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Is IBM Pushing You Around, or Are You Dragging Your Feet?

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As you read this, spring is in the air, flowers are beginning to bloom, and summer will soon be upon us. It wasn’t that long ago, however, that the snow was on the ground, and my furnace wouldn’t stop running.

It’s times like that that make me wonder why I choose to live in this small farming community. But then I remember all the advantages to living here: no traffic jams (actually, no traffic lights!), very little crime, and great housing prices. And then there are all the interesting people! A large city has its fair share of strange people, but for pure quirkiness, you have to go to the country. For example, there’s the family who lives down the road a ways, who, every winter, in an effort to keep out the bitterly cold wind that whips across the open prairie, wraps its entire, broken-down old house in plastic. I’m not sure what it looks like from the inside, but from the outside, it looks as if someone took a gigantic roll of Saran Wrap to the home in an attempt to seal in the freshness.

Now, I’ll put plastic on the windows of my house once in a while when it looks as if it’s going to be a bad winter, but, until I saw my neighbor’s house, it’d never occurred to me to wrap the whole house!

Is that overkill? Perhaps you and I might think so, but, to the folks who live in it, apparently not. After all, they’re the ones who’re there on a daily basis and have to contend with the cutting wind and high heating bills. Thinking about one’s perception of that made me consider IBM’s perception of the direction your AS/400 shops should be headed in.

From IBM’s vantage point, every AS/400 shop should be on a TCP/IP network developing applications in Java. That’s a perception brought on by at least two factors: the need for IBM to make money and rapid changes in technology. Both factors are valid. Everyone wants to make more money, and everyone has to deal with advances in technology. These might be truisms, but, for the AS/400 shops that have to find a way to make the new technologies and concepts a reality with the same size budget and staff, they can be tremendous hardships.

Many of these shops don’t have the necessary dollars or the personnel to put in the infrastructure to run a TCP/IP network and learn and develop applications in Java. After all, for years the selling point of the AS/400 was that it required little or no staff. Now companies are being told by IBM that they’re not keeping up and that they have to act fast to join the rest of the IT industry. And these companies can’t just sit around and hope

things will get better, either. If they don’t act soon, they’re going to find themselves out in the cold more quickly than they think.

For example, IBM has stopped all new development on the Windows family of Client Access/400. Instead, it’s telling AS/400 shops to move to the AS/400 Client Access Express for Windows product. This new product only runs on TCP/IP networks. What about all those shops that still need to use NS/Router or SDLC to connect their PC clients to their AS/400s? What are they going to do when that product disappears? And, yes, Java is a great development language, but most of these shops can’t afford to allow their staffs the time to learn how to use it.

IBM’s perception is that you must do things IBM’s way. This isn’t because of any nefarious scheme by IBM to force businesses to buy a new AS/400 every two years. At least, I don’t think it is. On the other hand, if I wake up in the morning with a dead AS/400 on my pillow, I’ll know I was wrong. Nope, for IBM to force companies to move forward is just good business. Technology, in general, is moving toward all TCP/IP services, Java programming, and groupware. IBM is merely riding the wave.

From a practical standpoint, all these new directives from IBM and others are just not feasible. Or are they? Perhaps that’s just another perception. Maybe it’s not as impossible to move forward as you think. As a system administrator responsible for the operational direction of your shop, you have to somehow find the means to move your shop and your staff to where they need to be. The fact is that you really do need to get your AS/400 off of those SNA networks and onto TCP/IP because, even though SNA may not be dead yet, it’s certainly gasping for air. Right now, this very moment, is the time for you to begin looking for a TCP/IP network solution. You’ll find that the more you learn, the more prepared you’ll be when it comes time to go to management for funding.

As for learning Java, take it one step at a time. Hire a consulting agency that can come in and evaluate your existing operation and see what it will take to become Java- and Internet-ready. You may discover that you don’t need to do anything, or perhaps they’ll tell you that a complete rewrite is necessary. In any event, you’ll never know what you need until you get started. For existing staff, bite the bullet and allocate a percentage of work hours to learning about new technologies. It’ll more than pay for itself in the long run. Start now on moving your shops into the 21st century.

Perception is a powerful thing. What to one man is a Saran-Wrapped home is to another a castle.

Shannon O'Donnell has held a variety of positions, most of them as a consultant, in dozens of industries. This breadth of experience gives him insight into multiple aspects of how the AS/400 is used in the real world. Shannon continues to work as a consultant. He is an IBM Certified Professional--AS/400 RPG Programmer and the author of an industry-leading certification test for RPG IV programmers available from ReviewNet.net.


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