What IBM i Execs Should Know, Part 2

IBM i (OS/400, i5/OS)
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Oooh. Executives. Sounds so very sophisticated, doesn’t it? Handsome guys in expensive suits who go to clubs like Laslo’s after work and meet up with slender, willowy brunettes for a martini. Very classy.

 

OK, it’s time to talk a bit more about what IBM i managers and executives should know.

 

When we left off last time, we had identified two things that “i leaders” need to be familiar with: what makes the i special and what’s up with the Power architecture these days and why it’s a better choice than Intel for the long haul. But that’s not the end of the story. Come on, walk this way.

 

Understand the Cost Factors to Be Considered

And that brings us to money.

 

Certainly, this is not an unimportant matter, and corporations have to be just as careful with their cash as we have to in our own personal budgets. But corporations are looking at spending more over a longer period of time than the typical household budget. and even given that, there are some unusual things that we see if we look at corporate spending patterns.

 

Frankly, considering how most corporate IT people seem to buy processing power, I find it very odd that more of them don’t drive a Chevy Spark. After all, it has a very low initial price ($17,285 as shown). That’s what’s important, right? And I’m sure it’s a fine vehicle. Chevy wouldn’t sell something that wasn’t top notch, would they?

 

But that’s not the way it goes down, is it? In fact, while price is still in the mix, most management types are like the rest of us; they want something comfortable, reliable, and stylish (however each individual defines that). They’re not going to settle for just the cheapest thing; they want something that also says something about them.

 

Why the disparity? Because, for themselves, people tend to be more discriminating. They want more. They want quality or a sense of style. They want something that delivers value. It’s not all about the purchase price. So for themselves, managers would be more likely to go IBM i than Intel.

 

The problem, of course, is that when we’re submitting budgets and people are trying to cut those budgets, we do tend to get hung up on initial cost. But cost over time, the total cost of ownership, or the cost per processing unit…that’s a very different animal.

 

At the same time, it’s hard for me to understand why people who are supposed to be the ones taking a strategic look at the world tend to get so caught up with looking just from footfall to footfall. But I guess that’s normal human nature.

 

Of course, the lure of the lower-priced servers is hard to resist. And they do the jobthat is, they do allow you to run programs on them. But those of you who work in the i world know how it goes. Servers are purchased because they’re cheaper. And you already have network people, and they will just “take care of them.” But, pretty soon, far enough down the road that it is not connected with buying those particular servers, the network people decide they’re overworked (and they probably are considering the environment they’re probably running in) and request more help. And now the management that wouldn’t hire another RPG programmer if Chris Evans asked them to are ready to get not just one but several additional network people. And that’s how IT costs go up in 21st Century America.

 

So what am I saying? Just that i managers must become experts at both understanding and elucidating the costs associated with a given platform solution. What’s the initial cost? What’s the ongoing cost over the next few years? What’s the probability that this purchase will drive additional personnel or ancillary costs? What’s the real cost, over a realistic time period, of using a particular solution?

 

When that’s combined with looking at the technology position of each possible solution, you get a more realistic view of costs and values than just looking at the sticker price.

 

Understand How the i Is a Web-Development Platform

Perhaps most importantly, every i IT management person should be able to talk intelligently on how the i is not only a solid platform for developing modern, web-oriented applications, but an ideal platform. It’s not a batch machine for the middle of the night. This includes several things.

 

First, you need to understand that whether you are on the i or Windows, the day of a single program that does everything is over. Today’s applications are based on design patterns, and for business applications the dominant pattern is MVC or MVVC. And RPG ILE is very well suited to support that without requiring the complexity or learning curve of Java OO.

 

Second, the fact that apps now consist of a number of individual modules spells the end of the single language application (and shop). No longer is it necessary to write everything in Java because you want to put up a web package. You can leverage the i’s ability to handle multiple languages to build a web app with disparate languages, each of which is tuned to do the specific job it’s being asked to accomplish.

 

That is, even though RPG is the language most closely associated with the i, and through the magic of modular programming still can be used to create the programs that do the bulk of your business rules processing, you can also create and execute scripts in a large number of other more web-oriented languages, including C++, Java, HTML, CSS3, JavaScript, PHP, Ruby, etc.

 

Third, even though I’ve already listed RPG as an asset for the i, it deserves to be mentioned again when we talk about how we create our apps. I know that web languages are all the rage, but RPG can do things the web languages just can’t do as easily. And if you’re talking about looks, have ever looked at some heavy-duty PHP code? RPG (/Free) is far easier to read and far better structured. And it does some things so easily, particularly when you use embedded SQL, that doing them in a web language is not efficient. Of course, part of the problem for many IT managers is that they don’t know /Free. They might not even know RPG. But ignorance of the law is no excuse, and I don’t understand people who don’t have time to learn at least a little about the core technology that runs their business.

 

We Need to Take the Offensive

Perhaps the most important thing an i leader can do is to take the initiative. Instead of assuming the defensive posture, there’s no reason we can’t be offensive. Well, you know what I mean.

 

When people act like the i is a dinosaur that can’t take us into the future, we need to not just accept their stand but challenge their arguments. Why is it that they think the i is inferior to Intel and Windows? Is it hardware? Is it software? Is it cost? Maybe, but it’s pretty pathetic when you state that your company’s data needs are so unimportant that they can be sold off to the lowest bidder. Doesn’t quality and scalability come in there somewhere?

 

The Bottom Line

Let’s face it. IBM is not going to do it. They’re not going to speak out for the i. As the elderly owner of the lumberyard in Roots II said, “They just don’t have the aptitude for it.” Amen.

 

If anyone is going to speak for the i, it has to be the IT management at each and every i site. And it’s not that hard. All of the logical arguments are on the side of the i. Otherwise, there’s no doubt in my mind that eventually the i market will evaporate, another senseless casualty of global warming. Power will persist. I’m not worried about that. But the i, with it’s genius integrated operating system and ease of use, may become just another exhibit in the Smithsonian along with Bell’s first telephone and Fonzie’s leather jacket.

 

Say it ain’t so, Joe.

 

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