3000 emulator marches onward
Connect changes user group operations

IBM iSeries follows in 3000 footsteps?

IBMSeriesi Once HP announced its exit from 3000 business, IBM turned up its efforts to woo abandoned customers. By some accounts, half of those who are leaving the 3000 have turned to non-HP solutions. It's easier to understand the migrations to Linux or Windows, a pair of industry standard environments. The former is rich with tools to generate custom apps. The latter has a vast array of packaged solutions.

Tougher to figure are the rare migrations to the IBM iSeries. Not because that platform is lacking in any technical prowess, or even that its ecosystem is evaporating quickly. Those customers who've found a refuge from HP's business pullout in the iSeries have to look at a large vendor supporting a niche platform -- then see a different strategy from HP's for sustaining non-industry-standard computing.

The 3000 customers who've moved to iSeries sometimes already used the integrated server elsewhere in their organizations. Others have settled on a packaged solution like Commercialware's e-commerce package, one that led straight to the iSeries. But every one of them might observe the same vendor behavior this year from IBM that HP demonstrated in the four years up to the 3000's exit from HP's futures.

The iSeries community sounds and feels much like the 3000 user group volunteers and partners of the late 1990s. They complain that their platform no longer seems strategic to IBM, hunger for mentions of it during Big Blue's roadmap talks, count up the resources no longer devoted to iSeries heartlands such as the RPG language or the OS400 operating system. IBM's put Unix executives in charge of the iSeries business, according to one long-time iSeries IBM executive.

At the IT Jungle blog, writer Dan Burger interviewed an iSeries skeptic who holds an experienced view of the community. Bob Cancilla, just retired as CTO for IBM's Rational Software subsidiary. (IBM bought Rational in 2003, spending $2 billion for a development environment.) Until this month Cancilla worked for IBM, but now as the CTO of IBM software business partner Oxford International, he's speaking his mind about the future of iSeries as he sees it, using the podium of his blog, i-nsider.

If you look objectively at the IBM organization today and how it has positioned the IBM i Operating System, you will see a critical reality that should be driving you to modern platform-neutral solutions, today!

IBM hasn't commented on last week's blog post from Cancilla, who was CTO for IBM's Rational Business Developer IDE. He's pointed out that while the iSeries (or Series i, or i5, or IBM i) is still technically advanced and integrated, IBM's not selling much of it.

The bottom line is we all need to face the facts of what is happening. IBM i, the OS, is gradually fading away based on IBM not selling it. Since there is no longer an organization to sell IBM i there can be no turn around or return to prominence.

In 2007 IBM merged the business lines of its pSeries (Unix) and iSeries operations, calling the new group the IBM Power Systems Organization. "This new organization is now devoid of IBM i executives," Cancilla laments. The Power series (which also runs RedHat Linux) is comprised of computers that are identical in a way that HP could never offer its HP 3000 and HP 9000 servers built from common PA-RISC chips. IBM didn't wire up a special MFIO board chip, like HP did, so a 3000 box could never boot Unix. Even with this Power flexibility, though, the demise of the OS400 community -- and so the iSeries computer line and its vendors -- seems inevitable to Cancilla.

"It will simply continue to decline in users and will most definitely be dropped by IBM when the revenue reaches a point where it is no longer feasible to continue supporting it," he wrote in a blog entry last week. Cancilla is getting a strong reaction from iSeries advocates, according to the IT Jungle's Dan Burger. But that probably won't change the sales effort at IBM. This is an aspect of a vendor's disaffection with a platform that was never played out in public for the HP 3000. Right up to the announcement of HP's exit, the vendor and its partners never broached the prospect of HP giving up on the 3000.

But the AS400 (or iSeries or System i) saw a 40 percent decline in sales from '07 to '08, according to the IT Jungle. IBM has reduced the profile of the most i-like parts of the system when it moved System Licensed Internal Code and a Technology Independent Machine Interface into a new Virtualization Engine.

HP 3000 homesteaders and those still stung by Hewlett-Packard's misstep of 2001 often point to IBM as a vendor who got it right about non-industry-standard platforms. Cancilla, whose new company offers a legacy modernization solution, believes that the iSeries is going to drift into irrelevance due to IBM sales and the homogenization of its unique technology.

The RPG language is unique technology for the iSeries, and Cancilla asked IBM to port it to the more popular IBM Unix and Power Linux environments. Request denied. HP 3000 customers once hoped that IMAGE would gain a new home on PCs, but that project was left to third parties without support from HP. There's also a corollary in HP's refusal to port HP-UX to any processor except its niche Itanium chips.

Vendors such as HP and IBM have a laser focus on services these days and look to have turned away from devotion to the design and sale of computer environments. HP executives had a glib answer for those who said that IBM wasn't dropping its AS/400-iSeries business in 2002. "They will," said executives like Winston Prather and Christine Martino. POWER 7 generation chips and reorganized businesses notwithstanding, those HP execs may turn out to be correct given enough time. You migrate now, or migrate later, they say.

But HP still has a card to play to maintain enough goodwill that you may replace that 3000 with a ProLiant server, running Windows or Linux, or even something newer like an emulator. The vendor can cooperate with emulator licensing for MPE/iX, a stop-gap until completing a migration -- exacting work in the most complex IT project that most 3000 owners have ever conducted.

TransactCOBOL As to that iSeries heartland of RPG, HP was one of the few system vendors who ever created a port of the language, which ran on the 3000 for the IBM customer lured to the 3000 in the 1980s. Today a German firm, Richter Software, converts RPG into COBOL because "the new generation of programmers have no knowledge of RPG." Even though COBOL is not considered cutting-edge, it is a de-facto industry standard for business. COBOL continues to drive thousands of HP 3000 apps, until they are migrated, and perhaps even on new platforms.

Migration away from platform-bound languages such as RPG is a step in that detail-laden transition. In 2007 ScreenJet developed T2C, with a bit of initial help from Richter, that transforms the HP 3000's unique Transact language into COBOL code. A subsequent product, Transact Migration Software, was built by ScreenJet and Imacs founder David Dummer, who created Transact. What's more, the COBOL that's created by Transaction Migration Software is compatible with the 3000's COBOL II -- thereby inserting another stepping stone on the path away from the HP 3000. T2C is sold both by ScreenJet and Speedware, a couple of partners with a clear-eyed vision about the long term of the HP 3000.