The 21st of June this year marks the 35th anniversary of the launch of the IBM i Platform. This event is quite unusual in a tech industry that typically venerates all things new. Relevance and the realisation of shiny digital futures is typically the highest currency across tech’s chattiest circles. Moreover, why would a university choose to celebrate a platform, with a longer pedigree than the average age of its students? Perhaps we can unravel this mystery together…
I’ve spent my career either in industry with an interest in education, or in academia with an interest in industry. In the last year I became an IBM Champion for the i series and I must say engagement with the community has been something of an eye opener ( if you’ll pardon the pun). This line of machines has held a number of different identities over the last 35 years but the unifying theme has been a focus on enterprise grade applications. This is no surprise to anybody who works with them but also explains why they have remained important for 35 years, yet are rarely visible in academic circles.
Enterprise Systems are, by definition, engines of applied computing. In the field their role means that they are not often in the spotlight; Some other business or manufacturing process they miraculously give life to is usually the central concern. Away in the shadows, questions about computing behaviour and innovation are secondary to mission issues, such as maintaining high performance and availability. It is often said that “The squeaky wheel gets the oil” and the world of higher learning is very much one of investigation and problem solving. Areas that offer few challenges and rarely present mysteries may be subject to neglect. A world in search of ‘better solutions’ with an already crowded curriculum finds stability hard to contend with.
Not to mention teaching Enterprise Systems in any practical way, unaided by specialists, is no mean feat! Individual systems are often unique with characteristic features in both software stack and workload. Gaining access to appropriate resources from hardware to software to infrastructure and realistic data traffic is a challenge – it takes, in fact, a particularly motivated institution to engage with this area at all.
Sometimes, however, the mysteries are hidden in plain sight! How is it possible, for example, for a computing platform to stay relevant and at the cutting edge for 35 years? The IBM i, after all, has never stood still. The Power 10 chip is a superscalar multi core RISC processor, with on-chip AI inference capabilities – technologically advanced from any perspective. Then we must consider the platform’s central role in delivering industrial processes. In 2015 the World Economic Forum outlined the challenges of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) sometimes called Industry 4.0. These include the integration of new techniques and advanced technologies into the manufacturing and supply chain; taking advantage of advances in cyber-physical, biological and data approaches. Industry’s very latest demands then, are the upcoming challenges for the Power ecosystem. Where better to begin exploring new ideas than with a platform well placed to have an impact across the sector?
Moreover, the potential for evolutionary, if not revolutionary, change is real. The computing subjects currently attracting the most excitement among candidates are Data Science, Artificial Intelligence and Cyber Security. Experienced practitioners on the platform are skilled professionals but often lack the range in fast developing areas. Complementary skills profiles often make for fruitful partnerships… At yet, perhaps even more pressingly the IBM i is about to become an intergenerational computing platform; a living platform beginning to hand responsibility to a new generation of professionals. Many computing platforms have come and gone, without experiencing the necessity of this requirement. This is of course a testament to the longevity and strength of the systems based on the IBM i. For both new talent and custodians of these systems there are some excellent incentives to engage at the moment.
Why the University of Wolverhampton? Well, the region is home to a number of firms that use IBM i systems and the city of Wolverhampton is home to the autumn conference of the i-UG user group. Not to mention, some notable figures in the UK community, such as IBM Champion Steve Bradshaw hail from here. Moreover the Department of Computing and Mathematical Sciences has a student body very receptive to learning about Enterprise Systems. We’ve planned a half day programme introducing key ideas about the platform, inviting discussion about both technical issues and career paths. We plan to celebrate in style and together.
So why celebrate 35 years of the IBM i? Because it marks the beginning of a new era of possibilities….and the future won’t wait!