The iSeries Blog

July 24, 2008  8:23 AM

Define the midrange

Mark Fontecchio Mark Fontecchio Profile: Mark Fontecchio

That elusive term: the midrange. What does it mean? We in the IT journalism industry often refer to it without really defining it. I myself usually only use the actual term “midrange” when referring to the IBM i server platform, although there are presumable so-called “midrange” customers running Dell, HP, Sun and others. But for some reason, when referring to their push in the midmarket, or midrange if you will, I refer to the audience as SMB, short for small and medium businesses.

The prototypical midrange user I have in my head could be a fairly large business, but always has a relatively small IT staff where each member needs to take on a lot more tasks than at a huge Fortune 500 company where everything is segmented out.

Over at IT Jungle, Timothy Prickett Morgan gives his input on the matter and also gets takes from IBM’s and HP’s unofficial midrange representatives: Mark Shearer at IBM and Urs Renggli at HP. Their opinions on the midrange are pretty interesting. From Renngli’s point-of-view:

HP believes that looking at IT shop headcount and the level of expertise is a lot better an indicator of whether an IT organization is a small, midrange, or enterprise shop–a lot better, says Renggli, than looking at whether a company has from one to 99 employees (that would be small) or from 100 to 1,000 (that would be midrange).

And Shearer:

First, according to Shearer, is that they are decidedly different, which means the company owners and the employees have made a conscious choice to work for a small or medium business; they are often family owned businesses, and if they are not, they act like families just the same. Often times, the people who own and work at the company are the company brand, and they behave as such. They are independent, and they are just as inclined to act from their instincts as they are from deep analysis…Second, midrange companies are growing up. They have a growth attitude, and they want to invest in growth; they are looking at scale and efficiency to get there.

There is plenty more in the original article: “What the Heck is the Midrange, Anyway?”

July 24, 2008  7:14 AM

IBM software engineers outwitted again

Mark Fontecchio Mark Fontecchio Profile: Mark Fontecchio

Though it’s only tangentially related to the IBM i, this joke about IBM and Microsoft software engineers would probably have a lot of iHeads nodding and laughing. Let’s just say it involves three IBM software engineers, three Microsoft software engineers, and only one train ticket between all of them.
It’s also good to see back after a short hiatus.

July 23, 2008  11:59 AM

Only 23% moving to new System i hardware? Not quite.

Mark Fontecchio Mark Fontecchio Profile: Mark Fontecchio

Mark Hall, a columnist over at Computerworld, had a recent column about the System i, or the IBM i, or whatever you want to call it. It was called “Bye bye i.” As Hall puts it, “(n)ow the company offers you a single, pathetic vowel, the i. The IBM i. ”

In the column, Hall pointed to a recent Common user group story to make his point:

Even supporters are hesitant to stay with i. A survey last month of Common members, the largest user group for i technology, showed a mere 23% planned to move to the latest i hardware.

Too bad Hall didn’t read that survey he linked to closely enough. Here’s an excerpt from the press release from Common highlighting the survey results:

The survey included reactions to the recent IBM Power Systems announcements. Forty-three percent of customers said they plan to upgrade to IBM i 6.1 in 2008, with 23% of respondents planning to upgrade to new POWER6 processor-based systems and 6% planning to implement with IBM BladeCenter.

First of all, the “latest i hardware” also now includes BladeCenter, so the hardware figure should be 29%. Secondly, actually 43% plan to upgrade to the newest version of IBM i, the operating system. And finally, these numbers are referring to 2008, not the indefinite future. What about those System i shops that just bought new hardware a year ago (or six years ago) who don’t feel the need to upgrade their System i hardware because, well, their System i hardware is performing just fine right now, thank you very much.

That percentage also doesn’t take into account those survey responders who have already upgraded to new Power6-based systems. Remember, they came out earlier this year, and before Common released its survey results. Though Common should have made more clear whether any respondents already upgraded, it didn’t.

So no, the 23% figure shouldn’t be held up as proof that IBM i is dying, despite Hall’s claims.

July 10, 2008  8:02 AM

System i links for 7-10-08

Mark Fontecchio Mark Fontecchio Profile: Mark Fontecchio

July 10, 2008  7:29 AM

Lack of SATA drive support a good thing?

Mark Fontecchio Mark Fontecchio Profile: Mark Fontecchio

As if often the case, digging into the comments of blogs online can often be more interesting than the posts themselves. Take this example from Maxed Out, the System i Network blog by Chris Maxcer.

The blog itself isn’t bad — Maxcer quotes Clabby Analytics analyst Joe Clabby as basically saying that mainframe technology is still bleeding down into lower platforms, and the Power Systems group is and will continue to be a beneficiary to that. One of Clabby’s points is that the mainframe has been doing virtualization for decades.

The first comment, then, questions whether x86 virtualization with VMware has now exceeded virtualization on Power, as VMware supports virtualized SATA drives while IBM i on BladeCenter does not. “Has x86 virtualization software now exceeded what IBM offers?” the comment asks.

