June 03, 2013

The LUG – Giving to Gain

The IBMi25 anniversary celebration enters the home stretch with Lynne Benedict’s commentary about a grass roots customer effort that evolved into a strategic partnership with IBM – the LUG (Large User Group). Lynne is the Director of Operations and Administration for the LUG and has led the group for thirteen years. Her background is in database programming at IBM Rochester and Rockwell Shuttle Operations Company at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. She also serves on the board of First Farmers & Merchants Bank in Stewartville, Minn.

25withlogo (2).jpg

So how did this paragon of collaboration form? Representatives from six companies, all pushing the AS/400 as hard as they could, met in 1994 at COMMON in San Antonio, Texas. It became obvious to them that they were all experiencing similar challenges, so they agreed to keep the synergy going by meeting at each other’s sites, sharing experiences and trying to solve problems. The next logical step was to lobby IBM for information and assistance, and IBM responded positively, understanding that hearing collectively from their largest AS/400 customers was an opportunity. In 1996 the LUG created its first 11 requirements and delivered them to IBM, where they were accepted into consideration in the development planning. A Lotus Notes based website hosted by IBM brought the requirements process online where it could be easily accessed and updated. This process is now considered one of the formative deliverables of the LUG, boasting more than 1200 written requirements since its inception. IBM has delivered on over 75 percent of approved entries.

Another key deliverable of the LUG is the Strategy Presentation delivered in Rochester, Minn., every year during the deep freeze of February. The concept has been stretched, twisted and taken to the drawing board numerous times over its history until today, when it has come into its own and hit its stride. The big change is that, instead of being a super-secret creation of the LUG, the doors have been opened to include IBM as part of the six teams that have been formed, each focusing on a single area that has been identified as strategic. The LUG has embraced the idea that good strategy should not change much from year to year (thank you, Steve Will). What’s truly exciting is that, instead of delivering a great presentation and then putting it away like holiday decorations until the next year, these teams are staying in contact, tying strategic ideas to existing tactical requirements or writing new requirements to support their ideas.

Now that you know a little about the concrete deliverables through which the LUG collaborates with IBM, let’s look at the organization and the true benefits of membership. LUG was incorporated in 1999 and is not owned or operated by IBM. Membership applications are approved first by the LUG Board of Directors and then vetted by the entire membership. Annual dues of $3,000 per company cover the operational expenses of the corporation. The only additional costs to members are the travel expenses incurred to attend the required meetings (two per year for US based members and one for international members). Without exception, LUG members find this to be an incredible value as they take advantage of technical information provided by IBM, access to the development and support teams and the opportunity to network with their peers. LUG members know that their management truly grasps the value of membership when they ask: “What would LUG members think about this?” or “Can you find out how LUG members solved that?” The IBM i community is recognized as passionate about the capabilities and possibilities surrounding their favorite platform and the LUG is no exception. It is not particularly visible in the media or even very vocal outside the confines of the LUG website, but there is no secret handshake or codeword, just a group of dedicated professionals and the companies they represent, willing to share their knowledge and give the time to participate and contribute.

As the LUG celebrates IBM i at 25 with the rest of the world, it prepares to mark its own 20-year anniversary in October 2014. If your company has two or more Enterprise Power Systems running at least 100,000 CPW, perhaps you would like to become part of the group that proves time and again that by coming together and forming a single voice, the static is cleared, the messages are received and change does happen. 

May 22, 2013

PHP on IBM i--Open for New Business

The IBM i 25th anniversary celebration continues with another chapter: PHP. In this blog post Mike Pavlak, solution consultant for Zend, explains how this unlikely pairing became so wildly popular. Mike helps IBM i customers worldwide explore PHP as a business solution. Read his story, and then join the conversation on facebook

25withlogo (2).jpg
PHP Hypertext Preprocessor entered the IBM midrange scene in 2005 as the result of several IBM advisory groups’ requests for an easy to use Web scripting language.  Zend and IBM worked very closely together to deliver an integrated, optimized and supported PHP environment for IBM i. 

The initial goal was to provide a simplified development solution for Web applications that would run quickly, securely and natively on IBM i. Today, we see businesses and ISVs developing business-critical applications in PHP to run on IBM i. Thousands of companies around the world now run PHP Web applications that talk to directly to DB2 as well as integrating with programs written in RPG and COBOL. A couple of unplanned side effects of introducing PHP, however, were to make thousands of open-source applications readily available on IBM i, plus to provide IBM i developers access to a new and very valuable source of OPC (Other Peoples Code). It’s not only a great source of new apps and OPC, it’s also an approach to application modernization that is a near perfect fit for the IBM i community. 

