The Roadmap to 2032 and Beyond Helps Ensure the Future of IBM i
Alison Butterill and Brandon Pederson discuss the critical role Business Partners play in the vitality of the platform.
By Jennifer Goforth Gregory11/30/2020
In early 2020, organizations focused on moving to remote work and changing their operating model. However, issues on the table before the pandemic must still be resolved. For some businesses, the pandemic has cemented the need for flexible work environments, leveraging the latest in mobile software as well as implementing cloud, and integrating IoT technology and other advanced solutions.
“Many of our clients are assessing what to do next, in terms of technology,” says Alison Butterill, program director for IBM i Offering Management. “As they are ‘getting back to normal,’ they are re-examining strategies and goals.”
In today’s world, most companies understand the need to have their IT strategies in alignment with their business strategies. If the business is planning to expand its marketshare, move into new lines of business or develop new processes, IT must be positioned to support the company’s direction. In recent days, this need to maintain alignment often brings new discussions to the forefront.
The IBM i ecosystem plays a key role in assisting IT teams and companies in gathering the information required to make these strategic choices. IBM i clients rely on the strong network of business partners to provide valuable insight about technology choices. ISVs bring the expertise and knowledge of specific industry trends and directions. The opportunity to connect with other companies making similar choices can be found at the many IBM i community groups like COMMON North America, COMMON Europe or the Large User Group (LUG). While the current environment has not made face-to-face events possible, most groups have been running online events with virtual networking opportunities.
By working closely with IBM Business Partners, ISVs and listening to the broad IBM i community, organizations of all sizes can find the right solutions to innovate and grow. When partners discuss IBM i with their clients, several topics seem to be top of mind.
The Need to Stay Current With Technology
IBM delivers new hardware and new OS software on a regular cadence. The technical enhancements provided can be small or quite broad in scope. These include functions like free-format RPG, Temporal Support in Db2® and the ability to attach NVMe drives to POWER9™ machines.
Many clients worry that the path to upgrade is difficult and risky.
Certainly, upgrading to newer versions of hardware or software on any platform involves an amount of risk. However, the nature of the IBM i and IBM POWER® hardware architectures allow clients to undertake both upgrades at one time or to upgrade one at a time. This architecture, based on the Technology Independent Machine Interface (TIMI), helps mitigate risk when upgrading. The TIMI acts as a liaison between the hardware and software, as it translates changes with the new version of the OS to the hardware or allows new hardware to talk to older OSes.
“Upgrading everything at once may present a larger risk than some companies would like,” says Butterill. “By performing the upgrades in smaller pieces, such as the stepped approach of hardware or OS upgrades being done separately, may help clients mitigate their risk.”
The key is to review the upgrade paths and check with hardware and ISV partners when determining the process and schedule.
Return on Investment
Brandon Pederson, IBM i and Power Systems™ scale-out product marketing manager, says IBM regularly hears from clients that they receive high ROI from using IBM i, which is especially beneficial to smaller organizations. In the 2020 HelpSystems IBM i Marketplace Survey, more than 90% of clients reported that they perceive higher ROI from IBM i than from other platforms.
Digging a little deeper, companies using IBM i in their data centers cite smooth integration and ease-of-operation as two of the fundamental reasons for the high ROI. IT shops at many businesses do not need an army of personnel to keep large workloads running. Some organizations run their IT operations in the cloud with no operations staff on-site.
This certainly came to light during the pandemic. Many clients were running their businesses on IBM i, and no one was actually in their data center. This was possible due to the plethora of tools available from IBM and software partners to handle day-to-day operations remotely.
The combination of the integration of IBM i, smaller number of staff required to run the environment and the ability to remotely operate the machine lead to the high ROI reported by IBM i companies.
“Many of our clients are assessing what to do next, in terms of technology, as they are ‘getting back to normal,’ they are re-examining strategies and goals.”
