Steve Will on What’s Next for IBM i
By Paul Tuohy / March 29, 2021
On this episode of iTalk, Steve Will, IBM’s chief architect for IBM i, discusses how development of the IBM i OS is progressing in Rochester so far, and what IBM may have in store for us this year.
Steve Will: Hey Paul, it's good to talk to you again.
Paul: Okay so as people will notice, we're getting a little bit of a time delay with our transatlantic and trans-half the US technology being used to record this. So, Steve, it's been a long, long time since we've seen each other. If I remember correctly, I think it was November of 2019 the last time we saw each other.
Steve: Yes, it’s been quite an unusual year you know. There are a lot of folks like you who are friends of mine now after having a chance to meet you many times on the conference circuit and it is strange to not be seeing one another but you know we get through it.
Paul: Yeah, that we do. So, tell me Steve, how are you well I mean there in Rochester when I say you, I mean well you personally and the collective you in the development labs? How are you all dealing with the lockdown and pandemic, and all of that?
Steve: Well personally like everybody else you know I miss the opportunity see friends and family in particular but professionally we pretty quickly moved into a very efficient and effective work from home environment. A lot of what we do doesn't get done face to face anyway and of course like you, I travel so much I had to be able to do most of my job while traveling so this isn't that much different, but the development teams use a lot of tools to collaborate electronically. We've been able to meet all of our deliverables. There is some of design work that's a little bit harder to do when you can't be standing at a white board with someone but again, we're adapting so we're all staying safe and things are progressing very well.
Paul: Yeah. It's—I must admit I—like I have found it that it is one of these things of the sort of the right hand giveth and the left hand taketh away. I mean we—I think we do have the advantage of not spending so much time in airports and so much time on planes.
Steve: Well, that's certainly true. You know I've been able to participate in three client events in a single day because I don't have to go anywhere. I had a day last fall where I was talking to people in Europe in the morning , on the East Coast in the later morning, and then later in the day to folks in Asia, obviously couldn't have done that in person and it would have been very difficult to do if I had been in my normal travel schedule because at some point there I would've been in an airport or on an airplane where speaking would have been impossible so yeah, there are actually some times when I get to speak out more. In fact, last year, 2020, I did the second highest number of client interactions that I've done in my entire time as chief architect and again wouldn't have been possible if I had to be a plane as much as I would have had to be.
Paul: Yeah so it's—it is—it is strange times. The—I mean from a team point of view, I mean is it a thing Steve that you think that maybe you know the nature of developers as you have in the labs that maybe this lockdown is kind a blessing is kind of a blessing in disguise for a lot of the—a lot of the team?
Steve: Well for a lot of us, that's true. We've very kind of isolated kind of people. We want quiet to think and this certainly provides most of our developers with that though we have a fairly large group of younger developers over the past couple three years, we've hired quite a few people who are earlier in their careers and some of them have a little trouble with family at home distracting them but again, we found ways to make it all work.
Paul: Yup. That's cool. Okay so—so looking forward Steve, how are things looking for 2021? What's going on? What's happening?
Steve: Well of course we will continue to deliver new things throughout the year. We will have our normal announcements for technology refreshes in the spring and in the in the early fall, so those will happen. The team is refocusing on a meeting clients and the community wherever and however they're gathering. We all had to do kind of a stutter step last spring as in—person events were canceled, many of them transformed into new online versions only. Now we are actively reaching out to the various user communities around the country and the world to say how can we participate so that the IBM i community doesn't lose touch with us and we with them. We think we're pretty good at carrying the new news, carrying the message of the strategy and the capabilities of i to the user community but we don't want to miss something because there's not as many in-person events so that's part of what's going on this year. We develop new things; we deliver new things and we try to continue to talk to people however they're going to listen to us.
Paul: Okay so—so are you expecting to be spending—well are—are—isn't this going to be just a thing that the airport time is going to compensate for this Steve, for the in-person events? I mean are you going to get more time to actually do real work if I can put it that way.
Steve: Well, I—I certainly have experienced that so far. I personally have gotten to do a lot more direct architecture work with my team, take a bit more ownership of some of the technology advances that we have in place as well as doing all these the community events but once those in—person events start happening again, there's nothing like being a person face to face, even a 5 minute face to face conversation with someone who has a suggestion into how things ought to go better or a question about why something doesn't work the way it is is the sometimes the most important thing, and that is hard to do via email so I'll be continuing to take advantage of the fact that I can work more in a more focused manner which my development team while I can, but I will look forward to getting to talk to people face to face when we finally get there.
