Steve Bradshaw Discusses the Global IBM i Community and NVMe
Paul Tuohy talks to IBM Champion Steve Bradshaw about hardware support over the last 18 months, a new world for user groups, NVMe, open-source epiphanies and rediscovering one’s roots
Steve Bradshaw: Hey Paul, how you doing?
Paul: I'm doing well thank you. I hope you're the same. Steve, I've done an iTalk with you before, but I just realized a while ago. It was actually five years ago.
Steve: It was five years, and we were at a conference at the time. It was the first interview that I'd done in a very long time, and I'd literally just finished building an environment. I've never been so flapped all my life and I was delighted with how you made that interview sound like I was calm when I really wasn't.
Paul: Okay, well, let's try and keep you calm this time. So let me say. What I wanted to start with I think, Steve, is that I should point that you are one of those dreaded hardware guys so obviously most of what you're about to say to me I'm not going to understand. We'll just take that as a given but so your company Rowton IT Services, you're based in the U.K. and so has the last year and a half been an interesting year and a half for you?
Steve: I'll tell you. The beginning of the pandemic, we went through changes like everybody but just before we get onto that. Yes, I'm a hardware guy and I might be seeing a little bit of remote road to Damascus about software, but I still always announce myself as the antidote to Paul Tuohy. So hardware and the pandemic. The customers that I look after and we look after about 80 different organizations here in the U.K.. They fell into two categories, those people who had been generally looking after their machine; you know it was patched, it was reasonably powered, they'd looked after their network, they got the ACS clients on there. Then the transition was pretty effortless. All’s we needed to do was give them remote access to the IBM i that they ran on and whether it was GUI based or ACS based, it was easy, and I'll come back to that with one exception. We had to break one habit and I'm delighted that we finally broke it. There was the other type of people who will never do anything. We never fix anything. It's not broken so we're not going to fix it. Those people found that it was broken pretty darn quick, and it wasn't that the system stopped working but because everything was oh well I'm using this sort of software, the old Window's clients from years back. I tried to reinstall it on a modern machine, and it didn't work. Now it doesn't. It's not supported, and you can't phone anybody because it hasn't been supported for year. I'll tell you what. Go back in time and buy a Windows 7 machine and then it will work. Those people, it was a bit tougher, for the first three months, we were triaging the people who needed the help but after that, suddenly things became the new normal. The machines operated wonderfully and if you don't mind me sharing a customer story I did called Arbor Jacket. We did this case study with IBM. Because those were one of the good people that had looked after their machines and they got the latest clients on there, they literally grabbed their workstations which mercifully were most laptops because they're cheaper these days and they took them home. Half of the people were already road warriors and got VPN clients. We look after their networks as well, so we just put the clients on the other half and they carried on working so through the pandemic literally even though they were forced to close for regulatory and all the good health and safety reasons they were able to work all the way through, do the remote orders, keep on top of the systems, talk to the suppliers. I got a quote from their managing director. They reopened two weeks earlier because they could see the stuff that they got. They could see the demand from their customers. They could see the work that they could do because they'd been able to keep the systems up to date all the way through so that gave them a real competitive edge over their opposition. That was purely because it was so easy to carry on using an IBM i based system, one that's architected to be central regardless of you know whether you're using open-source on it or a GUI front end or the traditional 5250 command line. It's a centralized system that's designed to be accessed remotely by multiple locations. It just works so IBM i made my job a lot easier over the whole pandemic but the first quarter, we were like everybody else.
Paul: Yeah, yeah. So, I'm going to come back on the hardware stuff and that because there's a second side of stuff that you're involved in Steven. This is where we met which was through IUG or I-U-G the user group in the U.K. and I think you guys have had an interesting year as well there, so I know that you've started doing hybrid—
Paul: Events and you've done a few, three you said?
Steve: That's right. We did three and we're just about to do our fourth next month.
Paul: Next month at which I will be presenting, okay.
Steve: You better.
Paul: I don't think I'll be there. It's still a bit early but sso tell me a little bit about that Steve because I think you have an interesting take on the way the pandemic has affected user groups sort of a good side and bad side.