Security–Built-in and Built-on
Clients are placing an even higher priority on security, providing a great opening for partners to begin a conversation about the platform. Although an object-based architecture is not a new addition to IBM i, it’s often forgotten since it was part of the original design—“built-in,” if you will. It means that when developers create an object in a system, they can only perform a limited set of activities on the object type. IBM i uses this approach to allow files to be read and edited, but not called, which means the native OS is not susceptible to becoming infected by a Trojan horse virus.
“IBM i is the only object-based OS in the market, making it more securable. A file cannot masquerade as something else, which is a common scenario for viruses,” says Pederson.
The key here is that IBM i is one of the most securable platforms in the market. Discussions with IBM and with hardware and software partners can help IT shops to build on the inherent security of the object-based architecture.
Passionate Community With a Strong Heritage
Steve Will, chief architect of IBM i, says the active IBM i community provides valuable insights that help drive the direction of the platform, especially in the areas of scalability, availability and security. IBM i benefits from IBM’s regular conversations with members of the LUG, a user group of approximately 100 of the largest IBM i companies in the world. Additionally, the IBM i team regularly meets with COMMON and COMMON Europe to hear about and understand the needs of small to medium businesses.
Additionally, by meeting regularly with the ISV Advisory Council, the IBM i team keeps up to date with current partner challenges and perspectives as they pertain to specific industry trends, allowing the IBM i team to work on extending companies’ IT investments. ISVs have provided guidance in incorporating worldwide business standards such as GDPR from Europe.
Each year, IBM i works with various companies that survey the IBM i marketplace. They use the results to further understand how clients use the different aspects of IBM i in their businesses. Will says his team carefully considers the top concerns each year, which recently included security, high availability, modernizing applications and IBM i skills.
While 2020 has been a different year in all aspects of connecting with the community, the IBM i team continues to conduct briefings and workshops with their clients and partners. In other years, these would have been face-to-face, but in 2020, all of these were held virtually.
Reducing the Skills Gap Through Open Source and Ansible
Since 2008, IBM i has been adding open-source components to IBM i. The demand for modern environments has been driven by several factors. Of course, open source offers a way to provide different interfaces onto existing IBM i applications. Additionally, however, this demand has increased as young developers are hired into more IBM i companies. These developers are looking for ways to interface IBM i business applications with other technologies, which drives innovation and business value.
Since IBM's acquisition of Red Hat®, an increasing number of clients are evaluating and adopting Red Hat Ansible® for automating routine tasks such as cloud provisioning, deploying applications, applying security patches and making upgrades. Based on customer and partner feedback, the IBM i team prioritized adding Ansible functionality this past year.
Ansible provides a variety of functions, most focused in the area of workflow automation. By taking advantage of the many IBM i playbooks, clients can use Ansible to automate processes and distribute tasks throughout the network. Ansible can be integrated with IBM i in two main ways:
Clients use the system management functions to distribute updates, check availability of systems and communicate with networks
Ansible DevOps functionality supports a DevOps method of development and delivery, allowing small modules of code to be distributed throughout a network as soon as they have completed the dev/test process.
“Open source, including Ansible, allows clients to hire IT professionals with other skills and immediately be productive on the platform,” says Pederson. “It opens up the platform to a new community of developers, giving them more freedom of choice with the technologies and languages that can be used to build applications.”
“IBM i is the only object-based OS in the market, making it more securable. A file cannot masquerade as something else, which is a common scenario for viruses.”
Providing Continuous Availability
IBM and the network of ISV partners have provided a range of solutions to provide backup, disaster recovery (DR) and high availability (HA). Many companies have very specific requirements to align with their own business policies. Some industries have standards which require very targeted solutions for availability. As even more businesses move to an operations model of 24-7, the notion of continuous availability has become a key discussion.