Paul: Yeah. It's a—yeah, it's going to be strange when or if we get back on the road again. So, I—am I beating my head against a wall Steve if I ask you for any hints of what might be in the pipeline?
Steve: Well, no, not—I can—I can talk a bit. Everyone who has been paying attention to our product cycle and who saw IBM's participation in Hot Chips last fall knows that there is a POWER10 based system coming. It's about time for it to happen in this calendar year and so you can count on IBM i to be supported when that first set of systems comes out that is based on POWER10. You can also count on the fact that a Power family almost always spans two years, two different calendar years. We never get a whole Power family out in the same calendar year it seems so we will be doing some of that but it will be a while yet. Meanwhile we have a huge focus on helping clients with tools that help them modernize, particularly these in the spring tools that help them manage their system more autonomically, tools that help them to use open technology to do management and automation and then you know many of the new services that our team has been providing to help people do things via SQL that get information from and manage the system; the open-source technology that we've been investing in so heavily continues to get expanded so all of the things that you expect from the delivery cadence and the strategy will continue to come out and when POWER10 comes out, we'll be right there to take advantage of it.
Paul: Yeah, okay so I hate to tell you this Steve but I'm expecting great things this year because as far as I'm concerned—
Steve: Yeah, I hope—
Paul: You have all of this extra time.
Steve: Well we won't disappoint you and there are a lot of our clients who while they took a pause during the second and third quarter of last year have figured out that their IBM i environments are critical to them being able to succeed in this pandemic environment and they're figuring out how to use IBM i even better and so we see an uptick in the third and fourth quarter of people reinvesting so I think it’s going to be a good calendar year for function and for financials.
Paul: It's actually an interesting thing Steve. I was looking recently at the HelpSystems survey and one of the questions they had asked in there was that during the whole lockdown and pandemic and that, what software people had found to be most useful in you know connecting to their IBM i and that and the one that came out on top was well naturally VPN software but second was ACS as being the most—the most—
Paul: Important software for people to use so.
Steve: And that is borne out by downloads and it's borne out by request for enhancement that have come in. People are very happy that they're using ACS and they're suggesting ways that we can make it even better for their environments when they aren't going to be in the office. We love that. We love getting those suggestions because it means that people are appreciating what they have and thinking innovatively about how they can do things better and more with IBM i.
Paul: Hmm definitely, definitely. So okay so Steve do you have anything else you want to touch on before we wrap up?
Steve: No, I think this is a good start and I'll offer to you again some time in this calendar year you want to do another one of these, we definitely have to do it in particular if we're not going to be in the same place. We've got to talk again.
Paul: Okay but—but definitely we'll do if we are in the same place as well—
Steve: That's true.
Paul: And beer—beer may be involved.
Paul: So, to finish up Steve I—I—but I have a funny feeling I know the answer to this before I ask but so I assume that during the whole lockdown, you've just kept on gaming.
Steve: That—that's very true in fact. I—you know I played Dungeons and Dragons with my kid group, my—my children are all grown up, all getting close to their 30's or in their 30's and I play Dungeons and Dragons with them about monthly so I just did that last night and my wife and I continue to enjoy console games. We got into a game called the Ghost of Tsushima which you play a samurai in feudal Japan and it's very much like Skyrim or Horizon Zero Dawn the kind of games that we love that just immerse you in a world that allow you to adventure and explore. So yeah, we've definitely done some gaming. I've had to do a lot of it online with friends instead of being in person but I'm not going to let this lockdown stop me from gaming. That's for sure.
Paul: If anything Steve, I think it will help you enhance your gaming capabilities.
Steve: Yes, well you know when I play a game—I don't know if your listeners will understand this but when I play a game, I often like ones that have ongoing quests and in my normal travel schedule, I will complete a quest, go on a trip, and it maybe two weeks before I can come back and do the next quest. Well now it's just the next time I sit down in front of my television and it's been nice.
Paul: Oh well, silver linings. Silver linings. Okay Steve—
Steve: Exactly. That's right.
Paul: Okay. So listen thank—you Steve for taking the time to talk to me and we will do this again later in the year. Okay?
Steve: All right. Sounds great. Thanks for having me Paul.
Paul: Okay everyone, that's it for this iTalk. Tune in again in a few weeks for the next one. Bye for now.
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About the author
Paul Tuohy has specialized in application development and training on IBM midrange systems for more than 20 years.
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