Why Should Anyone Learn IBM i?
Few decisions impact business IT operations as much as determining which software to run on a company’s servers. Similarly, acquiring skill sets and experience with server operating systems can be a differentiating factor in an increasingly competitive job market. New options have emerged over the years, but new doesn’t always mean better. Operating systems like IBM i (iSeries, AS/400) are based on technology that has proven its effectiveness for decades, and many of the largest Fortune 500 companies, among others, continue to use “the i” today.
It’s easy to understand why businesses value the platform when looking at the features that come with it. Further embedding loyalty in the operating system is the fact that IBM i comes with a strong history of resiliency and robust functionality.
But some have asked whether having skills based on IBM i is worth the effort: Is IBM i relevant in today’s business world? Can it hold up to modern IT demands?
The answer to both questions is a definitive YES. Despite some prevailing myths, IBM i continues to deliver on its foundational promises while leveraging the latest technology. IT professionals stand to gain a lot from learning the system—their expertise will be highly valued in companies that base their systems management on IBM Power servers running IBM i.
What follows are 14 reasons why it's smart to have IBM i in your 21st century data center.
1. IBM i Is a Strong Investment
Many of the arguments against learning about IBM i stem from the misconception that the operating system is outdated or no longer used. The operating system’s history traces back to the release of System/38 in 1979. However, both IBM i and the hardware it runs on have continued to lead its rival platforms in power, reliability, scalability, and security in the years since its founding.
IBM i version 7.4 draws on that pedigree to provide businesses with a great deal of functionality upfront instead of requiring numerous add-ons and disparate programs to run effectively. Because it is a turnkey operating system, it’s easy to get up and running quickly. However, it also supports a wide range of other products to further enhance its built-in security, high resiliency, and seamless automation.
It also makes sense from a business perspective to learn about IBM i because many companies are still using it. More importantly, those businesses don’t have plans to move away from IBM i any time soon. The IBM i Marketplace Survey shows that about 3.6 percent of the market plans to leave IBM i over the next two years. Of that small percentage, we know that some will never move as they have problems replicating on another platform what their business applications do on IBM i. We also see that around 76 percent have applications that were developed in house. These are difficult to replace. This indicates that the system is powerful enough not only to exist in today’s business technology ecosystem, but also to meet the continuously evolving demands of modern organizations.
We sometimes hear that IBM i is considered a legacy platform, but again the IBM i Marketplace Survey results reveal that 80 percent of the market is using SQL, 45 percent Java, 20 percent PHP, and a high percent using open source for development on IBM i. With the launch of version 7.1, IBM continued to enhance support for several languages including Java, PHP, and C++. They furthered the modernization by supporting open source in versions 7.2, 7.3, and 7.4 of the operating system. The enhanced programming support, combined with several modernization initiatives, have made IBM i accessible to the new generation of IT professionals without sacrificing the functionality and reliability the system is known for. Today, IBM i professionals are using Git, NodeJS, Apache Tomcat, and many other open source technologies that IBM itself has tested and even installed for their customers.
The IBM Power server today supports even AI via Power9 GPU processors or AI via the new generation of Power10 processors right alongside your IBM i workload. Most customers will probably provide AI via a Linux VM running directly on IBM Power hardware.
2. IBM i Has Powerful Built-In Features
IBM i comes out-of-box with a range of functionality. The built-in object-level security brings a high level of securability to your applications to ensure that the application data is protected as soon as it turns on. The OS has an enabled firewall technology called exit points for tracking activity around FTP, ODBC, SQL, and other communication methods. Customers have to write their own programs for these exits or invest in a good exit point ISV software. IBM i also comes with built-in work management features that are designed to facilitate memory management automation and virtualization of work within a partition (VM). IBM i also comes with tools for monitoring performance. This collection data is very helpful for problem determination and sizing capacity.
Of course, a single solution is rarely perfect on its own, as IBM recognized when it included support for middleware and open applications. This means that critical functionality already comes with the system and further enhancements can be added to it as business needs expand. Before getting into the powerful add-on features, it is helpful to understand IBM i’s basic operating environment and features.
3. IBM i Offers Smarter Work Management
On IBM i, work management refers to the processes that follow a job’s life from origin to completion. IBM i uses controlling subsystems to process work that enters the system, and the platform actually comes with Qctl and Qbase already configured. Qctl runs the startup and full system saves. The Qinter subsystem controls interactive activity that comes from end user business applications which run in their own memory pool. IBM i can have up to 64 memory pools for segregating different types of workloads.
