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New COMMON president Randy Dufault takes the helm

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At the conclusion of the COMMON user group conference in Miami Beach last week, Randy Dufault took over for Beverly Russell as president of the group. Dufault, a principal in the government practice for MBS Technologies Inc. in Minneapolis, has been attending COMMON conferences since 1988 and has worked with IBM midrange systems since 1983, starting with the System/36. He's been treasurer of COMMON the last two years.

In a recent conversation by email that spilled over to the phone, Dufault talked about his perceived role at Common, the new iSociety and the future of the System i. Here is a portion of those conversations.

Why do you want to be president of COMMON now? Why wouldn't anyone want to be president of COMMON now? There is...

just so much going on. We've announced new education offerings for 2007. We have a great deal to look forward to in iSociety, our publications are growing, our set of member benefits is growing, we've got a great volunteer community, we've got a great staff and our financial staffing is very strong. With everything that is going on, I personally haven't seen this much excitement in the System i community for a very long time. What do you think about iSociety? Have you joined yet? I have. I am a firm believer that we all learn best from our peers. But finding those peers can be a struggle. We have this great platform now in the Internet, and with iSociety we now have a place, managed by the community at large, where we can find each other, gather and learn -- outside of those relatively rare times when we are able to meet face to face.

More on COMMON and System i
iSociety to draw iSeries users together on the Web

COMMON restructures conferences

iSeries shop talk with IBM executives
Why is COMMON moving to one major annual conference?
The plans for 2007 that we announced are the result of a process that started five or six years ago. In that process, we spent a tremendous amount of time, and not an insubstantial amount of money, asking folks in this community, members of COMMON, nonmembers and vendors alike, what they need their user group to do for them. Those folks told us that the model COMMON has used for years -- two substantially identical conferences each year -- was no longer the best way to meet the needs they have for education, needs for networking with their peers or needs for advocacy to the industry. Kids coming out of college know Windows and Linux environments. How is IBM and COMMON luring them to the System i?
IBM's Academic Initiative is certainly a key part of that. The purpose is to get System i into the academic environment so students are exposed to it and know what it is before they enter the real world of work. Once they're introduced to the system and gain experience, they understand a little bit about what is all there and they quickly come to want to work on the platform and become as excited as the rest of us. What do you think makes the System i unique in the marketplace?
Certainly, the key value proposition is its integrated nature. All the things you need to operate the server are included on the platform. You don't have to concern yourself with a separate database or buying separate backup software. In the end, our customers, like much of the rest of the System i community, operate these systems with very small staffs, certainly in comparison to other platforms. Is IBM letting the server line die out?
I don't believe that to be the situation at all. IBM, I think, is making some tremendous investments in the marketing. They're doing some new and interesting things that will help get the message out. It's got such a tremendous install base across the world. I don't think it would be in IBM's best interest to not keep up with it. One user I spoke to at COMMON was comparing the death of the HP3000 system with the current state of the System i. Is that fair?
I don't know all the details about the HP3000 situation. I believe that one of the key differences between that environment and the System i community was that there just weren't that many HP3000s around. That market was just a fraction of the System i market, so the economics were completely different.

Let us know what you think about the story; e-mail: Mark Fontecchio, News Writer

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