2021 Predictions for IBM i: Part Two – IT Jungle

January 20, 2021

The response from the first batch of IBM i prediction we ran last week was superb. Here’s hoping that the community finds the second batch of predictions equally as worthwhile.

Chris Wey, the president of the Power Business Unit at Rocket Software, wonders if crystal balls have any power left following the events of last year. “After an unpredictable 2020, the very notion of predictions is called into question,” Wey says. “Still, as an optimist, I believe we will see some incredibly positive outcomes of the past year’s turmoil in the coming year in our space.

“First, Power systems have demonstrated their resilience under pressure this past year, lessoning the pressure to re-platform, while IT addresses more urgent matters,” he continues. “Owners of these applications may see this as an opportunity to modernize their UIs, build greater connectivity between systems, or even automate some processes in 2021.

“Second, Power in the cloud will become an appealing option for IT groups around the world,” Wey says. “Though 2020 didn’t bring IT disasters, it did highlight our vulnerabilities and so companies will shore up their disaster recovery plans. This often begins the path to cloud with an initial step to Disaster-Recovery-as-a-Service (DRaaS).

“Finally, I believe we’ll see tremendous innovation this year from vendors in the Power space, and the legacy systems domain more broadly,” he concludes. “The work-from-home and hire-anywhere labor markets have enabled collaboration across borders and around the globe, bringing together many of the brightest minds in technology. We’ll see the fruits of these collaborations beginning in 2021.”

Marinus van Sandwyk, the founder and CEO of TEMBO, provided these six predictions:

“1. The consolidation of modernization vendors and tools, combined with the CCM (DevOps) vendors and solutions, will increase rapidly in frequency and value.

“2. There will be growing recognition of the crucial importance of data quality. Without quality data, the sheer deluge of data will swamp commercial OLTP systems.

“3. The previous reality will drive faster adoption of authentic data-centricity in commercial OLTP applications.

“4. A far larger percentage of installations are forced to modernize their applications and business processes to stay relevant and in business. If they don’t, it will be the end of the company.

“5. The resultant application architecture behind modernization projects is fundamental to the success of such projects.

“6. Open source in the IBM i world will undergo a metamorphosis in 2021.”

Kurt Thomas, a senior technical consultant at HelpSystems, says 2021 will bring increased pressure on IBM i teams to provide services securely and reliably, in three ways.

“First, the general long-term trend in organizations towards greater efficiency, or doing more with less. Second, effects of the coronavirus pandemic. Any major crisis tends be accompanied by an increase in crime, and the pandemic is no exception. Simultaneously, a general shift to home office and remote work has greatly increased attack surfaces. A rising tide lifts all ships, and the risk level is up for all systems, including IBM i.

“The third force at work is the long-term drive towards more compliance in IT. The days in which systems were hardly secured at all are fortunately over, and as every organization is an IT organization today, the importance of compliance IT will continue to increase.”

Richard Schoen, who’s the president at MobiGoGo and a consultant at Seiden Group, has a few thoughts on the new year.

“The IBM pace of open source applications being made available on IBM i will continue to accelerate,” Schoen writes. “MariaDb, Postgres, and Cron Scheduling were a few of the cool new things introduced in 2020. Node-Red is an interesting integration technology that was introduced on IBM i and flying under the radar as an automation tool. I plan to check that out more in 2021 and I see this as a sleeper technology that could gain some traction.

“IBM i traditional languages RPG, CL, and open source languages, will continue to become closer friends,” he continues. “A couple of the open source projects I’ve made available allow Python apps and other Qshell/PASE apps to be quickly integrated with existing RPG, CL and even COBOL processes. Having this type of simple integration available makes open source languages like Python, Java, PHP, Node.JS and other open source languages more available to traditional IBM i programmers.

“Git version management for traditional IBM i source members will expand as companies need more source compliance and need IBM i source to live in the same place as their multi-platform app source,” Schoen concludes. “In 2021 there will be more traditional IBM i shops looking to streamline their use of Git for managing source member versions. My company offers a product called iForgit, which is a Git source management client for IBMi SEU and RDI developers, but other IBMi source management vendors continue to embrace and expand their offerings to include Git as well. And let’s hope this pandemic gets under control so we can all meet face to face again.”

John Dominic, an executive with IBM i high availability and disaster recovery services provider Maxava, sees IBM i shops getting their houses in order for the new economic reality that has resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think many companies in our space are just coming to realize that the long-term financial impact of the pandemic is going to rival the Global Financial Crisis,” Dominic tells us. “I would predict that most IBM i organizations will be spending the first half of this year planning to drive down current IT overheads as a recessionary spending strategy to get them through the next five years. The pandemic has also opened a lot of eyes to what losses can and cannot be covered by business interruption insurance — and that coverage gap is going to widen.

“I believe companies will try to shrink that gap by reducing the financial impact of data loss to a much greater extent than ever before, and we will likely see a big jump in the number of SMBs going to hybrid power clouds later this year because of it,” he concludes.

Calvin Buckley, a consultant at Seiden Group, has a few thoughts on 2021, has a wide range of predictions, starting with hardware.

“POWER10 will be a more significant threat to Intel, after a decade of stagnation,” Buckley writes. “Many attributes of the core, like eight-wide execution are very interesting, especially when Apple’s own cores are similar and outperform Intel CPUs by a large distance. Epyc and Neoverse based systems will provide other significant competition though. There continues to be no low-cost (sub-$10k) upgrade option for the thousands of low-end shops with i5 520s and Model 150s in production.”

