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Survey: Lack of apps still plagues iSeries shops

Users pulling work off the iSeries and onto Windows say the decision has absolutely nothing to do with the technology. They say it's the applications.

iSeries shops hardly ever struggle with issues about backup, maintenance or migration. It's the pitiful lack of applications that run on the platform that gives them the greatest concern.

"The architecture is above and beyond anything else," said Oran Paul, technical analyst, Saskatchewan Property Management Corp., a government-run property management company based in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada. "The downfall is there are no bloody applications for this box. After you go through the Lawsons and the J.D. Edwards, apps start dropping off. There aren't enough applications to market it to the masses."

The downfall is there are no bloody applications for this box.
Oran Paul
technical analyst

In a recent State of the Industry Survey, 25% of iSeries users said writing applications on the iSeries ranks as one of their most difficult challenges. Only career and training issues -- cited by 28% of the 253 surveyed iSeries professionals -- ranked ahead of the applications drought.

"Finding third-party software is a problem," said Lee Yarrington, a programmer/analyst for a large food wholesaler. For users looking for off-the-shelf application software in specific vertical markets, it's particularly frustrating. "They either don't exist or they're hard to find."

Yarrington said the lack of software is likely hurting the platform's appeal.

He may be right. Despite IBM's constant boasting that it's winning new customers every day, particularly with small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs), all signs point to a growing reliance on other platforms, particularly for new applications that use Java. Upshot: iSeries' shortcoming is Microsoft's gain.

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In fact, 65% of the respondents said the iSeries is hosting the bulk of their new applications. But 57% also said a significant number of their new applications is running on Windows. In addition, 32% of those respondents said they were moving existing applications off the iSeries onto new platforms -- 76% are being moved to either Windows NT or Windows 2000 servers.

Proving its app-titude

Few would disagree that IBM has recognized the problem and is trying to increase the number of applications written for the iSeries. It has, after all, invested billions into courting independent software vendors (ISVs) and business partners to develop applications for the iSeries. One recent coup included a partnership with Mapics Inc. , a supply chain vendor in Alpharetta, Ga.

In July, IBM began offering a new set of tools and services called "Solution Starting Points," which will make it easier for partners and resellers to develop products for midsize customers in vertical markets.

And partner relationships are expected to get even more attention now that Mike Borman , former general manager of IBM's $30 billion Global Business Partners group, has been named the new iSeries general manager.

Then, of course, there's IBM's big push into vertical markets. In December, IBM divided its software group into 12 industry-specific segments, including retail, manufacturing, health-care and financial services, and is pumping hundreds of millions of dollars into the initiative. The move is an attempt to take advantage of an upturn in IT spending, as well as to address customer demand for vertical products.

"Even though IBM is trying to get the resellers involved, it seems like they're trying to put effort into it, do they have what it takes to go the distance? That's what I'm wondering," Paul said.

Perhaps it does and the effort is starting to pay off. Thirty-six percent of the survey respondents said the most significant improvement they've seen to their shops in the past year is the number of new applications being developed. But it's unclear whether they're just writing more applications in-house or they have more choice when it comes to purchasing third-party applications.

Charles Turner, a senior programmer/analyst with Keane Inc., health services division, a developer of health-care-related software products and an IBM business partner based in Jacksonville, Fla., admits the selection of applications for the iSeries "is a little thin."

However, Turner said his company is developing software for the iSeries all the time in response to customer demand. While IBM is making it more attractive for developers such as Keane to write applications for the iSeries, Turner said IBM isn't doing enough to push Java on the iSeries -- something he thinks will significantly advance development of applications.

"[The iSeries] is probably one of the best Java machines that you can buy," he said. "And yet you don't hear IBM saying that. For whatever reason, they just don't seem to emphasis the iSeries in their marketing. I don't know why. That's been the subject of considerable discussion of a gathering of people working on the iSeries."

Paul Dunn, advisory systems engineer/consultant, Les Schwab Tire Centers, Prineville, Ore., said that his company writes most of its applications in-house because there are so few applications that get granular enough for his needs -- if there are any at all.

"Buying a third-party CRM app in our case would mean changing the way we do business and that's not acceptable," he said.

Dunn said that his company uses an iSeries because of the technology, its ability to perform heavy workload processing and easy maintenance. It's not like he'd take his work loads and put them on another platform -- because Windows doesn't have the applications either, he said.

Critics said all the hoopla about new applications is really about the ones being written for Linux -- something IBM doesn't deny or make apologies for. But a crop of new Linux apps doesn't mean much to most iSeries users because such a high percentage of them are not running Linux anyway, users said.

Let us know what you think about the story; e-mail: Kate Evans-Correia, Senior News Editor

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