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Where are You Headed?

i Users Can Steer Toward Growth or Irrelevance

i Users Can Steer Toward Growth or Irrelevance

IBM’s current marketing theme is “Let’s build a smarter planet.” Many readers of this magazine feel strongly that in technology terms IBM i represents a Better Planet. But too many IBM i customers continue to use pre-POWER6* hardware, old and even unsupported releases of IBM i, and back levels of their primary application software. So you might ask if the user community is letting IBM i become the Overlooked Planet.

IBM i and the IBM Power* hardware it runs on may own the dubious distinction of being the most misunderstood and overlooked of today’s actively supported enterprise-class computing environments. Maybe it’s the curse of uniqueness in a market that publicly loves innovation but privately sticks to the familiar. It’s arguably also related to the growing dependence on consultants and outsourcing firms who follow the technologies and software-development methods most familiar to their staff members, even when some of those approaches may be transient and more costly to sustain over time than alternatives.

Missed Opportunities

Business networking sites such as LinkedIn host seemingly endless debates among IT professionals about whether the IBM i environment is ideal for modern business computing or outdated and ready for retirement. These repetitive but often entertaining debates usually lack success stories of real companies using IBM i in cost-effective and innovative ways to improve their business. Also missing are stories of less-than-successful efforts to move workload from IBM i to another operating system, database and hardware where little or no business benefit resulted. After all, aren’t business benefits the best measure of success?

In the past four years, IBM has introduced two generations of Power Systems* servers—based on POWER6 and POWER7* technology—and two major operating-system releases. These offerings present small and large businesses with huge advances in scalability, performance, virtualization, availability, partitioning and energy consumption at a lower price than ever. They present customers with an opportunity to turn back the IT industry’s habit of scaling out rather than scaling up to meet new business requirements.

The POWER6 generation of server hardware arrived at the beginning of the recession. Many companies forced to focus on mere survival overlooked its benefits. POWER7 hardware began shipping in 2010, and when not talking directly to existing IBM i users, IBM and industry analysts often describe the POWER7 line as a family of UNIX* servers. This supports IBM’s efforts to take UNIX-server market share from Hewlett-Packard and Oracle (formerly Sun Microsystems), and it’s working well in that market segment. But it’s no surprise that many longtime IBM i users, who still tend to think of their favorite computing environment as a distinct hardware platform, tune out when they hear POWER6, POWER7 and UNIX or Linux* in the same sentence. That behavior may isolate i users and result in missed opportunities to use these servers to run new i-based applications and workloads that drive real business benefits. It also makes it extremely difficult to defend IBM i against doubters, competitors and the uninformed who point to businesses only using IBM i in a legacy fashion and argue that legacy must be all it can do.

Bill Langston is director of marketing for New Generation Software Inc., and a developer of iSeries BI software. He can be reached at



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