Buckley on security: “Browser vendors will pressure certificate authorities to reduce the lifespan of certificates will be enough to make *all* certificates last as long as free certificates from Let’s Encrypt,” Buckley continues. “If the cost wasn’t enough, lifespan alone will make people consider switching. Security researchers will take notice in IBM i, both from the computer scientist perspective (prior art on tagged memory, capabilities, etc.) and IBM i as something to look for possible exploits in. In the former, IBM i might get its due from the rest of the world. In the latter, IBM should work with researchers, same as other platforms, to help find, patch, and inform about vulnerabilities.”

Buckley on IBM i: “A new logo as seen in ACS. No more rebranding though, people have already been through enough. IBM (or the community?) might provide resources to make IBM i more accessible to people wishing to learn it. Possibly introductory-focused documentation, hobbyist licensing, etc. IBM might provide ways to improve AI/ML experience on IBM i, possibly with support for CUDA (due to their partnership with Nvidia).”

Buckley on tooling: “IBM might officially support Visual Studio Code as an editor for IBM i, blessing extensions. RDi is maintained by a third party (HelpSystems), is expensive, and Eclipse isn’t so hot with developers. VSC is popular, free, and the extensions can be maintained by IBM. Someone will develop IBM i language support for Emacs and IDEA IDEs.”

Buckley on languages: “Rust grows in popularity enough to start displacing C++, due to its safety and performance in systems programming. Zig has potential to do similar at a lower level, but isn’t close enough to displace C yet. IBM i probably won’t gain Rust support until LLVM is ported, at minimum. C++ will continue to catch up to Rust in terms of safety and expressiveness. Improvements will come to PASE when GCC is updated, but ILE C/C++ is a huge maybe. Elixir grows in popularity to become a significant contender against Node for web applications.”

Erwin Earley, a senior solutions consultant with Perforce, is one of the IBM i industry’s most visible supporters of open source tech, which he predicts will only get bigger in 2021.

“Open source will continue to gain momentum in IBM i shops as the footprint of available open source tools and packages continues to grow,” Earley says. “As customers become comfortable with the building-block approach of open source solutions, we will see more shops leveraging open source skills to craft creative solutions with open source tools and languages. This is already being seen in the IoT and enterprise messaging space.”

Early also had a staffing prediction to share: “IBM i shops will continue to leverage ‘fresh faces’ . . . to craft cutting-edge solutions based on open source tools and languages with little to any platform experience required.”

Patrick Staudacher, the president of Wisconsin IBM i recruiting firm Talsco, predicts that remote work from the COVID-19 pandemic will help drive modernization efforts in IBM i shops.

“In 2020, CEOs, CFOs and IT leaders in the IBM i community came to a realization that remote work works! This trend will continue in 2021 helping drive innovation,” Staudacher says. “The IBM i community has long used the argument that we can’t find RPG talent. While there are demographic challenges, the real problem is not necessarily the availability of IBM i developers, but rather the location of them. When you eliminate the need to be onsite, finding the talent becomes much easier.

“IT leaders in the IBM i community are realizing the IBM i platform is as modern as you want it to be,” he continues. “The challenge is breaking out of the mindset, ‘if it’s not broke don’t fix it.’ The bottom line is, the old way of doing things is not going to cut it anymore. Our clients rely on a mix of custom written or third-party ERP packages [and] the one thing they all have in common is they need to extend the reach of their IBM i to remain competitive and help drive business innovation.

“We believe that remote work will continue to fuel modernization projects in 2021 and beyond,” Staudacher concludes. “IBM i modernization rests in the hands of the forward thinking leaders and a development community that is willing to embrace RPG Free, SQL, APIs, Web Services as well as emerging technologies such as AI, IoT, ML, Big Data and the endless ecosystem of open source and cloud solutions.”

The last word goes to the inestimable Tom Huntington, the executive vice president of technical solutions for HelpSystems, who sees trends from 2020 continuing into 2021 (which is not a bad thing for IBM i).

“IT staff have adapted to working from home and accepted that they don’t have to be physically next to the technology they manage,” he says. “This realization is the catalyst that opens up even more discussion for running IBM i in the cloud for the traditional on-premise IBM i customer. The past has taught us that it is okay to do this. Cloud movement will pick up as we end the pandemic in late second quarter. For many projects that were not deemed essential and were put on hold during the pandemic there will be a re-evaluation as to whether they need to be picked back up or not.

“CIOs and directors will evaluate what got them through the pandemic and a common theme in the IBM i Ecosystem is that the business continued to run on IBM i,” Huntington continues. “After all, 2021 is the year of the Ox, [so] common sense tells you we should see less and less effort to move away from the technology that kept the business going while the lights in the office were off. IBM i is the Ox in the data center: reliable, strong, and marching forward to pull the team over the next hurdle in IT.

“Power10 is coming and any time we have a new system on the horizon it slows down purchases of the existing technology,” he concludes. “There will be a flurry in late fourth quarter around Power10 but the impact will be felt more in 2022 as the servers actually ship sometime in first quarter of 2022. Yes, IBM i technology endured the pandemic very well and this should bode well for future decisions to stick with technology that is securable, scalable, and reliable.”

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