The Qbase subsystem is configured to process the same work as Qctl, but simplifies management by separating into fewer subsystems. While this does sacrifice some personalization, it may be the better choice for those who just want to get started. Most users find that Qbase is enough to meet their needs, but IBM i does support custom subsystem configuration for users that want to further personalize their work management environments. Qinter, Qbatch, and QSPL are common subsystems for hosting interactive, batch, and printer jobs. Today’s modern environment will have many more subsystems supporting HTTP servers for web-based applications.
The system uses memory pools to allocate how many resources each subsystem can draw from. This is particularly beneficial for balancing performance, as administrators can place users into different subsystems and allocate a specific maximum number of resources so that jobs originating from those users don’t affect performance in other areas. Resources can be moved dynamically by the system tuner based on predefined parameters; they can also be moved at a predetermined time with a command (or, in an emergency, immediately).
Using multiple subsystems to control different types of jobs is also beneficial from a management perspective. For example, an administrator may decide she wants to run a high resource batch job in the evening. Utilizing multiple subsystems would allow each one to be shut down systematically to avoid affecting jobs that still need to be processed. Admins can have up to 62 private memory pools (those that only a specific subsystem can access) but also have the ability to specify 62 shared memory pools. The system is shipped with two memory pools ID 1 and 2.
This flexibility allows for dynamic memory movement to meet the needs of the different types of work running on the system like batch, interactive, spooling, communication, and HTTP server jobs.
4. IBM i Offers Flexible Job Management
IBM i users can manage jobs using either IBM Navigator for i or a character-based interface. The operating system has built-in job queuing management that coordinates batch activity. IBM i’s built-in scheduling functionality allows users to run timer jobs or to schedule one-off tasks.
The character-based interface can be used to schedule jobs within a range of parameters, including the ability to run batch jobs at regular intervals. However, many users find that Robot Schedule, an advanced job scheduling tool, can make the process a lot easier. IBM suggests that a job scheduling tool that fully integrates with IBM i affords a greater level of flexibility and control. Adopting such a tool will improve automation by allowing schedule rules to be defined from a larger pool of exceptions and built-in dependency processing for the jobs, file monitoring, user jobs, and more.
5. IBM i Supports Smart Programming
System functions can be performed using control language commands. IBM i supports the creation of CLP programs and procedures, a key component of automation that can be used to complete often-used system functions more efficiently. For example, an operator that frequently uses a specific set of subsystems together could write a CLP program to start all of them instead of initiating each one individually. This reduces the number of commands needed on a daily basis while also ensuring that system functions operate consistently. CLP is often used in conjunction with advanced scheduling to achieve fully-automated night and day processing.
CLP programs and procedures can also be used to make applications more accessible to workstation users. A developer can create a non-technical interface (menu) for users that don’t have an in-depth understanding of the underlying commands a program uses. These menus ease the navigation of business applications that don’t have a GUI or web interface. This improves security as end users don’t need access to enter commands—access that, in the wrong hands, would create exposure.
6. IBM i Is Easy to Automate
While the basic concepts of work and job management are not unique to IBM i, automation is the differentiating trait that makes the IT worker’s job easier once everything is properly configured. By automating tasks such as routine maintenance and configuration, businesses need fewer people managing the system. But automation also provides a number of other benefits.
To name a few:
- Automation increases productivity for the IT team and end users
- Automation improves performance
- Automation lowers the risk of downtime – human error from running tasks manually is a leading cause of downtime!
According to the ITIC 2020 Global Server Hardware, Server OS Reliability Report, 64 percent of respondents said security is the top cause of reliability issues, followed by 60 percent of respondents who blamed human error. And yes, the paradigm of doing more with less holds true for the operating system as well: Businesses leveraging IBM i needed five times fewer administrators to manage the system.
7. IBM i Offers Strong Security You Can Customize
Security is another topic that often comes to the forefront of technology discussions, and IBM i holds several strong advantages. IBM i security incorporates all the advantages of automation along with support for customization. Also, its built-in intrusion detection system monitors for a number of common attacks, including distributed-denial-of-service, IP spoofing, and unauthorized access.
When an administrator defines a custom intrusion policy in the system, IBM i will notify them by writing an event to QSYSOPR of an unusual event and record it in the security audit journal (QAUDJRN). This makes it easier to investigate potential threats and also helps IT meet compliance reporting mandates.
What makes IBM i security really stand out is that it has been certified to government level c2. The system is highly securable with its object-level security, system values, exit points, ability to run antivirus, and more. The issue, as in most cases, is that administrators have not always configured the system correctly. For instance, they may not have configured even password rules correctly. Our free security scan by the Powertech team is the best place to start on your road to improving security.
