Shops slow to move to e-biz apps, Linux

Although the number of iSeries shops using e-business applications or running their applications on Linux is rising, a lot of users are waiting. Upshot: it's the money.

While IBM continues to push major initiatives such as e-business and Linux, it appears many iSeries and AS/400 users are still pondering the benefits of these efforts--or at least waiting until budget restraints are lifted before moving forward.

In fact, in a recent Search400.com survey, 83% of the respondents said that less than 25% of their company's server-based applications run on Linux. In the next three years, however, respondents say that they're likely to have more applications running on Linux.

In that same survey, only 19% said they have e-business apps in full production with 68% saying that less than 20% of their business is driven by e-business.

While the numbers are far from dismal, it's clear that iSeries shops are not moving to this new generation of applications as quickly as it appears IBM would hope, or have you think.

This past year, IBM has aggressively pursued new avenues for its e-business and Linux pushes, specifically targeting the small to midsize business (SMBs). In fact, in a recent interview, Al Zollar, general manager of the iSeries, was clear on his company's plans to gain market share in these areas by targeting the midrange shops.

Even though Big Blue has invested heavily in Linux and e-business, it doesn't appear that iSeries shops are rushing to have their apps on the Linux platform or use the iSeries as an e-business server. Zollar compares the slow uptick to the mainframe market a few years ago and said that when IBM first put Linux on the mainframe, it got the same kind of reaction that it's getting now on the iSeries.

"The iSeries is at a place where the zSeries was back then," Zollar said. "The number of customers using Linux is growing, and we're going to tout the advantage to using Linux by telling their stories. We're going to talk about how they're lowering their cost of ownership because of Linux." Zollar said, however, that adoption of Linux on the iSeries has to be built on people believing that the benefits are worth it.

Getting users to "buy into" the idea of Linux or e-business isn't the issue, said Wayne Kernochan of the Boston, Mass.-based Aberdeen Group.

It's the money.

"I think the most likely explanation is cost," he said. "I think as the economy moves they will move."

Kernochan said that although it's nice to have a "freebie system" [like Linux] and bring down the list price and in the long run see the cost advantages, the problem is that in the short term, there are significant startup costs.

"When you buy a machine, you are buying an unfamiliar configuration" he said. Users know they're likely to need additional help and they're likely to have to spend extra up front.

"There's going to be significant upfront costs and the ongoing higher costs of administration until the user gets familiar with the new system," Kernochan said.

Jerry Karth, a systems engineer with Hart and Cooley, a Michigan-based maker of heating equipment, says that Linux will eventually catch on.

"Adoption takes time," Karth said, explaining that the delay with his shop has nothing to do with Linux as much as it does with other issues such as upgrading a system. His company, in fact, plans on running some of its applications, such as central management and print sharing, on Linux, but they're in the processes of consolidating their AS/400s first.

Kernochan says that as cost constraints start loosening up, the number of iSeries shops running Linux or using e-business applications will rise significantly. He said users who've already bought into the idea would say, "I'm going to do this sooner or later, so why not now?"

Although h is company isn't yet using e-business applications, Karth knows that at some point it is going to be forced into it. "There won't be any options," he said.

With e-business, Karth said, it's all about return on investment. Moving to the Web is a major shift that most of his customers are going to want eventually. He said that he believes most, if not all transactions will be done over the Web.

"If you look at how buying airplane tickets has transformed in the last few years…it's going to be the same for us."

Is IBM's investment working then?

Kernochan says that in many ways, IBM's Linux and e-business push is similar to the push it made to get everyone to use Java.

"Eventually, folks said, yeah, they'd switch," he said. "But, is this the perfect time for it [IBM's push]? I'm not sure. Sooner or later people will start doing it because the economy is getting better…and then IBM will declare victory."

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