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IBM i Future: 2017 Update

One of the most common questions people ask Steve Will is “What’s the future for IBM i?" In this article, he answers that question.

One of the most common questions people ask me is “What’s the future for IBM i?”

I think I’ve gotten that question 20 or more times since the start of the year--via e-mail, LinkedIn messages, customer briefings, Twitter direct messages--and as I write this, I have only been at work for eight days in 2017.  And this is the slow part of the year.  

Most of the time, the form or tone of the question is really hinting that the person who is asking it wants to hear me confirm that there is a future for IBM i. And, of course, there is!  I feel like almost every interaction I have with clients contains this message, nevertheless, I interact with many, many clients and people naturally want to hear it straight from “someone in charge.”   And sometimes, when I point them to what I’ve already written, they express concern that the material is not current.

So, it’s a new year, and it’s time to refresh the message.  So, to do that, I will try to answer two representative questions.  
  • “I’m the director in charge of all IT, including the i guys, but I have a different background.  We’re on your POWER6 system and the 7.1 release, and they tell me we need to move to something new.  What’s your roadmap?”
  • “I would appreciate if you can put some light on future of IBM i in next 5 years.

The IBM i Roadmap

The IBM i roadmap is typically portrayed as in the picture above.  The key points:
  • At any given point in time, IBM i typically supports three major releases.  Today, IBM i 7.3 is the most current release, released less than a year ago.  The oldest release under normal support is pretty stable, receiving normal fixes, but not getting new functions.  Right now, if you are on the 7.1 release, you should be looking at moving up to 7.2 or, even better, to 7.3.
  • The IBM i development team is already at work on the releases after 7.3.  We aren’t talking about the specific content of those releases yet, but later in this blog, I’ll give you an idea of the kinds of things we stress in our plans.
  • IBM i delivers function in between major releases.  We tend to call the delivery of these functions “Technology Refreshes” (TRs) even though many of the new functions come out in other ways.  And we’ve been doing two announcements each year around these TRs.
If you are reading this blog in 2017, this roadmap is pretty fresh, but it’s not completely new.  I’ve been showing this roadmap since the announcement of 7.3.  It’s important to know you can get even more details about the IBM i Roadmap and Strategy from the white paper we updated to coincide with the 7.3 announcement.  

Now, if you are reading this after 2017, then perhaps you contacted me or one of the IBM i team and asked about our roadmap, and we gave you the link to this blog.  If we did that, then you can be pretty confident that the roadmap above is still pretty close to valid.  The release names might change, the oldest one might go out of support, but the general pattern holds true.  It’s been this way for years.  That kind of stability and predictability is an advantage, because you can plan on the IBM i team to keep producing new function and getting it to you today--whenever your “today” is--and tomorrow.

But if you’re one of these people from the future, and you’re still concerned, go to the IBM i home page at – that will provide the latest information, including links to the latest strategy and roadmaps.

The IBM i Future

When people ask me to talk about what IBM i will be doing in the next X years (five, in the case of the example message I showed above) I usually show them our chart of priorities.  So, here it is.

You see, we’ll deliver so many capabilities in the next five years, it would be impossible to list them all--and that’s not really what the person asking the question is looking for.  They are looking for themes.  And that’s good, because our plans are confidential, so I can’t give out that list, anyway.  But I can, and do, share our themes.
  • Solutions: We’ve always been a platform driven by the business solutions built on top of us.  We listen to our solution vendors and get involved in the technologies we see as important to them and their future.  That has always meant finding the next DB2 functions, which will have high business value, as well as investing in the programming languages, environments and tools which will be needed to build the solutions.  And, in the past several years, one of the key technologies we’ve needed to enable is mobile devices.
  • On-Site and Cloud: IBM i clients, by a large margin, use our platforms on site.  And that’s likely where most of you will stay for a long time to come.  However, one of the key growth areas for our platform is when it’s used by software providers to provide Software as a Service, or Cloud-based solutions.  Additionally, many of our partners are finding new ways to provide value to some of their clients by providing cloud services, whether it’s backup in a cloud or fully hosting customers.  We’re dedicated to making the combination of IBM i and Power Systems as good in that cloud environment as we’ve always been if you own the box on site.
  • Simple & Integrated; Secure & Available:  these are the hallmarks of this platform from the day it was created, and we work to ensure they remain strengths.
So, what is IBM i doing in the next five years?  Well, let’s look at the recent past.

We’ve made it easier than ever to develop solutions on IBM i by making our most popular language (RPG) capable of using some of the newest technologies (services, XML, etc.), by adding new languages to our portfolio, and by improving the strategic development tools both in function as well as in platforms supported.  

We’ve made it possible to define security at the database itself; to store business data history in DB2; to import and export data into DB2 through definitions, which are standard in today’s solution development; and to build high function analytics on top of your business data.

What’s next?  We’ve been listening to our solution developers and will work on the next new things, just as we did when we decided to do the above.

“But that only covers the ‘Solution’ theme,” you say?  Well, no, it doesn’t even fully cover that.  But it’s enough for me to make the following point:

If you want to know where we’re going in the next five years, then talk to our clients about what they need, because that’s a key indicator of what we’ll prioritize into our plan.  And as you talk to them, keep the themes in mind, because we will.

Until Next Time

Just remember that you are on a platform that has been delivering valuable new business capabilities for many, many years.  We here at IBM understand that you want to feel comfortable that this will continue for a long time, that the stability you’ve come to expect from IBM i will be there for you.  Any time you need reassurance, come back and read this again.  

Or send me an e-mail.  I’ll send the link to you.  You and 20 other people. :-)

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