8. IBM i Supports Powerful Add-Ons
One-size-fits-all rarely works in the data center, and industry best practices often require the use of multiple technologies. For this reason, IBM i has support for a robust selection of additional software and hardware solutions. From virtualization through PowerVM, to even higher resiliency through PowerHA, to centralized management and job automation. And, of course, support for HelpSystems IBM i software for cybersecurity, automation, and business intelligence. There are numerous options for enhancing IBM i.
9. IBM i Understands Virtualization
Virtualization has become the go-to strategy for reducing IT spending. By shifting hardware components to the digital realm, organizations can achieve lower infrastructure maintenance costs and simplify their management. The journey to the cloud is even impacting IBM i customers as today’s virtualization makes it snap to be considered.
IBM i has supported partitions since 1999. Virtualization via IBM’s PowerVM has been popular for many IBM Power users. The technology supports virtualization on AIX, Linux, and IBM i in different VMs on the same IBM Power processor server.
PowerVM includes a wide range of features, but one that makes it particularly powerful is live partition mobility (LPM). Live partition mobility allows virtualized partitions to be moved from one server to another while still active. Organizations can use LPM to better prepare for planned downtime and react to potential performance issues before they cause outages.
There are a couple caveats: Using LPM requires all partitions involved to be virtualized (which means using SAN storage, shared processors, and the VIOS server that runs in one of the Power processor partitions), and both servers must be running throughout the process. That means LPM is not a disaster recovery or high availability tool. Nevertheless, it is a valuable feature on PowerVM Enterprise Edition that allows companies to move resources around without affecting business continuity.
10. IBM i Ensures High Availability
IBM i users benefit from a high level of resiliency that protects against downtime, but it is still important to have a disaster recovery strategy in place. ITIC’s most recent study indicates that the hourly cost of downtime continues to climb. It now exceeds $300,000 for 89 percent of SME and large enterprises. This cost and potential cannot be ignored.
PowerHA is IBM’s storage-based solution for disaster recovery and high availability. Because it leverages storage pools, roles can be swapped between primary and backups on demand. The technology includes functionality to monitor for errors in both the software and hardware. In addition, automated recovery means that operations can return to normal as quickly as possible. PowerHA comes in enterprise editions. HelpSystems also offers Robot HA, which can complement or be an alternative to hardware-based replication. Robot HA uses Db2 and IFS journaling technology along with base save commands to replicate data from one system to another system. It also supports role swaps. Robot HA can be used in conjunction with PowerHA as it can replicate some applications that are still running in the SYSBAS disk pool while PowerHA replicates the business data that is stored in the IASP disk pool.
11. IBM i Is Your Automation Workhorse
Despite misconceptions that it’s a legacy platform, IBM i has always been more than capable of running the latest technology and delivering value to businesses that use it. In fact, IBM i is an ideal candidate to become the automation workhorse for the entire organization.
Because the operating system comes with a solid foundation for high availability, it is one of the best platforms for centralizing control of IT operations. IBM i also collects performance data on everything administrators need to monitor the health of the IBM i network, making improvements as needed. If you think about today’s desire to have technology in the cloud, IBM i and its scaling ability gives you the flexibility to build an on-premises or cloud environment that appears to be in the cloud to the end user. It really doesn’t matter as the cost to manage is low whether in the cloud or on prem.
IBM i’s support for a wide range of third-party tools pushes its value beyond other platforms. HelpSystems solutions like Robot systems management, BRMS, Robot HA, and PowerHA build on the solid foundation of reliability and automation, so users can tailor their systems while still meeting the demands of their business.
12. IBM i Is Easy to Keep Up
The challenge of having so many features is knowing how to combine them to meet a company’s needs. IBM i is not difficult to use, but user education will go a long way toward improving the return on investment of any system. HelpSystems highly recommends participating in IBM i courses and going to conferences to learn the finer points of the platform. It can shorten the learning curve even further and provide insight into best practices associated with the technology.
Veterans of the system may also be interested in taking a refresher course, particularly given the rate that technology evolves. Because IBM i supports a large range of third-party software and hardware, brushing up on the operating system may also create awareness about valuable new tools or features.
There are a number of resources IT professionals can use to enhance their IBM i knowledge. For those that need a quick refresher on specific configuration issues, IBM Redbooks offer substantial guidance on everything from job management best practices to tutorials on specific configurations. New IBM i users may benefit most from training courses such as the online offerings from HelpSystems. They provide a more in-depth look at the architecture of IBM i and give guidance for core tasks such as job management and backup. YouTube does host free content on various topics around IBM I, including work management, RDi, backups, operations, and more. Common.org is a very good source for training on the platform as well.
