Informing the IBM Community

Opinion: let IBM i have its day in the sun


IBM Launches z13 Mainframe -- Most Powerful and Secure System Ever Built

Last week, IBM launched its new z13 mainframe (pictured above). Apparently, it had hurried the announcement along so that it came before its latest set of earnings. This move was rewarded by acres of virtual newsprint by the press.

The oldest tech giant of them all is reportedly going through a painful transformation. The Big Blue of old is being reorganised by CEO Ginni Rometty around areas like cloud, analytics and Watson. Since the sell-off of its x86 business to Lenovo, hardware appears to have taken something of a back seat.

However, the z13 launch appeared to defy all this. So much so, it had an almost anachronistic feel. One after the other, I.T. titles reeled off the amazing achievements of a platform that’s been around for half a century.

A fair few titles simply repeated IBM’s press release headline that the z13 was the “most powerful and secure system ever built”. The new machine was the product of a billion dollar investment, we were told. Depending on who was writing the articles, anywhere between 60% and 70% of the world’s data resided on a mainframe. The vast majority of the world’s biggest banks used them, as did 71% of all Fortune 500 companies.

Also, because they are very big and extremely secure, these machines were perfect for both cloud provision and the kind of huge data flows associated with mobile device transactions. So they were ultra-modern too.

For the benefit, presumably, of younger readers, some publications produced well-considered pieces explaining what a mainframe actually was and why it is that IBM still made such things. Some financially-oriented writers even tipped it as possible saviour to IBM’s sagging fortunes – the first time anyone can have voiced such an opinion for decades.

I have to say that I was impressed. Someone, somewhere, within IBM’s Armonk HQ had lined up their PR ducks perfectly and was reaping a just reward. Then, as is often the case when it comes to IBM’s marketing efforts, I started to become slightly irked. When, I wondered, was the last time IBM i-driven Power Systems got to bask in the glare of such media attention?

The answer, of course, is that it never did. Close IBM midrange watchers will be aware of the debate that still rages between those who have the temerity to call such boxes by their old names and those who insist on using this decade’s nomenclature. But, the fact is, the day the System i became the Power System, in IBM marketing terms it became as dead as a dodo.

Back in 2008, this ginger-headed-stepchild treatment of the platform that dare not speak its former name was explained away in the interest of convergence. Although the i and the p versions of Power System were not exactly the same, IBM doublethink demanded that everyone pretended like they were. And as Unix-driven p variants outsold their i counterparts by at least ten-to-one, the i brand was easily subsumed.

My message to IBM is that it’s time to start talking about IBM i on Power Systems as a distinct brand once again. After all, very many of the same things that garnered so much press attention for the z13 are also true for Power i.

I wonder, how much of the world’s data resides on the i nowadays? How many FTSE 100, DAX 30, CAC 40 or Nikkei 22 firms use the platform? Is it not totally secure? And as for real-world mass transactional processing, what other non-mainframe really compares?

IBM employs some very clever people. This idea that you can delineate between different kinds of Power System cannot be totally beyond their ken. With no x86 marketing to do any more, this really should be simple stuff. After all, it’s not like, say, car manufacturers don’t market the distinct benefits of their various models.

So come on IBM. Now that it seems your hardware and software divisions are getting lumped together, there has never been a better time to start shouting about the best integrated business server of all time.

I’m not exactly holding my breath here, but it can’t be too hard to put the i back into your annual PR activity planner. Let IBM i on Power Systems have its day in the sun once again.

What do you think? Does this make sense or is it just so much i in the sky? Have your say in the comments section below.

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