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Reporter's notebook: Spring 2006 Common conference

Common conference experts drop the ball at the town hall meeting, letting Mark Shearer and the System i team get off easy by asking the same question over and over again.

What's in a name?

MINNEAPOLIS -- The traditional kickoff of the System i user group's weeklong conference is the infamous town hall meeting -- a remarkably candid rap session between IBM's top brass and the unwashed masses.

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Q&A with Mark Shearer, Common Spring 2006

Meet the new boss  

System i general manager Mark Shearer said that the open mic session is his favorite part of the conference and I could see why with all the softballs he was fielding.

Some of the best and brightest minds of the iSeries community -- Al Barsa, Trevor Perry and Randall Munson -- all had the chance to grill Shearer and his team. But rather than tackling technical issues or pricing, the common theme for these System i luminaries was griping about the recent name change.

IBM changed the name from iSeries to System i back in January with the revamp of the platform. It's the third name change in six years for the system and many think IBM is shooting itself in the foot on name recognition.

But Shearer addressed the name change early. It was a decision from on high, going across the entire Systems and Technology Group. Shearer actually fought the name change with IBM corporate and lost.

But one after another, each expert got up and blasted the name change. As award winning public speakers, you'd they might have changed their scripts on the fly after the first comments on the topic, but no.

Speaking of name changes, attendees mentioned renaming RPG -- a suggestion Brian Kelly made a few weeks back in a column. Is it possible the acronym RPG is an albatross?

Jim Herring, iSeries product manager said RPG doesn't look anything like the RPG he learned on years ago, and he's taking suggestions for a new name if it makes sense. Maybe we'll spend the next Common town hall meeting talking about that over and over again.

IBM brings PHP and VOIP to System i

Big Blue unveiled two new features for the System i this week at the conference -- a VOIP application for the iSeries and native PHP scripting. While neither of these technologies are new by any means, they're both new to System i.

According to IBM, 40 million users got on board with VOIP in 2005 -- and they expect the number to grow to160 million users by 2008.

But much of the VOIP infrastructure is running on gaggles of Windows servers. Marlborough, Mass.-based 3Com Corporation is launching the first IP Telephony suite for the System i.

Honore LaBourdette, 3Com's vice president of global sales said "for VOIP, these solutions run on multiple servers and operating systems. For an SMB, typically we see 40 inexpensive servers installed to support an IP telephony application."

3Com's VOIP suite currently runs on Linux on xSeries. IBM and 3Com expect to have System i availability by the third quarter of this year.

The other big news out of the show is that System i pros have a new option to get apps to the Web, PHP. Cupertino, Calif.-based Zend Technologies Corp. -- founding contributors of the open source Web scripting language -- will begin offering support for Zend Studio for i5/OS in June 2006.

So what does PHP scripting language mean for the System i? "Better, faster, more productive development and deployment of Web applications," said Doron Gerstel, CEO of Zend Technologies. The company started in 1995 and provides support, services and systems management software for PHP developers.

According to Shearer, both the PHP and VOIP ideas emerged from discussions at last year's Common conference.

IBM, Common award iSeries shops for excellence

IBM and COMMON announced the five winners of its second annual IT Innovation Awards. The System i Innovation Awards are designed to showcase the achievements of IT shops using the System i platform in unique ways. The 2006 award winners were: Elie Tahari, Quixtar, Inc., Transworld Entertainment, Bank of America National Association, Canada Branch and Moraine Valley College.

Elie Tahari, a designer of women's fashions, designed a data warehousing application that supports the company's business management and a customized scorecard application in near-real time, allowing managers at all levels to report on business performance without the delay of manually prepared spreadsheets. Additionally, it allows managers see all aspects of their world-wide operations to make timely business decisions. The application pulled multiple information systems onto a single System i and earned Elie Tahari the award for Application Deployment.

Quixtar, Inc., an online retailer of health and beauty products, developed a high-availability back-up system that enabled it to achieve high availability. Quixtar consolidated its environment onto two System i 570s located five miles apart that use Lakeview MIMIX for object and data replication between the systems. Quixtar also relies on IBM WebSphere MQ to relocate inquiries from its Web site so they can be processed by the backup system during peak hours, eliminating downtime. The company received the Innovation Award in the Business Resiliency category.

Transworld Entertainment, a specialty music and video retailer, consolidated its mixed environment of IBM and of other server technology onto a single System i and successfully integrated its business applications onto the platform, simplifying its IT environment and allowing the company to provide better customer service. Transworld received the award for Infrastructure Simplification.

Bank of America National Association, Canada Branch integrated all of its business software on i5/OS and increased the number of transactions processed on i5/OS by 115 percent. This reduced its IT maintenance staff requirements by 22% and doubled the business revenue of one of its key business units. The bank has trusted the System i and its predecessors to run its in-house-developed business applications for over 20 years and was honored with the award for i5/OS Leadership.

Moraine Valley College in Palos Hills, Illinois provides education on the System i platform and enhanced its curriculum to keep pace with the system's growing capabilities. Most recently, the College acquired a new System i5 running Linux to help teach students in an operating systems course. After demonstrating its commitment to System i education for more then 18 years, Moraine Valley College was this year's recipient of the Education Award.

Let us know what you think about the story; e-mail: Matt Stansberry, News Editor

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