What’s Ahead for Power Systems in 2019

IBM i (OS/400, i5/OS)
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Some of what’s in store may be a bit obvious. But some of it is a secret.

The crystal ball is polished. I’ll say it now: 2019 will be a great year for IBM Power Systems and IBM i. In fact, I’ll say it’ll probably be the best year for the POWER platform in a long time. A tall order, but we’ll get there.

I would love to give a summary of the hardware and software specifics that are coming down the pike, but I have nondisclosure agreements. Also, IBMers are being rather quiet. Perhaps that’s because my usual contacts have enjoyed some much-needed family time over the holiday season. Even Scott Forstie, DB2 for i Business Architect and my friend, is playing coy with my request for comment by stating, “SQL moves beyond Scott's Query Language via a bazillion additions to ACS's Insert From Examples.” And when Scott says a bazillion, I kind of have to believe him.

So I have to be a little creative and a little vague in order to reveal what’s in the crystal ball. I can be specific only about what I know based on the marketplace that I’m a part of, and I have to talk about what I’ve seen, heard, and experienced anecdotally.

What we do know: We’ll see the elimination of much POWER5, POWER6, and POWER7 iron in the first half. January 31, 2019, will be the end-of-service date for many POWER5 systems, March 31 for POWER6 servers, and September 30 for the most popular POWER7 servers sold (8202-E4C). While some customers got ahead of those end-of-service dates by already having their POWER9 servers ordered in Q3 and Q4 of 2018, other customers will run those machines until you can’t put IBM hardware maintenance on them anymore, squeezing every last bit of processing power out of an investment made 10 to 15 years ago. Talk about getting your money’s worth. I think IBM Cognitive Systems will have a great 2019, based on those machine replacements alone.

Personally, I’ve been digging into POWER5 and POWER6 servers over the last six months, and many of those customers had no idea their machines were going end of service in a matter of a few short months. Since they weren’t aware, they had no budget for a hardware refresh in 2018 or even five years ago when it would’ve still made sense to do so. So what does that mean? It means there’s a disconnect from the customer to IBM and vice versa. It means that customers are not as engaged as they should be. Many of these POWER5 customers especially are relying on their software provider (in many cases, the company that sold them their last machine) to keep them abreast of hardware and operating system updates and changes. But many software providers don’t do that because it’s not their main business. I’ll give you an example. I ran across a POWER5 server this past summer with a RAID set blown, V5R4 with nary a PTF, no software maintenance, no hardware maintenance, a dead tape drive, and more. It was in serious need of help. I actually called the vendor to inquire about it because the customer shared that there were about 30 other companies nearby running the same software. Guess what? That vendor’s not in the hardware business. When customers want new machines, they have a preferred hardware partner they work with to facilitate a hardware replacement. There’s no yearly check-in with the customer, no five-year replacement plan, no communication on POWER8, POWER9, IBM i 7.3, software/hardware renewals, PTFs to keep current, OS upgrades. Nothing. What I hope is that there’s enough word-of-mouth groundswell that these POWER5 and POWER6 customers actually hear it and find out that they need to move to POWER9 because time and materials on a dead POWER5 server backplane isn’t going to be cheap or quick. I actually fielded a call on a DOA POWER5 with no maintenance the day before Christmas Eve! We do what we can for those guys, but it’s never a good situation to see someone in. Please know this and know it well: You don’t want a hardware problem without hardware maintenance. It’s just a ticking time bomb. I think that message is starting to get out there and people are moving to get new machines in 2019 because of it.

But it’s not just the “keeping maintenance alive” crowd that’s going to drive a big year for IBM. POWER9 is about a year old now, and that’s usually the length of time that it takes a lot of the tire kickers to decide to make a move. I recall the first time I met Dr. Frank Soltis back in 2002 or so. He joked that the difference between iSeries and pSeries customers was that pSeries customers get the new operating system or patches the first day of availability, while iSeries customers wait until the next release and then upgrade to the one just before it. It’s funny because a lot of the time that’s true. Very few of us want to be on the bleeding edge. POWER9 is just old enough now to have a feeling of stability around it, which means simply that people are using it and the boxes are just as stable as POWER8, POWER7, and so on. While IBM POWER9 sales have been decent out of the gate, I’m thinking year two is going to be really killer for that reason as well.

From an IBM i perspective, I’m not at liberty to say much. There’s stuff coming. That’s it. Stuff. Good stuff. Useful stuff for big and small customers. Development and admin stuff. Trust me. In general, based on the past few years, I think you’ll see a continuance of the ongoing top-notch enhancements of DB2 for i. DB2 just keeps on rolling. It seems that there’s always something new and highly useful with every batch of PTFs, especially with IBM i Services. A result set that took a lot of foresight and programming to achieve is now available with a simple SQL script to an IBM i Service. Maybe even a bazillion of them.

The best I can tell you about IBM i in 2019 is to watch this space. Get involved with your local user groups or bigger ones like COMMON. Reach out to your IBM Business Partner to make sure they’re abreast of the updates and changes from both the hardware and software ends of the spectrum. If POWER9 does as well as I’m expecting it to do, then it’s not only immediate change planning that needs to occur, but also a strategy of continual education and modernization to take us into the next decade.