Server Platform Revitalization in the Enterprise Applications Space
Written By: Predrag Jakovljevic
Published On: November 1 2005
Among many enhancements it made in the late 1990s, IBM added 8- and 12-way processing power to its Power5 platform. Today, it has reached 64-way processing power to the Power5 platform. Substantial price and performance improvements, Lotus Workplace support, Operations Navigator (which eliminates the need for a green screen to perform any system administration), and Windows NT IPCS have been included. Windows NT IPCS is an inter-process communication system, which enables users to run Windows NT for file and print serving within a single AS/400 machine.
Additionally, Java has long replaced Report Program Generator (RPG) as IBM iSeries' strategic development language, and native Java support has represented the primary hope for revitalization of the platform in the enterprise applications space. Java is a high-level programming language developed by Sun Microsystems. Originally called Oak, the language was designed for handheld devices and set-top boxes. In 1995, Sun changed the name to Java and modified the language to take advantage of the burgeoning World Wide Web (WWW). IBM has invested heavily in Java because it is still seen as the language of the future (especially for the Internet). However, RPG remains strategic for iSeries as it remains the most widely used language on the platform, and the vendor pledges to continue to enhance it into the future.
Java is an object-oriented (OO) language similar to C++, but simplified to eliminate language features that cause common programming errors. Java source code files (i.e., files with a ".java" extension) are compiled into a format called bytecode (i.e., files with a ".class" extension), which can then be executed by a Java interpreter. Compiled Java code can run on most computers because Java interpreters and runtime environments, known as Java Virtual Machines (VM), exist for most operating systems (OS), including UNIX/Linux, Macintosh, and Microsoft Windows. Bytecode can also be converted directly into machine language instructions by a just-in-time compiler (JIT). Java is a general purpose programming language with a number of features that make a language well suited for Internet use. Small Java applications are called Java applets and can be downloaded from a Web server and run on virtually any computer by a Java-compatible Web browser, such as Netscape Navigator or Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE).
IBM has also attempted to protect investments of iSeries users by continuously adding new technologies without compromising the platform's simplicity. IBM began transform the iSeries platform into eServer i5 (based on the Power5 chips) in early 2004, when it repackaged and re-priced the iSeries hardware, the OS/400 operating system (which became i5/OS with V5R3 and the eServer i5 announcement), and the 5,250 interactive processing features.
The vendor has built in many features like autonomics, diagnostics, self-help, integration, and security, so that one server can be the only server a mid-market company might need. These have been standardized for the entire range of IBM servers beside iSeries—i.e., the zSeries (IBM 390 mainframe system, etc.) and pSeries (formerly RS6000 UNIX). Combined, these servers can run on UNIX, Windows, and Linux. For example, zSeries runs on Linux, but does not feature' UNIX, whereas zSeries and pSeries cannot run Windows. On the other hand, the i5 servers are also the first in the iSeries to support IBM AIX and OS/400, Linux, and Windows, which sophisticated partitioning and multiple OS support on a single box IBM hopes to leverage in case of impending server consolidations within any user corporation in the future. At the same time, IBM has significantly dropped the price of memory, hard disks/storage units and other components in the i5 servers to make them comparable to peer offerings both within IBM and from competitors.
IBM remained close to major enterprise application vendors like former J.D. Edwards (now part of Oracle), former MAPICS (now part of Infor Global Solutions), Lawson Software, JDA Software, Intentia, IBS, and SSA Global, with the idea to give prospective iSeries' users more enterprise resource planning (ERP) choices other than venerable legacy products. Many of these ERP vendors, such as Intentia, J.D. Edwards, and IBS were exclusive to the AS/400 and iSeries for many years. Meanwhile, many of these vendors have extended their portfolio to other platforms, including Windows, while the industry-wide independent software vendor (ISV) consolidation has brought some of the traditional iSeries vendors into larger conglomerates like Oracle. SAP is the only major ISV that has been added to the iSeries roster by IBM, and that was back in 1995, and ever since, SAP has not been known as a big platform proponent. Also, most iSeries customers have enterprise resource planning (ERP) or industry solutions from much smaller and local vendors like CMS Software, Vanguard Solutions and HarrisData.
This is Part Two of a three-part note. Part One presented the situation. Part Three will cover other ISV developments and make User Recommendations. IBM's response and discussed the vendor's Challenges.
