HelpSystems Blog

Inside IBM i with Alison Butterill

Alison Butterill, IBM’s Worldwide Product Manager for IBM i, is a key contributor for defining the future of IBM i, including content for releases and technology refreshes. We connected with her in late December to ask some big questions about trends and directions at IBM in 2014 that may influence your data center operations. Here’s what she shared with us.

HS: This is kind of a weird comparison—or maybe not!—but in the IBM i world, how do you see things in comparison to what Windows and Apple are doing in the mobile sphere?

AB: About a year and a half ago, Steve Will and I were talking about this and we understood at that point where our clients were moving in the mobile space. From an IBM i perspective, our job is to provide enablement of mobile devices. We are not going to produce mobile devices, but we need to enable the applications to be distributed at a mobile device or accessed from mobile. Starting with TR5 last fall, we started delivering enablement technologies that allowed applications vendors to incorporate support for mobile devices. We’ve been capitalizing on things like RPG Open Access and JTOpen Lite, which allows Java programmers to access native i stuff on a mobile device. Open Access opens the RPG program so software or tool vendors can write their own interface into the RPG program.

As a result, we’ve been able to deliver quite a number of enablers in different forms to date, including PHP and Java, so we believe—and our clients are telling us—that we are far ahead of many other servers in providing mobile enablement solutions. At this moment in time, I would honestly say that IBM i is also ahead of some of the AIX and Linux solutions in the POWER space because of the breadth of technology that IBM i incorporates. We know the security, the user interface stream that comes out, the database—it makes it easier for us to enable those devices because they are integrated with IBM i.

A number of vendors have coined the phrase, “Secure the data and open the application”. Knowing your data is secure is key. IBM i security plays incredibly well here in making sure the data is really secure while opening the application to whoever needs to use it from whatever device.

HS: How about IBM i in the cloud? In what ways will managed service providers (MSP) and virtualization factor in 2014?

AB: (laughs) Well, that’s really three questions with three separate answers. There are two sides to every cloud. First, who’s using it? This is where mobile plays most recently—CEOs think they are in the cloud if their mobile device connects to an application. Second, who’s supporting it? IT shops have to decide to how deliver to CEOs in a way that is cost effective and easy to manage. That decision is based on the key things that keep the CEO able to access, things like virtualization and availability, all the infrastructure stuff that supports what the CEO believes is in the cloud.

Sometimes that infrastructure might be an on-premise solution, managed and upgraded by that IT team. Some shops choose to use managed service providers with hosting capabilities. IBM has done hosting in the i space for years with independent software vendors (ISV) who host software-as-a-service kind of solutions, only now we’ve started calling them MSPs with SaaS. We also have MSPs for hosting infrastructure—inside we call that disaster-recovery-as-a-service—and we have a lot of business partners doing DR-as-a-service. Their customers back up to their boxes that are at the partner site—they provide the backup box or DR box.

Many organizations are using the true infrastructure-as-a-service model, which is where you own the license and entitlements and do the work but the MSP physically hosts the box and runs everything. However, businesses in some industries are not allowed to do multi-tenancy but the customer still doesn’t want to manage the environment, so having an off-premise, total solution from the hardware up is how they have an MSP help them.

HS: What is IBM doing to support ISVs like Help/Systems or Infor to help spread the word about IBM i?

AB: We have the early ship programs and the ISV council. The two big categories of ISVs are tool or infrastructure vendors and application vendors. Global application vendors like Oracle/JD Edwards, SAP, and Infor have solutions on multiple platforms and operating systems, so IBM has a team of developers that works with them on a regular basis. We also have an ISV ecosystem team that looks after our larger ISVs.

HS: So the application environment is still really strong on IBM i, then? It’s not in a position to be a database server? What do you hear from customers in the WebSphere® area, where monitoring applications built using WebSphere is concerned?

AB: There are so many WebSphere products, but the one we see most often is the application server. The application server business is still very strong, very viable. There are tools from WebSphere and from Rational® that do some analysis and monitoring of the applications. I broadly categorize WebSphere as the execution environment, whereas Rational is the development and compiler environment. They develop the applications that run in WebSphere, and share monitoring and managing capabilities with WebSphere as well. Rational offers some great application tools that run in IBM i but don’t get the attention they deserve, Rational Performance Tester, for example. You can load any IBM i application onto your box, then simulate environments of up to 2,000 users hitting the system at the same time and it will tell you the impact.

