferences. The first was in Toronto. In both cases, questions and comments about System i marketing, or lack thereof, were raised prominently during the Q&A period of the opening session. Give me a break. I'm in a room filled with System i propeller heads, at a conference devoted to System i technologies and usage, at a session that placed the top IBM System i decision-makers up on the dais, and the most important question that some people in the audience can raise is about IBM marketing.

Outside of the session, these same people were busy loudly singing hymns of praise for System i and proclaiming from the rooftops its greatness. You rarely hear such enthralled devotion unless it's directed at someone who has successfully passed himself off as the second coming of Dafernyx, the white-robed omnipotent space being who created all humans and most web-footed animals. With rapture like that, it's no wonder that these people hear any hint of System i sales and marketing weakness as a death rattle.

Get real. To paraphrase Samuel Langhorne Clemens (aka Mark Twain), reports of System i's death are greatly exaggerated.

For 13 or so years now, I've been hearing that the system formerly known as AS/400 was on its deathbed. I still hear it. Well, guess what. System i is still here. It's going to be here next year. The hearse or garbage truck that carts my lifeless body away to the cemetery, crematorium, dump, or wherever I end up will probably be dispatched by an application running on System i. Heck, by then maybe it will drive itself using a System i–based autopilot. There's still time for that to happen because I'm not planning to die until after I reach the average lifespan for a Canadian male, a milestone that I won't pass for more than a couple of decades. (Not much more and, of course, I worry that it will happen a great deal sooner...maybe before you read this. You never know.)

- - - - -

*Of course, if the sage does visit me in my home, I will still find plenty of other things to distract me from the sage's advice, such as, for example, worrying about whether he or she is judging me and my slovenly ways or whether an immense asteroid is about to crash into my condo. Consequently, it would probably be a good idea if sages not count too heavily on having my full attention, regardless of the location.

Joel Klebanoff is a consultant, a writer, and president of Klebanoff Associates, Inc., a Toronto, Canada-based marketing communications firm. He is also the author of BYTE-ing Satire, a compilation of a year's worth of his columns. Joel has 25 years experience working in IT, first as a programmer/analyst and then as a marketer. He holds a Bachelor of Science in computer science and an MBA, both from the University of Toronto. Contact Joel at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. He fully expects to be flamed vociferously by people who feel the need to say, "Yeah, but System i really is dying and the sky really is falling." Flame away. He can take it. What's more, his nature leads him to believe that the reader or two who were masochistic enough to finish reading this article are just itching to criticize his views about System i longevity, among other thoughts. Feel free to scratch that itch now.

Joel Klebanoff

Joel Klebanoff is a consultant, writer, and formerly president of Klebanoff Associates, Inc., a Toronto-based marketing communications firm. He has 30 years' experience in various IT capacities and now specializes in writing articles, white papers, and case studies for IT vendors and publications across North America. Joel is also the author of BYTE-ing Satire, a compilation of a year's worth of his columns. He holds a BS in computer science and an MBA, both from the University of Toronto.

MC Press books written by Joel Klebanoff available now on the MC Press Bookstore.

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