In response to the decreased demand for iSeries platforms, coupled with need to diversify in an increasingly competitive business environment, vendors that previously restrict themselves to the iSeries and are opting to expand their offerings. Vendors such as JBA, MAPICS, Infinium, interBiz, J.D. Edwards, Marcam, have either taken this route or have been amalgamated into larger ISV conglomerates.
SAP and Oracle (which now includes former J.D. Edwards and PeopleSoft) are approaching the iSeries platform opportunistically, rather than strategically. For example, ERP has virtually reached a commodity status, and there is great demand for "bolt-on" extended-ERP functions such as supply chain management (SCM), customer relationship management (CRM), or product lifecycle management (PLM). iSeries users are also demanding these functions. However, these bolt-ons are generally developed for Windows and UNIX/Linux systems, and iSeries typically cannot use them without accepting greater infrastructure complexity and procuring additional IT skills. Moreover, these products require high-performing iSeries models, which makes the hardware cost to deploy these product much higher than for other platforms. Often multiplatform vendors have taken years to introduce the integrated language environment (ILE) RPG version of new ERP releases and UNIX and Windows platform versions have always been shipped out first. This has caused much consternation for many iSeries' customers, of which some rightfully questioning their vendor's devotion to iSeries customers.
Over the last few years, IBM has attempted to address this issue by making iSeries applications modernization easier for partner ISV's and software developers. It has integrated its WebSphere middleware and development tools with the iSeries' native programming environment. WebSphere is a broad IBM brand of products that implement and extend Sun's Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE) platform. Java concepts such as Enterprise Java Beans (EJB), hypertext markup language (HTML), and Web servers comprise of the new foundations for iSeries software development.
Systems written in Java are platform independent and can deliver high-volume transaction processing for e-business, while providing enhanced capabilities for transaction management, as well as security, performance, availability, connectivity, and scalability. EJB is a Java application programming interface (API) that defines a component architecture for multi-tier client/server systems. EBJ vendors create the coding to connect all the working parts, freeing developers to focus on the actual business architecture of the model. Additionally, EJB are also object oriented so they can be implemented into existing systems with little or no recompiling or configuration efforts. Ultimately, while .NET may be a cheaper, faster, and easier environment, J2EE, offers openness and can help larger companies cope with their dynamic and complex environments.
For more information on competing J2EE and Microsoft .NET development environment camps, see Understand J2EE and .NET Environments Before You Choose and The Blessing and Curse of Rejuvenating Legacy Systems.
iSeries Modernization Tools
As part of the effort, IBM has created tools that automate many aspects of the iSeries modernization process, such as the conversion of 5250 character-based screens into GUIs. Consequently, iSeries developers can now use WebSphere products to not only create new code in Java, but to also modernize existing code. These tools include the WebSphere Development Studio for iSeries, IBM Toolbox for Java, iSeries Access for Web, and the XML Toolkit for iSeries. Also, as to make many of these available tools more amenable to small and medium enterprises (SME) and ISVs, IBM has delivered a number of tools under the Express banner (for more of relevant information, see IBM Express-es Its Candid Desire for SMEs.)
In addition, IBM has created the iSeries Developer Roadmap (see Figure 1), which is a framework for modernizing iSeries applications that presents gradual technology options, development processes, and accompany IBM tools that are available to developers. There are five stages of incremental modernization that the framework covers—Improved Developer Productivity, Enhanced User Experience, Modular Architecture, Application Integration and Business Process Integration. Users will typically begin with the first one or two, which will provide, for example, Web enablement or improved UI. Then they can take their applications through any of the remaining, more advanced stages that are relevant to them. L.D. Consulting, an IBM partner providing packaged software and application development services to industrial and environmental development firms in Europe's Benelux countries, has thereby espoused solutions for every stage in Figure 2.
Rejuvenation, which can either be an enhancement, conversion, or rewrite of iSeries-based applications (or of any other outdated environment for that matter, such as pre-Microsoft .NET Windows, see Rewrite or Wrap-Around Old Software?) to include new technological capabilities that did not exist when the applications were originally developed. They can involve adding GUIs to green screen applications, breaking up monolithic RPG applications into more flexible modules, or converting programs to other languages that offer these new capabilities. Typically, these initiatives will leverage open standards and technologies that include Java, XML, and Web services, with the idea of to augment rather than eliminate the functionally rich underlying code that they should modernize. While every organization has to upgrade core systems, outsource processes, and service-enable their infrastructure to compete in an increasingly competitive global market, by embedding XML and Web services into their systems, SMEs might be able to feasibly integrate their systems within supply networks and tightly integrate with their trading partners' business processes
Figure 1.IBM eServer iSeries developer roadmap.