Oh, but I say nay nay, another commenter writes:

Any limitations on the use of SATA drives with i are intentional. The “read me first” document for planning storage virtualization with IBM i strongly recommends the use of Fibre Channel physical drives due to the performance and reliability requirments of production workloads. SATA drives have a reputation for being, relatively speaking, slow and less reliable. Rather than let the lure of cheap disks become a substitute for good capacity planning, IBM has chosen not to support SATA drives for i on blades … at least for the time being.

July 10, 2008  7:11 AM

A testimonial on installing a System i blade

Mark Fontecchio Mark Fontecchio Profile: Mark Fontecchio

Lukas Beeler has a thorough post about his experience with installing System i onto an IBM JS12 blade.

As he stresses, this is not an instruction manual. It is rather Beeler’s personal journey in doing the installation. The bottom line?

The whole setup took me roughly 24 hours (i started a day ago at 16:00). Of course, the system wasn’t always busy because i didn’t give him any work, but it’s worth to note that setting up a JS12 blade takes considerably longer than setting up a model 515 or M15.

The JS12 blade is one of two blades that IBM is currently offering the System i on — the other is the JS22. The JS12 is a single-socket server with one dual-core Power processor, up to 64 GB of RAM, and support for AIX, Linux or IBM i (version 6.1 and up).

One of the most time-consuming processes, Beeler wrote, was initialization of a single 147GB hard drive that took almost five hours. Aside from just leaving a bad taste in his mouth from waiting around so long, he said it could have ramifications for disaster recovery down the road. Initialization of three other disks essentially took overnight because the process got stuck at 99% and Beeler needed to get some sleep.

Beeler comes upon a revelation near the end, realizing that running the System i OS on the blade isn’t going to be like the good ol’ days:

While the installation happened, i used an additional session to explore the system. The disks where shown to the system as virtual disks, similar to SAN attached disks. But one of the more interesting parts was looking at the Hardware Service Manager in SST/DST – it was completely empty, and didn’t contain any hardware. For me, this was a moment that was quite indicative of the whole experience – i on Blade is not “AS/400 in Blade Form”. It’s a completely new environment that you’ll need to learn to deal with. You got another layer of indirection (VIOS) with it’s own platform (AIX), plus you have the blade management in itself.

Beeler is next going to install an ERP app to see how the blade handles it.

June 26, 2008  7:58 AM

A new site that’s a little mid-deranged

Mark Fontecchio Mark Fontecchio Profile: Mark Fontecchio

Like a cross between The Onion and Search400, Mid-Deranged is a satirical humor site about the IBM midrange. So it’s imperative that you not take it seriously when the site proclaims that IBM has announced it is buying Nintendo and merging Power Systems with the Wii to create the IBMii.

It’s also important that you realize it’s a joke when the site announces IBM’s new environmentally friendly program for the i, called Recycle/400.

“For a minimal fee IBM will take your old AS/400 and convert it to a useful product,” the post says. And then it lists 29 ways an AS/400 can be reused. Some of my favorites: rabbit cage, tanning booth, and highway crash barrier.

Yes, you will want to check this site out. It will bring a few chuckles into your System i world. And it doesn’t hesitate to take pot shots at IBM and System i competitors. The most recent post declares that Sun is suing the island of Java for trademark infringement, while an earlier one “reports” that a guest keynote speaker at the Common conference was Bill Gates, who gave a speech entitled “Software Quality through Perception, not Reality.” Ouch.

June 25, 2008  11:52 AM

AS/400 jobs: Are you looking for work?

Leah Rosin Leah Rosin Profile: Leah Rosin

On the one hand we hear that it is increasingly difficult to find a job working on a 20-year-old system. But we also hear that companies are looking to modernize their legacy systems and move away from RPG in favor of a programming language that the new college graduates are comfortable with. To me, there seems to be confusion out there, or at least a limited ability for job seekers and employers to connect. I have personally received emails from both head-hunters looking for AS/400 programmers and email from job hunters looking for leads on a new position.

So this week as I was browsing the feeds and blogs and I ran across Get AS400 Jobs.  A site dedicated to all of you, dear readers — I just had to share.
My initial impression is that the jobs listed are current and real — not some random marketing gimmick leading to a dead-end. From Boston, Mass. to East Wenatchee, Wa., AS/400 insiders are desired. So if you’re looking for a change of scenery or want to escape from your boss, you might want to take a look. If not, you may want to bookmark it for future reference. At the very least, it’s good fun to see what skills are desired — I don’t know about you, but there’s a certain joy in reading a job listing and being able to say “Oh, I could so do that.”

June 23, 2008  3:56 PM

History repeating itself? A look at the 20th anniversary of AS/400

Mark Fontecchio Mark Fontecchio Profile: Mark Fontecchio

This year, as many of you know, is the 20th anniversary of the introduction of AS/400. This weekend IBM held a big celebration at its campus up in Rochester, Minn. in celebration of the anniversary. But 20 years ago, not everyone was celebrating.

