Problem with IBM's attempt to revitalize the iSeries

Tim Kormos, special to Search400.com

Sitting in the Town Hall session at the spring COMMON conference it struck me as significant that the key ingredient for growth of the iSeries does not exist -- new blood. In talking with many of the attendees, I found that none have had their AS/400, iSeries, i5 for less than five years. That means most every company that has an iSeries has had it for a long time. New businesses just do not buy iSeries systems. Therein lies IBM's challenge: how to introduce new companies to the superior technology that is an eServer iSeries i5 and grow the market. Superior technology is not enough. People buy software; the platform used is merely the vehicle to solve business problems.

Enter the real problem. How well does iSeries software stack up against Windows and Unix software? To address this, IBM has initiated new programs to help independent software vendors (ISVs) develop more software.

Morality tale
There once was a farmer who diligently worked his land. Concerned that the birds would eat too much of his crops, the farmer erected a series of scarecrows. The scarecrows worked well and eventually no birds ever visited his land.

One day the farmer realized he needed the birds and he wanted them to come back. So, he ran outside and tore down the scarecrows and joyfully spread out his arms, dancing about, welcoming the birds to come back, but no bird came near. You see they where now even more afraid of the new and all the more frightening scarecrow.

IBM, with its attempt to resurrect the iSeries, is running out in the field and spreading its arms open wide welcoming ISVs back. But few will come, as they are afraid that the new scarecrow is merely a trick.

Competing with a monopoly
For IBM to truly grow the iSeries market it must get out of the software business. Until it does, no significant capital will ever be directed to the development of iSeries software. Just look at the existing marketplace. Are there any Fortune 500 companies? No, and Oracle doesn't count. Oracle will do everything in its power to move iSeries users over to a Microsoft or Unix platform. It makes more money that way. Other products that have long made their way on the iSeries (MAPICs, for example) are also migrating to the more prevalent operating platforms.

Take the backup and recovery marketplace. IBM offers a competitive product, Backup Recovery Media Services for the iSeries (BRMS). Ask an IBM representative how much BRMS costs. You will most often here that it is "free" as part of the operating system. There are several companies that provide as good or better backup and recovery products with similar or better features and functions, but how can they compete with free. Instead of letting the marketplace determine the price for such products, IBM seeks to eliminate competition. By the way, if you didn't know it, IBM doesn't give anything away for free. If they do, it's planning to charge a bundle for support, training and services.

Contrast the backup and recovery market with that of high availability. IBM does not have its own product offering. Rather, IBM has partnered with the five leading HA vendors to offer new customers discounts on second systems if the customer purchases a recognized HA product. In that case IBM sells more hardware and the market grows.

For the iSeries to develop and grow, IBM must stop the unfair competition strategies it has been conducting. Until ISVs feel confident that their investments are protected and that IBM will not come in and undercut them, you will continue to see the iSeries vendor list as small mom-and-pop shops.

About the author: Tim Kormos is product manager at LXI Corp., which provides storage management products and services for midrange systems.

What do you think?
Is IBM standing in the way of ISVs developing for the iSeries? Do ISVs have a right to feel wary of IBM? Send your comments to us at editor@search400.com.

This was first published in May 2005

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