Free IBM i Educational Resources Available from HelpSystems
Getting Started with IBM i Security eCourse
The world’s top IBM i security experts have joined forces to help IT professionals like you better understand how to use this platform’s powerful security controls. Join this e-course to learn how to address six critical areas of IBM i security.
IBM i Business Continuity eCourse
In this eCourse, the IBM i pros at HelpSystems join forces with leading technology experts to help IT professionals like you better understand the critical technologies involved in backup, recovery, and replication on IBM i.
60+ IBM i User Groups and Communities to Join
Stay connected to the thriving IBM i community with this comprehensive list of IBM i user groups around the world, compiled by the experts at HelpSystems.
IBM i Academy
Our goal is to help you quickly gain familiarity with the IBM i operating system, so that you can tackle your new responsibilities with confidence. This convenient collection of educational material was created by experts with decades of experience on the platform.
Cybersecurity Expert Consultation
Partner with cybersecurity experts to solve your most challenging data protection problems at any stage of the security management lifecycle.
Business Continuity Services
Partner with business continuity experts to gain confidence in your backup strategy and ensure that you are ready to recover when disaster strikes.
Capacity Planning Services
Allow our experts to examine your historical performance data, assess your current capacity and configuration, and share recommendations.
13. IBM i Helps Keep Total Cost Under Control
Business decision-making is increasingly dominated by a platform’s total cost of ownership, and the few platforms that deliver what IBM i does can’t do it without incurring significantly more expenses. Moreover, IBM i’s built-in resiliency means little chance of a hardware failure disrupting services—a huge relief for the bottom line.
IBM i also supports integration with a wide range of tools— even with its built-in functionalities. As a result, a business using IBM i gains the assurances of high reliability and security while being able to leverage best-in-breed solutions to augment its powerful functionality.
Most of the features that make IBM i unique come with default configurations, which means staff can benefit from them right away rather than spend time setting things up. However, it is impossible for predefined settings to meet the unique needs of every business. Getting the most out of the investment means users must have in-depth knowledge of the platform and its features, so they can configure it to meet the demands of their company.
14. IBM i Can Take Your Organization to the Next Level
In addition to supporting its own solutions, IBM i is built to support a large range of third-party tools that bring even more benefits to the table. To expand on the potential of IBM i’s built-in features, HelpSystems offers feature-rich software solutions for systems management, security, and data access challenges.
IBM i includes some ability to schedule time-based, one-off jobs, but to take advantage of the platform’s fundamental strength for high availability, you need automation capabilities like those in Robot Schedule, which adds a more comprehensive set of scheduling rules, and Robot Schedule Enterprise, which can automate dependent jobs and files across Windows, AIX, and Linux.
For your systems management challenges, IBM i provides everything you need to know: It has the capacity to generate a high volume of application and informational messages— as well as system performance data—but unfortunately, has no way to sift through the mountains of data for the information you need. That’s where the monitoring and management features in Robot Alert, Robot Console, Robot Monitor, and Robot Network come in to sift and graphically present that information to you, automatically. Performance Navigator software provides many options to report on performance and can be used to help size IBM Power hardware by using IBM i Collection Services.
Finally, no system is truly managed without a plan for when the worst-case scenario becomes reality. Using the same power behind our scheduling, monitoring, and management, the Robot Save solution automates your backup, disaster recovery, and media security challenges centrally and with graphical metrics to make your decision-making easier.
IBM i is a secure, stable, and auditable platform, but that doesn’t mean its architecture is inviolable. Users with too much authority can conquer any system and no one configuration will fit all sizes when it comes to compliance. Powertech outfits security admins with the tools to manage this reality, leveraging the security capabilities of IBM i to provide auditor-worthy intrusion detection, profile management, and file integrity monitoring.
Powertech Exit Point Manager for IBM i is a commercial-grade exit program solution that controls and tracks exit point traffic. For protection from malicious programs, Powertech Antivirus for IBM i is built for the unique features of the IBM i operating system. Data encryption is an increasingly popular way to secure data and meet compliance requirements. Powertech Encryption for IBM i makes it easy to encrypt database fields, backups, and IFS files.
Perhaps no platform comes close to the raw power for big data and application hosting as IBM i. But its native Query/400 provides only basic functions for managing the data. That’s what Sequel software is designed to do. We provide a custom and end-user friendly query engine with drill- down tables, charts, and graphs.
IBM i does process many reports and documents like invoicing, bills of lading, credit memos, and more. Our document management solutions can help to scan, archive, manage, build, and design the forms that are needed for your IBM i based business. We do this better than anyone as we understand IBM i and the Windows servers used in this process.