IBM’s Power HA for i and BRMS are updated with new features and functions on a regular basis, including in IBM i 7.4 and subsequent technology refreshes. Will says one of the biggest additions to IBM i in the 7.4 release revolved around the delivery of IBM Db2 Mirror for i. This solution pairs two systems that mirror each other. Applications run on both systems, updating data which is then mirrored onto the opposite machine. This runs with zero downtime, even during an update.
However, Will cautions that this does not eliminate the need for DR, but instead allows you to keep workloads running at the same time. This provides a recovery time objective of zero.
Future Plans for IBM i
IBM openly talks about the roadmap forward. Since IBM i 7.4 was announced in April 2019, IBM has delivered three technology refreshes. The IBM i team talks about already working on the follow-on release currently called iNext. With one of the longest roadmaps in the industry, the IBM i strategy reaches beyond 2032. The updated roadmaps are published in the IBM i Strategy Whitepaper, which Butterill and Will write each time a major release is announced.
The IBM i team has always focused on connecting with the entire IBM i ecosystem of partners. This includes hardware partners, ISVs, consultants and community partners such as the huge network of user groups. They all share a goal of making IBM i companies successful.
“We are committed long-term to the platform and want to continue creating strong relationships with partners around the globe,” says Pederson. “Most importantly, we want to help our partners innovate with new technologies, just as our team continually builds new innovations into the platform.”
TRENDS 2021 — BUSINESS PARTNER PERSPECTIVES
What’s ahead for Power Systems in 2021?
Senior vice president, Maxava
Simon is responsible for building Maxava’s reseller and customer base worldwide. He often presents at conferences and on webinars about IBM i disaster recovery, cloud and system monitoring.
How do I get my IBM i Data to the Cloud?
There are now three public cloud offerings available for businesses that run on IBM i, and this has led to a shake-up of the traditional model for running workloads on-premise. Running workloads in the cloud have obvious ROI advantages in a post-COVID-19 world and will be the overwhelming trend in 2021. When it comes to your database, there are two variables to understand before you plan a move to the cloud: the size of the database itself and the daily number of transactional changes your organization applies to it. I believe the best approach to do this with limited downtime is to engage a migration vendor and use logical replication software. The vendor will typically seed the cloud with your database and replicate the daily changes in real time. Then when you’re ready and testing is complete, they will run a live swap from on-premise to the cloud. Most vendors will do this as a service and package in short term use of the software, monitoring and management. Welcome to the cloud in 2021.
Tech Sales, Cybernetics
Derek is an industry veteran with nearly a decade of experience in crafting high-performance storage and backup solutions.
What’s Ahead for Virtual Tape in 2021?
Data Protection Evolution
If there were any doubts, we now know the importance of being able to access our data remotely. In 2021, even more businesses will embrace the power of remote virtual backup management.
With more people working from home, handling physical tapes has become an expensive hassle with steadily decreasing appeal. We predict more companies will embrace the benefits and ease of use of disk-based virtual tape libraries. There’s no doubt that deployments of virtual tape solutions will increase and new physical tape library installations will decrease. Virtual tape and library solutions will continue to evolve to meet the big demands of a remote workforce and to supplant physical tape as the leader in backup management.
Director of marketing, TL Ashford
Mike is a 26-year veteran in the IBM i space. He has served in programming, support, sales and marketing. He’s also the office table tennis champion.
Consolidation and Efficiency Are Key in the COVID-19 Era
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced companies to evaluate and assess their most critical daily functions to achieve efficiency with a distributed workforce. We’re seeing a trend where companies are focused on consolidating applications and utilities onto their central IBM i server to make sure their distributed workforce has access to real-time, updated forms and labels, as opposed to forms and labels spread over multiple servers.
With many large-scale companies utilizing a work-from-home strategy, there’s an added emphasis on reliability and efficiency now more than ever. The capability of companies to provide quality service as if nothing has changed is going to be critical during a time when stress levels are high and workforces are spread thin.
Jennifer Goforth Gregory is a freelance writer.