Steve: So let's start with the good, okay? There has never been a better time to get IBM i education. The one thing about this pandemic with so many virtual conferences and virtual presentations being out there that there's more speakers. There is more subjects being covered at more events at a lower cost. Usually that cost as you know as someone who is on the speaking circuit, you're normally doing this stuff for free now and—and that's fine; you know there's big audiences. We're attracting audiences now. So we are a U.K. based. Normally we're just servicing the U.K. market and yes, we'll get some you know guests from across the water. We'll have some Irish guests, the odd few Europeans turning up and they're all very welcome, truthfully they are but we had 400 people from 27 countries you know. We were serving the Asia Pacific market. You think, oh my God. When did that happen and why did that happen? It's because these people wanted education and of course they're very, very welcome. If they can understand your accent and mine the way that we seem to somehow change English into what it is that we speak, they've very welcome to attend so that was great. So from the point of view of being able to learn and reach a broader audience, I think this was fantastic, not that I wished for a pandemic but that was an upside. There is a downside. The IBM i community and we talked about this a lot the last time we spoke five years ago is full of amazing people. I normally see you Paul probably six, seven times a year at conferences and every single time we're there, we're being looked after by the local organization and they really look after us. They'll take you for a meal. They'll do some sightseeing. They'll give you the tips on what to buy and where from. It's like a whole family of people that just sort of oh right my distant cousin is turning up and I miss that but normally you and I are also talking about the fact that I'm fed of being in a hotel. I'm fed up with cost of airport. I really want to sleep in my own bed. I've got a terrible confession Paul. I'm itching to get back on a plane and eat dreadful food with a plastic spork just I can go and see people again you know.
Paul: I know the feeling Steve, I really, really do.
Steve: If I'd had said that to you two years ago, you'd have slapped me.
Paul: Yeah, I know. I know.
Steve: I miss the guys. I miss being with people like you in person and there are so many others. You think, where's my family gone?
Paul: Yeah, no. I agree with you. I mean, it's I think there are phenomenal benefits to this sort of virtual world but—
Steve: So hybrid. Sorry to talk across you but you did ask me, and I should have got more to the point with the answer. So, the reason we went hybrid so quickly is because we're missing people and the second part of that was that we found that presenters—this is great. You and I are talking using a Zoom connection. We're a few hundred miles apart and it's just like you're in the room. I can see your face and I know we're using the audio, but it makes it so much easier but there's a different level of energy when you stand in front of an audience—
Steve: No matter how small that audience is. As you walk around and make presentations for the people at home, I'm shaking my hands all over the place at the moment and I know Paul can see me and I just can't help it. When you're able to walk around and make presentations. You've got your slide deck behind you, there's a different level of energy and we found that even when we start this last December in December 2020 and we were able to put on you know an event where there was only 12 people in the room and you know about 300 people remote, it made such a difference to a dozen people. You've got that energy level back and so this is why we've been very keen to stay with hybrid. Even when we're allowed to meet with each other in person and I think we're all getting there now. I mean you and I think have both been double vaccinated and our SQL injection as I like to go with geek joke—
Steve: Then I still think there'll be a long time afterwards where when we've got people in person, we will still record and stream some of these to help a wider audience of people get educated.
Paul: Yeah, yup. Cool. Okay so let's switch back to hardware, okay?
Steve: I know it's your favorite subject.
Steve: I can see you're itching.
Paul: I'm going to take a deep breathe here and hope I pronounce these words correctly. So, tell me because I know you're excited about this okay. Nonvolatile memory express.
Steve: NVMe. So for the people at home, Paul is probably just going to go and make a cup of tea right now. I promise, Paul, I won't speak about it for too long but we're constantly given these acronyms NVMe and all the other acronyms that IT always comes out with. We've got a bit of acronym fatigue. We're always told that this is the next best thing and the greatest thing and of course a couple of years pass and it's not. There's another next best thing but the whole idea of NVMe is that it has changed the way that the storage works and its internal storage, not the Utopian external storage. There is a place for external storage. It's very good, blah, blah, blah but it's expensive for a small IBM i user. It makes a lot of sense for medium and large ones but what NVMe has done is it has made storage up to 12 x faster so between 2 and 12 times faster depending on what sort of reading and writing you're doing so that's great. At the very least, it's double the speed of what you've got, and it's made it up to 50% cheaper to buy the hardware on the box. So, the hardware, then it's at least twice and fast and at least half as cheap. It's not often that IBM does that. Normally when something is twice as fast, let's just say it's a little more expensive, right?
Steve: But the simple thing is that we've moving to a different type of storage which you don't have to change any of your programs. They all still work exactly as they always do but suddenly it's made life easier and they're a bit more reliable as well because we've moving away from spinning disk architecture. So I won't bore you with all the things about parallel VS serial access and all of that. That's better too but just remember twice as fast, half the price. So, I think that that's a piece of hardware that's worth shouting about so nonvolatile memory and the express is just added.