Many popular open-source PHP-based applications, like SugarCRM, Drupal and Wordpress, provide working solutions that install in minutes and run natively on IBM i. They are tremendous examples of how to create modern Web applications that–like RPG apps–let you focus less on the technology and more on the business process.

PHP as an open-source language is built by the community for the community. This democratic method of language evolution means that many of the functions that make up the language started life as small examples someone developed for themselves and decided to share. These examples of OPC begin the contagious value proposition of developing business solutions in PHP on IBM i. It also allows developers to focus less on the language and more on the business application of the language. There is simply no computer language on the planet that boasts such a passionate community of developers constantly offering up their code examples for public consumption. Literally billions of lines of PHP-based OPC are available for IBM i developers to choose from on sites like sourceforge,, phpfreaks, and many more.

Just like with RPG, a relatively new PHP developer can become productive very quickly. One reason for that speed is that object-oriented (OO) development is optional. Many agree that OO development styles are important for solid application modernization. But when you can put the OO model to the side and focus on simple language syntax and business processes, you have a formula that’s familiar to many RPG developers. All of the energy that goes into developing procedural PHP applications fuels the long-term development using all of the many features of PHP in the OO paradigm and developers can “modernize on their own terms.” This brings tremendous value to organizations where the needs are great but the resources may be few. Developers can pick up as much about PHP as they need through the daily requirements of interactive Web page building. Starting with simple data inquiry applications is a great launching pad and, as the skills grow, the addition of updates and then framework based applications begins to take hold. 

In addition to our close cooperation with IBM on PHP, Zend creates products that enable developers to deliver high-quality PHP code faster to production, and help system administrators ensure high performance and availability. Our Zend Studio for IBM i is a professional grade Integrated Development Environment for developing PHP applications. In addition, Zend Server for IBM i contains a complete PHP runtime environment, with additional performance optimization, monitoring, root cause analysis, and more.

May 06, 2013

IBM i 25: Business Partners

The IBM i celebration continues with a new chapter on Facebook paying tribute to business partners, who have led the way over the years in bringing IBM i to market with high levels of customer satisfaction. Roughly 60% of year-to-year IBM i channel revenue is realized through its business partners. Reminiscing with us on the subject today is Stan Staszak, Director of Power Systems Solutions at Sirius Computer Solutions.

25withlogo (2).jpg
Happy 25th anniversary…or should I say, happy birthday, IBM i! Back in 1988, I was in college, trying to figure out my future. The platform is a lot like me 25 years later…it’s still strong, secure, reliable and sexy (OK, maybe the last one is a bit of a stretch). Even after all of these years, it still provides the same characteristics—legendary reliability, terrific scalability, bulletproof security, easy management and great ROI. It’s a terrific platform to ‘bet your job on’…over the past 20 years I’ve worked with literally hundreds of clients and I’ve never known a single one who lost his job (or his good reputation) for deciding to host his business’ workload on IBM i.  

I started my IBM career back in 1989 as a point-of-sale and PC customer engineer. In 1992, one of my colleagues and I decided that we wanted to move into midrange systems. We both interviewed for two different job openings…one in the RS/6000 practice and one in the AS/400 practice. I’d had a little exposure to the AS/400, so I was somewhat familiar with the platform. Like Harry Potter waiting for the Sorting Hat’s house assignment, we waited with earnest anticipation for the respective hiring managers to decide if they wanted us and, if so, where we would go. As luck or fate would have it, I was chosen to move into the AS/400 practice. This simple twist of fate had a significant impact on my career. After moving into the new group, I attended the last ‘System/36 Basic Foundation’ class and devoted myself to training. In addition to the invaluable IBM education, I was fortunate that the local community college (Moraine Valley) had an AS/400 curriculum. I still remember how intuitive the green-screen interface was to pick up and I had some great mentors who took me under their wings and provided a lot of guidance. My advice to anyone starting out in IT today; if you want to excel, you need to embrace education…both on and off the job. I spent the remainder of my IBM years in the AS/400 group…first as a customer engineer and subsequently as a senior IT/specialist.