HS: How is IBM perceived by 25-year-old developers and 35-year-old CEOs?

AB: Generally, developers don’t look at particular vendors like IBM or HP. They are more language-oriented as opposed to platform and have no loyalty except to their language—do I code in PHP, Java, JavaScript, GNU? Many developers at IBM’s Rational Innovate conference probably couldn’t tell you what server runs in their company. For CEOs, regardless of age, you are concerned about what’s best for your company. You look at servers and evaluate major components that are good for business, depending on your industry.

HS: What’s your favorite application on IBM i?

AB: I used to love MAPICS and DMAS/CMAS/RMAS when I started. There were so many facets; they really forced me to learn the business. They don’t really exist today in the same form, so those are the legacy ones for me. Today, the ones I have the most fun with are any of the Wiki software that run in the PHP environment on IBM i because companies are totally blown away that they can do that on an i. But they can!

HS: Where has IBM i seen the most success? Any particular countries or industries?

AB: For our established markets like North America and Europe, we are in a replacement era, even if IBM is the incumbent. Selling to customers today is different than it was 25 years ago. Back then we were selling an automated solution—AS/400 can automate your manufacturing, your shop floor, or payroll. Now we’re selling a better automation solution—be it software or platform stability—and replacing something that was already there.

For Power Systems, we’re starting to see a lot of success in growth areas like China, Brazil, Africa, and India. In fact, a number of our development team, including Steve Will, are in China right now trying to close some business. It’s such a new market, so IBM China and its partners there are not yet incredibly deep when it comes to technical skill. To educate the clients we need to first educate the IBMers and the partners who are talking to the clients. It’s a big project in a big country, but we’re making progress.

Banking is huge globally for IBM i, and customers in China follow similar industries to the rest of the world. We already have some big banking customers in China, as well as some large ones in stocks and insurance. For now, we’re just doing basic technology stuff, but there are some very good application vendors that do business in China and run on i.

HS: Okay, in North America and Europe then, how is IBM working to foster education on the i and preserve the community? What is IBM doing to dispel the perception that IBM i is inefficient and expensive, to ensure the longevity of the server and make it feel more familiar to a new audience?

AB: We still teach IBM education, but it’s hard. We offer online and classroom options, which really work for some customers. Others prefer self-study. Education is a little different than awareness. With awareness, we do a lot of work on the Web; we don’t do marketing through printed ads as much as in years past. IBM i really leads the way with our IBM brands in the social space with five active bloggers and many active tweeters.

For the C-level folks, one of the things we’ve been doing is really focusing on total cost of ownership (TCO) and doing studies on total cost of acquisition (TCA). We have two studies that were published a year ago, and one more coming this spring, all from ITG. We also had a new one last year for enterprise businesses. We asked ITG to look at enterprise values, things that are important to enterprise customers, like security and availability.

The example they used was the Royal Bank of Scotland. A year ago, the Royal Bank of Scotland was hacked and went down. They lost corporate customers, private customers, and credibility. That said, they were pretty open about how much it cost their company to be down, to have been hacked and have data stolen. ITG extrapolated that information so that it actually has business value in our paper.

The TCA is a shock to everybody because they are used to considering Windows or IBM. Well, nobody runs an application on Windows alone. To run a business, you need to have a database, security software, transaction software, and so on. When you fill out the stack, IBM i is less expensive and has a lower TCO over time. Power consumption, overhead, staff, all of these things are critical. As you apply more fixes, updates, and service packs in a Windows environment, there is always more than one person that looks after that environment because of all the co-requisites and prerequisites. When you get IBM i, you just get it. We manage pre- and co-requisites for the fixes.

HS: What message would you like to relay to our readers about IBM or the future of IBM i?

AB: I think IBM i has done a very good job of positioning itself to continue to grow into the future. That integration story that’s really held so well for the last 25 years, moving into the future, will really stand it in good stead because companies are going to be looking at more and more new enablement technologies like mobile and cognitive. The integration that IBM i provides on the backend is that consistency and stability that people count on. Meanwhile, IBM is doing a good job of expanding our capabilities into those new technologies to help our clients.

Over her 30-year tenure at IBM, Alison has worked closely with IBM i sales, marketing, and development teams, as well as clients and partners, to ensure that the IBM i operating system and associated software products reflect their requirements. She speaks regularly at industry and technical conferences around the world, including past Help/Systems user conferences.