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Making the IBM i Bubble Bigger

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Yes, high-praise press is good. So build on it.

One of the most interesting developments to come out of IBM Think this year was an eWeek article entitled “IBM i: The Most Amazing IBM Product You’ve Never Heard Of.” What? The platform had a flag-waving endorsement from outside our community? In eWeek? The Rob Enderle article started off like this:

“Occasionally, I run into a product that just has me sitting back wondering if I stepped into some kind of alternative universe. One of the first products that gave me this impression was the old AS400 from IBM. It was kind of like if you took an Abrams Tank and created a server with similar survivability. The stories of these things were legendary. 

One system was on the top floor of a four-story building that was demolished, literally flattened, by a tornado and after falling those four stories, being buried by rubble and rained on, they only needed to dry it out to bring it back on line. Another system ran for a whopping 18 years without anyone patching, updating or even backing it up with no issues. Yet another was walled up accidently yet remained in service for years until someone tracing down the power and network wiring opened a wall to see what the wiring went to and found a hidden AS400.” 

These “legends” have been around for a long time (and I can add about four more off the top of my head). The gushing continued to the final paragraph:

“While it isn’t faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive or able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, IBM I is the closest thing to a software platform superhero I’ve yet seen and likely the safest and most powerful server platform you’ve never heard of.”

So, yeah. Wow!

People were sharing it on Twitter and LinkedIn probably for the same reason I did: it was a ringing endorsement from outside the “IBM i bubble.” It was a fresh set of eyes seeing what we all know and then running full commentary on it. The important fact that it was from outside the bubble is not lost on me. If I or anyone else from inside the bubble had written a similar article, it would be self-serving to a degree. We depend on IBM i as our livelihood. We all have relationships with IBM, IBM i customers, programmers, admins, cloud hosts, and software vendors. Many of us do services and sell hardware. We speak at conferences, webinars, and user groups. In the end, we need IBM i to do well and we need POWER9 servers replacing POWER7 servers. When IBM i and the IBM POWER brand does well, then we do well and survive. If not, we don’t. It’s that simple.

Customers exist inside the bubble as well. An engaged customer understands what their backup actually backs up and when their hardware maintenance expires. They get education from user groups and IBM events on a relatively regular basis. They’re updating PTFs and can tell you where their last recent full system save is stored. They’re also usually on a regular hardware refresh cycle, replacing iron every three to five years. Most importantly, they understand the value of IBM i, where it’s coming from, and where it’s going. To them, this article is a gleeful reinforcement of what they already knew.

Mr. Enderle has absolutely nothing to gain by promoting this platform. And it really takes an outsider to show us that we can do better.

When I talk to a CFO or a controller at some company that has a POWER6-era server and knows nothing about IBM i, this is the kind of article I want to share because this is the kind of article those people need to see. Why? I think there’s a fairly wide disconnect between many customers and IBM. Customers who are disconnected are outside the aforementioned IBM i bubble. Why is there such a disconnect? I’m not so sure. But we need to bridge that gap.

I cold-call a lot of customers with vintage iron, systems that were installed back in 2008 and even earlier. I seem to have some sort of magic touch for finding systems out in the woods running V5R4, owned by people who haven’t seen or talked with an IBM rep, an IBM Business Partner, or anyone in between since the system was installed back before the iPhone was invented. We end up talking about observability and potential program conversions. We talk about reaching out to software vendors from 10 years ago to find an updated version of their software that’ll run on and past IBM i 6.1. We talk about hardware failures and the ability to get old parts when theirs will eventually fail. We talk about POWER9 and the least expensive way to get there. And those are just the people who will talk on the phone for 10 minutes. Some others I speak with have an old system but they have a “company they work with” that will upgrade them when either the customer or that company they work with is ready. Many have little interest in some free advice because they’re expecting a pitch to go along with the cold-call. Meanwhile, I know for a fact they’re running POWER5 or worse. Their machines have either gone end of service or will this year. All these folks are outside the bubble. And they’re running systems on borrowed time.

The IBM i community needs to do better in pulling those people into the bubble. We need a resurgence of user groups, user group attendance, meetups, and online events. We need more regular hardware refreshes. We need people modernizing their software solutions. We also need our community to share inside-the-bubble content like they did with the eWeek article. To that point, most importantly, we need help getting the message about IBM i and POWER9 out there. And that’s why Enderle’s article is so important. eWeek is a widely read publication outside the bubble. And just maybe he was able to reach some customers who need to be pulled back in to be engaged and once again be a part of the IBM i community. Once engaged, we can’t let them go again.

Steve Pitcher
Steve Pitcher works with iTech Solutions, an IBM Premier Business Partner. He is a specialist in IBM i and IBM Power Systems solutions since 2001. Feel free to contact him directly This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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