Figure 2. IBM eServer iSeries developer roadmap modified by L.D. Consulting nv
Indeed, owing to IBM's recent orchestrated efforts to rejuvenate the platform, there have been two consecutive quarters of growth, whereby the iSeries-based revenue in Q2 2005 was up 10 percent compared to a year ago, with reported growth in all geographies and a double-digit growth in nine of sixteen regions. This has made it the best quarterly growth since the fourth quarter of 2000. These were also the best results for the first half of the year since 1998. These growth drivers could be attributed to the growing relevance of the iSeries' value proposition in terms of available solutions (either by IBM or via partners), their simplicity, and the platform's re-integration into the overall IBM On Demand Business strategic commitment. IBM's strategic commitment is to deliver systems around the three core design principles 1. virtualize everything, 2. commit to openness, via 3. collaborative innovation. At the heart of the IBM Systems agenda remains the concept that integrated technology should help clients grow their business. There have also been some notable ecosystem investments, such as iSeries Initiative for Innovation, IBM Charter for iSeries Innovation, and increased investments in marketplace presence.
For instance, the iSeries Initiative for Innovation was announced at IBM PartnerWorld in February 2005, and remained the biggest marketing announcement of the year. It focused on the heart of iSeriesapplications—with about a $125 million (USD) investment in ISVs and solutions. As for the Application Innovation Program (as a part of the entire iSeries Initiative), IBM offers its partners free architectural support, virtual loaner program, education, conversion assistance; and the education of the Application Advantage for Linux initiative. Likewise, the Tools Innovation Program recognizes tools developed by IBM partners. Developers roadmap contains tools solutions, and there is up to 70 percent discount for co-advertising, qualified leads leveraging iSeries campaigns, and free technical reviews. Last but not least, the iSeries Innovation Program consists of redefining solutions based on ISV requirements; the ISV Advisory Board for the iSeries roadmap; various industry events and enablement; and the community building activities.
The IBM's strategy and execution priorities for sustained growth of the platform in 2005 and forward will consist of the following initiatives:
- Build marketplace presence worldwide. IBM has increased its awareness results and cites a 10-point increase in awareness in the second quarter of 2005 versus the fourth quarter 2004, which has been the largest quarter-to-quarter gain for the iSeries awareness in years. This has resulted from intensified IBM iSeries advertising in print magazines, such as Forbes, Fortune, or Business Week, as well as on several radio and TV channels. There has also been significant co-advertising activity with ISV partners, with nearly 180 ad placements, of which 160 were featured in ComputerWorld in eight countries. Press and analyst coverage has not be lacking either, with over 400 press stories and about 20 recent analyst reports.
- Re-mobilize channel partners through increased profit opportunity. The incentive stack has been re-designed to drive focus on selling solutions to SMBs, and IBM touts a 36 percent increase in channel incentives in 2005, which has reportedly resulted in double-digit business partner revenue growth in the second quarter of 2005. Much higher growth (double the total revenue growth) was reported in Americas.
- Strengthen and extend solutions portfolio. To revitalize the iSeries solutions portfolio, 194 newly modernized applications have reportedly been delivered since February, while 68 applications have been modernized through the Application Innovation Program; 126 enhanced applications have been delivered using innovative tools solutions through Tools Innovation program, with 418 ISVs requesting free modernization assessment. As for opening up the iSeries ecosystem, the Tools Innovation Program has grown to 78 members with over 150 tools solutions featured on the iSeries Developers Roadmap, including .NET integration. There are 102 new Linux ISVs with 190 new Linux solutions recruited to iSeries in 2005. As for strengthening the go-to-market approach, IBM cites 1,100 iSeries ISVs leveraging benefits of the PartnerWorld Industry Network Program, with 371 new ISVs added in 2005. There have also been many new co-marketing agreements and strengthened ISV incentives through the ServerProven program, whereby 104 new solutions have been added in 2005.
This concludes Part Two of a three-part note. Part One presented the situation. Part Three will cover other ISV developments and make user recommendations. IBM's response and discussed the vendor's challenges.