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IBM i

IBM’s Alison Butterill on the future of IBM i

IBM i 7.4 is an exciting landmark in the evolution of the highly-renowned server platform. At the International i-UG event in June 2019, we sat down with IBM's Alison Butterill to discuss the latest features of IBM i and how a new generation of users are enthused by the developments.

Alison Butterill

IBM's Offering Manager for IBM i

Chris Smith

Sales and Marketing Director at Blue Chip

Blue Chip has been a strong evangelist of the IBM i platform for many years. We were delighted to sit with Alison Butterill to learn about the latest release and how new users are embracing it.

Chris Smith: Hello, today we're at the i-UG International Power event, in Milton Keynes and I'm joined by Alison Butterill, the IBM i Offering Manager at IBM. Hello Alison.

Alison Butterill: Hello!

Chris: Thank you for joining me.

Alison: Thank you.

Chris: Thank you for taking some questions. So, Alison, tell us about yourself and your history with the IBM i for the uninitiated.

Alison: Well, I am the Offering Manager for IBM i, which means in conjunction with the Chief Architect Steve Will, we own the operating system and we own the strategy, the direction, and in fact what we do technically in the product. My history with IBM is long. I have been for many years responsible in the mid-range area for a variety of different products. I've done customer technical education, but I really probably enjoy this job more than any I've had before. It gives me a chance to talk to clients on a regular basis and talk to people like you.

Chris: Thank you! So, one of the things that's more and more in the news and we hope is being more and more encouraged in the industry, is bringing more women into IT, in general. So, what's your experience been over the years around that?

Alison: You know, I've been very lucky in my IBM career. We've had many women role models, including of course our CEO Ginni Rometty right now. It's been really an interesting evolution, I think it's cultural. I think it's geographic, on how many women come into IT and how they're encouraged. Surprisingly even countries like Japan, who you historically think of as being male-dominated, they have so many young women coming into IT and I think it's through programmes at schools that teach them mathematics and engineering, science... And I'm starting to see that in other countries
as well.

Chris: Yeah, the STEM learning, we'll come back to that in a moment. Thank you. So how did your keynote go today? I was there, I enjoyed it, but how did it go for you?

Alison: Oh good, I think it went really well. I love talking about, not just what we're doing today, like we did with 7.4 today, where we talked about the new announcement, but I love talking about what's possible and part of my job in setting strategy is thinking about what our clients are going to need, well into the future. So, thinking about things like automation and robotics, thinking about how to integrate AI, how to integrate the Internet of Things. And of course, we're already starting to get buzz about, you know, things like quantum computing, which we're going to call IQ of course!

Chris: How could you not? How could you not?

Alison: How could we not!

Chris: I saw the quantum computing at the last couple of years, thinking, it's very interesting, the possibilities are amazing.

Alison: I know! And there's new developments last year that promise all kinds of great performance on complex problems. We have complex problems in the world of IBM i, so, if they can solve them, I'm happy about it.

Chris: Yeah we're talking about a real step change.

Alison: Correct, a paradigm shift, and really a thought change for a lot of our IBM i clients as they start to think, not just about what the box can do their business, but thinking outside the box as well.

Chris: Indeed! Yeah, okay. Sticking back in the here and now, where we are, so, June 21st 2019, version 7R4 is released. So what are the highlights and what should we be looking out for?

Alison: We have so many changes that we've made and enhancements that we've made in the release but probably the two big themes are - we did a lot of security updating. Not that there was a problem before, but we've added in things like the latest versions of some of the secure communications network, like TLS and SMB. We've added in a lot of those technologies so that we make sure we give highest-level encryption available to our clients. Now we've done that in a number of different places, we've added in additional security features and functions in many different products- ACS, RDi. We've put in some new views with authority collection. The other big hitter, I think, the other big thing that we did, was with DB2 Mirror, which is our newest licensed program product. And DB2 Mirror is really, as the name implies, the ability to mirror the database between two systems, giving us not just high availability but continuous availability.