Paul: Because you have to have a fourth letter in an acronym. We all know this. Okay, I'll admit. I'm sorry. I am impressed with that. It takes a lot for hardware to impress me.
Steve: But that's it. It's a simple message, you know?
Steve: It's faster and it's cheaper and I'll throw in there it's more reliable as well but faster and cheaper is usually good enough to get people.
Paul: Attention. Okay so there was one other interesting thing Steve. So, we're talking about work stuff when we were chatting before about the botanic thing, it was an interesting thing that you mentioned: Your open-source epiphany.
Steve: Yeah, okay so this has to be the tradeoff. I've just shown you a piece of hardware that you're interested in but actually I had a real open-source proper epiphany. Yeah, I wasn't just on the road to Damascus. It just magicked me there it was so good. I got a support call that came in and it was to do with printing PDFs so very mature ERP system. Yup, fine, no problem at all. Carrier has changed the way that they work so carrier sends a PDF in saying these are the labels. It's going to pick up your stuff. It's all integrated with web services, all nice and modern but the carrier sometimes has the label in this PDF in portrait and sometimes in landscape and my printer that I have there, my piece of hardware always just did exactly what it was told. It didn't intuitively think well, it need rotating so it was half the time printing the labels the wrong way around and I thought, oh right. I can't find a hardware solution to this and so I didn't even look. You could do it with IF1, the info print server 1 product on IBM i but you know that in itself has been stabilized. I though I'm not going to create a brand-new solution based on I wouldn't say obsolete because it's still supported but not strategic moving forward solutions because we put this in quite a few years. So, I engaged with a hardware manufacturer. I looked at all sorts of bits and then I just though well, I've been listening to Jesse Gorzinski so I just put a comment in the IBM i community which we should talk about at some point, this new online community that's there and 20 minutes later someone said there's an open-source solution for this. It's two lines of Python code that even I could follow it. The first I think was open this PDF. The second was rotate and save this PDF. You are having a laugh. You just described to me what I asked you to do. Now that's the Python code so the epiphany was that there is probably a software solution to many hardware problems which I have to say through gritted teeth. The simple fact is that it's not always RPG. You know there's an open-source solution for many problems that we would normally solve with RPG or COBOL or insert your you know mature language; nothing wrong with those languages but if someone is going to give you the answer—
Steve: In two lines of code that even I can understand, there must be something in there so.
Paul: Yeah, you obviously discovered the secret of programming. Copy-paste.
Paul: Change name of document. There we go. Okay so listen one last thing then Steve and I thought this was an interesting thing a little bit on the personal side and sort of side effect of pandemic reconnecting with roots.
Steve: So yeah. You and I say we normally see each other at least half a dozen times a year. Well, I'm normally on a plane every month on average which is a lot for a Brit. We're not like the guys who are in America who use it for their commuting. I'm on a train every week. I'm constantly traveling and on top of that I'll do another 30,000 miles in the car so this pandemic has meant that I have spent more time in my home city that at any other time in my adult life. I know I have a very young sounding voice but for those of you who don't know what I look like, I'm almost as decrepit as Paul. So you know for 40 years—
Steve: Almost yeah. I aspire to catch up with you Paul, my friend. You are my mentor.
Steve: So, you know for 30 years I've been traveling and so for the first time I spent a year at home, and I got to reconnect with my home city. The things that I had forgotten, the things that I never knew, the things that had changed, it can be as simple you know just when you're walking down the street because you're not worried about being run over, and hopefully you're not staring at your phone, look up. Look at the architecture of where you live. Those people who have heard of Wolverhampton wouldn't think it would be famous for having good architecture. It's amazing. The city is incredible as long as you look above the shop line you know and then countryside around it. Where I am is right on the west of the west Midlands so if you head west from where I am, it's literally all fields until you get to Wales which is about 50 miles away, about 70 kilometers away and it's stunningly beautiful. It's Lord of the Rings country. I think I think I've told you in the past. We are those hairy toed hobbits Tolkien was talking about. They are shires, Staffordshire, Worcestershire, Shropshire and this is where I live on the edge of. It's phenomenal so I got to reconnect with my home city and I'm so proud of where I'm from and so glad I got to spend more time there.
Paul: Well, I think that is an excellent tone to leave things on. So, Steve, thank you for taking the time to talk to me. I hope it won't be another five years before we do this again and I really look forward to seeing you in person later this year.
Steve: Fantastic. Great to speak to you Paul. Thank you.
Paul: Okay. That's it for this iTalk everyone. Tune in again soon for the next one. Bye for now.
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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