I vividly remember the first time I met Dr. Frank Soltis in Rochester, Minn. I knew of him by reputation but expected some stuffy and conservative computer scientist. Instead, here was a cool and dynamic individual talking about cars and his real passion…the AS/400. His enthusiasm was contagious! I’ve spent a lot of time in Rochester over the years where, among other things, I had the privilege of working on a Redbooks residency and on the Academic Advisory Committee for IBM i. Both experiences were really rewarding…although I’m still not sure why it seems I always wound up in Rochester during the middle of winter ;-)

I moved over to Sirius Computer Solutions almost 14 years ago because it was (and continues to be) the largest IBM i solution provider in the world. For the past decade, I’ve shared brand management responsibility and managed a large group of talented Power Systems engineers (both presales and consultants). As a Premier IBM Business Partner, Sirius is called upon to size, design and implement solutions to transform and modernize our clients’ IT environments. Over the years we’ve branched out into a lot of different areas, but Power Systems is still our flagship server brand. IT budgets continue to get tighter and CIOs are looking for ways to optimize their environments and reduce costs while still delivering better Service Level Agreements to their business units. The price/performance of the IBM i platform is truly better than ever. One of my favorite responsibilities is educating our customers and sales force on new platform announcements/enhancements. I love meeting with our clients to better understand their unique environments and business challenges. Our goal is to architect best-of-breed solutions to meet these needs.

I’ve had customers over the years ask me what additional ISV applications they could host or port over to IBM i. This wasn’t for ‘self-preservation’ reasons, but because they understood the value of the platform and wanted to sleep well at night. I continue to meet people who are proud to say that they are associated in some way with the IBM i platform…that is a rare quality in this ‘commoditized’ industry. In addition to ERP applications, it is a great solution for database serving, application development, Web services and analytics. 

I’m amazed and grateful that even after all these years, the IBM i platform is still relevant. In many ways (like performance, scalability and virtualization) it’s actually better than ever! The latest and greatest version, i 7.1, is the most powerful, dynamic and flexible to date. Newly supported technology, like SmartCloud Entry and Live Partition Mobility, is really exciting! I’m also thrilled that the IBM i operating system is supported on IBM’s newest hardware platform…PureSystems. PureFlex is a terrific option for data-center consolidation projects. As a loyal fan, I’m glad that IBM is continuing to invest in the development of the IBM i platform and truly honored to be asked to participate in the celebration. In some weird coincidence; the release date of this chapter coincides with my own birthday. I know that I plan to toast the best business platform in history on our joint birthdays. Here’s wishing you another 25 years of continued success! 



May 01, 2013

IBM i 25: ISVs

Today’s PowerUp blog entry is written by Alan Arnold, Chief Technology Officer at Vision Solutions, and accompanies the latest chapter to be revealed on Facebook in celebrating the 25th anniversary of IBM i, chapter 11: ISVs.

25withlogo (2).jpg
This is a story about how IBM i took a young kid and fashioned a career and a company that is thriving 25 years later. As I look back at my career in technology, and specifically with IBM i, it has been a fun and exciting journey. Over the last 12 years I have had the pleasure of working as the Chief Technology Officer at Vision Solutions. But previously, I have worked in a number of different roles during my career, and they have all revolved around the ecosystem that is IBM i.

Upon graduating from college, I began working at a start-up company named Specialty Insurance Services. They were an IBM Business Partner ISV. Our niche was general agency insurance companies and there was a nice opportunity for small business computers within this industry. We wrote our software on the System/36 and System/38. Smaller clients implemented the System/36 and larger ones the System/38. These systems could be implemented almost anyplace. I must have installed hundreds of them. And when I did an install, it included unboxing the system, loading the software, running the cables all over the building and then training the users. It was really a wonderful self-contained environment that we sold and supported. What I personally loved about this environment was the complete control we had with our customer’s environments. We also made good money selling software and IBM systems. The IBM midrange systems ecosystem was really taking off. It was about this time IBM invited our company to a briefing in Rochester, Minn., to learn about their next platform, the AS/400.

This was a great solution for our customers. I had the pleasure of installing one of the first AS/400s in the country at a large customer of ours in Detroit, Mich. This new system could handle more users than the System/36 and System/38, thus it was our biggest sale in the history of the company. This particular customer would have more than 400 users on the system. For us, that was huge. We worked closely with IBM Rochester on this first install. With it, we had just transformed our small ISV and our software solutions from 15- to 100-user companies to 1000s plus. This install was completed before the official announcement of the AS/400. I was at the IBM Costa Mesa, Calif., office on the day of the announcement. I still have my IBM gift mug from the event shown here.