When System/36 and System/38 merged to become the AS/400 back in 1988, the higher-end customers were pleased, but not all the smaller ones were. This according to Frank Soltis, the chief scientist of System i who has been working on the AS/400 platform since it still had the codename of “Silverlake.” Soltis spoke during a Webcast last week hosted by Tango/04, a System i server monitoring software company.

“System/36 folks absolutely refused to buy AS/400 for many years,” Soltis said.

Twenty years later, System i and p have merged to become Power Systems, and similar consternation exists among users. The high-end ones tend to like the merger, Soltis said, while the smaller customers are worried that they’re losing their business computing platform.

So will all the System i users become Power System converts? Perhaps not, but predictions of the platform’s demise may be premature.

It is striking to see how far the platform has come in 20 years. Ian Jarman, the System i product manager, said that the first AS/400 machine, the B10, was rated at 3 cpw (commercial processing workload). A new Power6 that runs i5/OS, the 595, is rated at 300,000 cpw.

Soltis said during the Webcast that if someone had asked him 20 years ago what he’d be doing in 20 years, he certainly would not have guessed that he’d still be working on the AS/400. So what about 20 years from now? Jarman said this:

“I’m very confident that we can take our applications forward into any generation of technology to come and we’ve made investments with Power systems. I can’t predict the future but we have positioned it to really move wherever the mainstream moves.”

Other Soltis anniversaries

Soltis is celebrating other work-related anniversaries this year with IBM. This October is the 30th anniversary of System/38, one of the precursors to the AS/400. And then in November, Soltis is celebrating 40 years of working full-time with IBM. His first assignment? To create a replacement for the System/3 minicomputer, which ended up being the System/38, which ended up being the AS/400, iSeries, System i and now Power Systems.

“Even my children point out to me that in all my 40 years at IBM, I’ve only really worked on one product,” he said.


Soltis revealed that when IBM decided to merge System i and p, the opportunity arose to re-rename the operating system from i5/OS back to OS400. Soltis opposed the reversion, agreeing with most at IBM that “going backward was a bad thing.” Still, all the renaming has given Soltis some regrets.

“If there was something I could do, it would be to undo all the renaming,” he said.

The future, according to Frank Soltis

Some things to look for, both from IBM, its customers, and the server market in general, according to Soltis:

  • “In the future one of the things we’re looking to do is move toward special purpose processors. As a result, one of the things we have done is worked out the design of the next generation of Power technology called Power7. If you look at Power7, it’s not just Power anymore. It’s Power plus a lot of these special purpose processors.”
  • “Back in 2001, we were having negotiations with Microsoft to run Windows on Power…Over the last several years, Microsoft has been busy moving to 64-bit platforms. As a result, very little has happened with running Windows on Power…We certainly don’t see anything in the near future with Windows running on Power.”
  • On the System i blade: “A lot of our customers don’t have blades, and personally I don’t see a lot of them moving to a blade environment. Yes, we’re going to support blades where it makes sense, but also support the fully integrated system as we always have.”
  • “Personally I believe over the next couple years there will only be two vendors of processing technology (in business computing)…I’m a firm believer that Intel and IBM will be the two main ones or only ones…”

June 12, 2008  3:55 PM

EGL Cafe open: Are you ready for a new language?

Leah Rosin Leah Rosin Profile: Leah Rosin

Over a year after IBM’s new Enterprise Generation Language (EGL) was launched, and following IBM’s own iSeries EGL tutorial publication, the EGL Cafe has opened. The site launch occurred after IBM’s Rational Software Developer Conference (RSDC) last week in Orlando, Fla.

New to the blogosphere (but not to i), Joe Pluta has launched his own EGL and i blog on the site. Pluta’s June 11, 2008, entry expounds the potential of EGL to help i developers everywhere:

By combining a procedural syntax with the concept of hiding complexity, EGL does what i developers have been asking for: it gives them a clean, consistent way to write web applications where they can concentrate on the business logic rather than the plumbing. In many ways, EGL is the spiritual successor to the 5250. While it far surpasses the 5250 in rich user experience, in many ways it’s as easy, if not easier, to use than the old green screen SDA. Combine that with a carefully crafted and deceptively simple CALL Interface, and EGL does for the web what display files did for the green screen.

And it’s clear that Pluta has been on board the EGL bandwagon for some time. In April 2008 he published a lengthy article explaining the niche the new programming language fills: Developing EGL Applications for the System i. In his EGL and i blog, Pluta explained that he intends to help i users learn how to work with this new language while taking advantage of their years of business logic experience.

… i shops already have business logic — logic that they’ve spent years (even decades!) developing — and the best initial use of EGL in those shops is exposing that logic, either directly as browser-based web applications or — moving to the true SOA approach — as web services that can be consumed by other internal and external clients. Then, they can combine that newly enabled business logic with all the rich application features of EGL to create new integrated applications they never dreamed of.

And my goal will be to explain how to do that quickly and productively.

If you’re saying, “Hold on a second? What’s EGL again?” You might find the video interview with EGL language architect Tim Wilson helpful.

But, if you’ve been paying attention to this new language, let us know. Leave your comments about your feelings, insights, or opinions about EGL. If you have experience using EGL on i, consider submittng a Tip!

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