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The Making of IBM i

Illustration by Andy Potts

Most people know, the i in IBM i stands for integration. And while that concept is central to the operating system and hardware, it’s also fundamental to how IBM i came to be 25 years ago and why it is what it is today. The integration of IBM with business partners, ISVs and clients has shaped the last 25 years and will continue to determine the future of IBM i.

On June 21, 1988, IBM introduced the AS/400* platform—a marriage of the System/36 and System/38 platforms—along with more than 1,000 software packages in the largest simultaneous applications announcement in computer history. By the time AS/400 servers were shipped, more than 2,500 applications were available as ISVs embraced the platform and concept.

The Initial Launch

Bill Langston, director of marketing for business partner New Generation Software, a respected developer of System/38 software and an original contributor to AS/400 applications, remembers IBM’s secrecy surrounding the launch. “Many in the business partner community were trying to be one of the first to get their hands on the ‘Silverlake’ hardware, as it was then known, or at least talk to someone who had access to a beta system,” Langston recalls. “There was a lot of confusion in the general marketplace, because as late as early 1988, many industry experts were saying IBM was going to drop the System/3X product line and replace it with a new model of their 9370 mainframe.”

Those industry experts weren’t that far off. Steve Will, chief architect of IBM i, was originally involved in that project, code-named Fort Knox, which attempted to combine the System/38 platform with the mainframe.

“As a community, we are passionate about the benefits of IBM i to our business. It’s the people behind the platform that make it great.”
—Roxanne Reynolds-Lair, Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising

“Much of the technology we used for the interior of the AS/400 actually came from Fort Knox so I was writing the internal communication mechanisms between the service processor and the main processor for IBM i even before it was the AS/400 server,” Will says. “IBM was committed to taking the best technology it had developed to be the groundwork for this new platform.”

As a System/36 systems engineer working in London, Ian Jarman, a longtime IBM i advocate and business unit executive for IBM Lab Services, saw a huge demand for packaged applications for small and midsized businesses.

“I watched the AS/400 announcement at the National Exhibition Center in Birmingham, England, and all along the roadsides were ISV advertisements proclaiming their support for the new platform,” Jarman recalls. “It was not just about announcing a technology as much as it was about making a market. To create a marketplace and promote it into a worldwide phenomenon is very challenging, but that’s what we achieved with the AS/400 launch.”

That worldwide success can be attributed in great part to the ISVs who rallied around the platform. “The IBM approach for the AS/400 was to give businesses everything they need very simply, and we wanted to partner with the people who were going to provide those business applications,” Will says. “I think the software community responded to that so well because they realized it was their software that was going to be solving the business problem. It really was groundbreaking in that respect. Nobody else was approaching the market from a business point of view.”

Tami Deedrick is the former managing editor of IBM Systems Magazine, Power Systems edition.



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