Chris: Yeah, so for me, security, DB2 Mirror - two of the really big things for me, but I think the surprise for most people out there and certainly a little bit for me as well, I have to confess, is just the sheer quantity of open source coding available out there for the IBM i. Can you give us some words on that and thoughts around that?

Alison: You know, it's really interesting as we see more and more companies moving into new worlds like the Intranet, like graphical and mobile interfaces. We're seeing a huge demand building up for more and more open source. On top of that is we get young people into our IBM i shops, they want to be productive immediately. And that means we have to have open source on IBM i. So right now our lead architect, Jesse Gorzinski, has done a great job with his team. We have over 300 open source packages that are available for download through our IPM site, and this is just phenomenal. And we have seen the uptake of these packages increase tremendously, even over the last six months. It has just skyrocketed. With this latest release, we have enhanced the open source environment by adding languages like R. R is well known in the industry for analytics and for data analysis and by putting R on IBM i, the industry, some of our lead consultants have said to us that they know we're serious about IBM i and we're serious about open source on i. So we've seen all kinds of really good enhancements, but we haven't forsaken the traditional environments. We've also added in new functions and operations for RPG and Cobol and CL... We are maintaining a very broad range of development options.

Chris: Keep the classic customer happy and moving forward, as well as the next generation, we need to bring along to the platform.

Alison: That's right.

Chris: 30 years old last year, kind of, if you include the AS/400, but IBM i now obviously and really what we need to be doing is encouraging more people onto the platform. Which brings me to my next point I guess, one of the things in the other keynote was mentioning STEM and bringing in new talent into the pool, the IBM i pool and the people that use that. What words and encouragement would you give someone, and advice, to someone who is new to the IBM i platform and how to approach it?

Alison: Very good questions. I think a couple of different things. I think for young people coming into the platform today, I love the fact they have no fear! And I wish that existing companies would let them have a free-for-all, because they have no fear, they're willing to try everything. It's unlike us when we first started on computing. You know, I remember my very first time sitting in front of a terminal and you were afraid to hit the buttons or hit something wrong. And nowadays they're, you know, churning stuff out so quickly and they're so good at it. I would hope that they maintain that curiosity, that desire to do things. That would be my advice, is retain that, keep doing it, because that's what gets you ahead. That's what keeps the enthusiasm, the energy flowing. And businesses recognise good contributors. They recognise that energy. Sometimes it's a little whole harder when you've got a company full of more traditional developers, or more traditional 'classic' people. But I think the young people just want to get in there and show enthusiasm, be willing to learn from those older - excuse me - traditional classic folks as well.

Chris: Yeah, and bring to it what they can bring from the new languages they've probably learned through school, college, university, Python and things like that. They can make a real difference with on our platform, on our IBM i. I guess my final question then is what's next for the IBM i? Where are we going?

Alison: You know, Steve Will and I just published our IBM i strategy whitepaper, it's available from our website and people who want to know what our strategy is going forward, in any of those areas should go and have a look at that whitepaper because we spend quite a bit of time thinking about what we want to do with cognitive, what we want to do with AI, what we want to do into the future. And we document that for you to read. In a nutshell, we think that there's two main things that we need to maintain on IBM i. We have to have the stability of a very good platform, with good availability but we also have to be able to provide those modern technologies, to extend the business value of today's existing applications. So we are really going to focus on more interaction, more integration with AI, with cognitive, with Internet of Things, robotics. We have people doing robotics today, but for many people, this is an area that they haven't yet started. So we're going to continue our focus on advanced technology, but continue to keep the system as secure and available as we can. So we blend the two together well.

Chris: Please keep doing everything you've been doing.

Alison: We'll try!

Chris: Thank you. Thank you so much for joining us and thank you for taking the questions. It's Chris Smith at i-UG 2019, for Blue Chip, signing off!