MugAfter I left Specialty, I worked at other IBM Business Partners including XL/Datacomp and Ernst & Young LLP. I have always worked closely with many of the friends I have developed at IBM Rochester, Austin, NY and other locations. These relationships have helped my companies to bring the latest solutions to our joint customers, who are some of the largest organizations in the world. The scalability of IBM i never ceases to amaze me and that’s really powerful for ISVs.

Let me fast forward to my current work at Vision Solutions. As mentioned, over the last 12 years I have had the pleasure of working as the Chief Technology Officer at Vision Solutions. I manage one of the largest IBM i development, support and services organizations in the industry. Vision is one of IBM’s largest Global ISVs and we have an installation base that includes the most prestigious customers in the world. Our deep expertise on system and application availability is our core strength. We work closely with IBM in many regards. Today’s development tools, support systems and platform capabilities are some of the most advanced in the world.  Our team uses the full capabilities of the IBM i platform to deliver highly scalable solutions that bring value to each customer’s environment. We work closely with the top IBM experts in their labs, advisory committees (Dr. Frank Soltis is a key member of our advisory committee), and educating our market. As a result, we have continued to grow our IBM i business and continue to introduce new products to this very day! MIMIX DR will be formally launched in May and we expect this exciting new solution to help us address yet another segment of the IBM i market. I would invite you to tune into the Vision Webcast on May 9th that I'm doing with Steve Will, IBM’s Chief Architect for IBM i.

Let me end with congratulating IBM on the Twenty-Five i milestone. Vision Solutions is committed to this great platform. It’s simply one of the greatest technology architectures to have ever been introduced to our industry, and I have worked on most of the others. The flexibility, scalability and ease of use make it unique in many ways. The sophistication of its communications, database and security are also huge differentiators. Today, Vision builds cloud, big data, physical and virtual solutions using all of the capabilities of IBM i to bring state-of-the-art solutions to market in an extremely efficient manner. We look forward to another 25 years of working on this great architecture.


Vision Solutions team celebrating IBMi25 at COMMON


April 26, 2013

IBM i 25: Virtualization

The IBMi25 celebration continues today with the topic Virtualization. Read the vignette on Facebook at after you’ve read today’s post from our guest blogger, Dave Wiseman, Director of IT Infrastructure at Connectria. Dave leads the team that is responsible for engineering and operations of their IBM i systems.

25withlogo (2).jpg
As a managed service provider, we continually push the limits of technology and implement solutions as they become available. One of Connectria's core competencies is our hosting and managing of OS/400, i5/OS and IBM i systems. I have always kind of taken virtualization for granted because so much of it was there from the beginning with IBM i and, honestly, the buzzword virtualization did not even exist. It was just the way we did things. Then as other operating environments started to develop this new fancy virtualization stuff, I was thinking, “Well, glad to see you’re finally catching up to us!” 

Today, we are using a mix of virtualization technologies for supporting IBM i solutions. The most common is to configure a logical partition where the I/O, processor and memory allocated to the partition are dedicated to it. We have also deployed virtualized solutions with IBM i hosting other IBM i partitions, where the host partition serves up disk storage to client partitions. And lastly, we are using VIOS (Virtual I/O Server) to host IBM i client partitions, where VIOS owns the I/O.

VIOS is a core building block for Power Systems hardware and PowerVM virtualization software. With it, we are positioned to utilize new virtualization technology as IBM delivers it. One of those key technologies is rapid deployment of logical partitions, or virtual machines as many would call them. By capturing a golden image, client partitions can be deployed in minutes rather than hours or days. The images that are deployed are consistent from a configuration perspective and are ready to run customer workloads instantly without manual intervention. This same technology is available in the new IBM PureSystems product line for the Power compute nodes.

One of the challenges that we face on any platform we support is multi-tenancy. If maintenance requiring downtime has to be performed on any piece of hardware that is supporting multiple customer workloads, scheduling that maintenance window is a challenge. When IBM announced support for Live Partition Mobility on IBM i, it paved the way for us to venture into the world of multi-tenant cloud environments. We now have the capability to migrate running customer workloads to other Power Systems hardware in our data center, making it easy to perform maintenance activities without disrupting our customers. Prior to this, the majority of our solutions needed to be on hardware that was dedicated to individual customers. This has led to lower cost, better asset utilization and greater flexibility in deploying new customer workloads.

With 25 years of delivering excellent technology solutions centered around virtualization, I can’t wait to see what the next 25 years brings!