In this episode of iTalk with Tuohy, host Paul Tuohy interviews Tom Huntington on the latest IBM i client survey.
Paul Tuohy: Hi everybody and welcome to another iTalk with Tuohy. So I got to say it's that time of year again, and so my guest today is Tom Huntington, who is an executive vice president of technical solutions with HelpSystems. And Tom you are also the man who is behind the annual industry survey, which is—well has just gone live as we're recording. So you want to tell us a little bit first of all about that survey?
Tom Huntington: Very good, Paul. First of all, nice to be back again. I'm back for the second year talking about the survey and you know the survey is something we started seven years ago and it was meant to help garner insight for our own company about what was happening in the IBM i marketplace and has grown since then over seven years to a very valuable piece for IBM, HelpSystems, other vendors, customers, and even analysts in the industry—as I learned in the last year with Gartner actually quoting it and telling me that they use our survey. So I thought that was very flattering so—so and I'm sure there's others out there too that actually use the survey as—as content. The thing I'm most proud about is that it's stayed a very kind of neutral piece, so that it's not just you know done for HelpSystems, right?
Paul: So actually I'm glad that you touched on that, Tom, about the—like the number of people who are now referring to this. I mean is it a fair thing to say that that this survey has now effectively sort of become the yardstick for the state of the industry?
Tom: I would say so—and maybe that's me being a little you know selfish on it, but I don't know any other—there are other derivatives of it and I think you know to my fellow vendors out that have—that have also done some of their own surveys, I appreciate that they haven't just tried to just over tackle us or whatever you want to call it and take the ball away. But there are a lot of other good surveys out there, but none that have you know really gone after just the overall industry around the power—IBM Power platform and IBM i, the operating system itself.
Paul: So—so just for those who maybe aren't familiar with it, Tom, can—can you give us a flavor maybe of some of the types of questions there are? Sorry, are the questions, are they very sort of you know broad, wide-ranging questions or do they get very nitty gritty and detailed—or is a mixture of both?
Tom: Well I—I like to think of them as being detailed enough in each of the different areas that we ask that it gives the readers and the followers of the platform and those looking into this platform enough insight to what's happening. So for instance we will ask things about you know what int—industry are you from, what geographic location you're from, from a demographic perspective. And then we get into very specifics about you know what Power servers are you running? What operating systems levels? What programming languages, you know how many developers you have, how many administrators you have. We're—we're going after things related to security, which is top of everybody's mind, high availability, you know the programming, the modernization—you know those are the top things that are in the industry. And so there's a variety of questions in each of those areas so that we get enough detail to—to really show some trends. And you know there's about 30 questions in the survey.
Paul: Okay, okay. So—so over the seven—well okay, the six years okay that have gone where you have results in from the survey—I mean has there been a constant common trends in there?
Tom: Yeah, I—you know from a trend perspective I would say the thing that is most impressive is that you know people do have a tendency in the platform to keep pretty current on the operating system. And so we—you know we continue to see a—a leapfrog from you know the days of 6.1—5.4, 6.1 to you know 7.4 from an operating system level, and people are migrating on that. Then also another trend we see is that maybe not as virtualized as other platforms, IBM i? Because I would argue that it's very virtualized already before we even had partitions and stuff like that, but certainly a trend in the partition area where people have taken advantages of virtualizing and you know if I have that, even that smallest server today I certainly can put multiple partitions on and I can have my development and production and my, you know test and QA all in one—in one spot.
Paul: Yeah and in terms then Tom of sort of concerns, is there—like I always remember things like and they're always—and again correct me if I'm wrong here but things like—
Paul: But things like security is always sitting up there in the top two or three concerns for everybody.
Tom: Yeah. So we do have the question you know what are your top five concerns and we give readers the option of about 13 different things. Over the last four years, security has been #1; high availability and modernization have kind flipped and flopped but over the last two years HA has been that one. Then the fourth item has been IBM i skills or education. So security being #1, which you know in today's world everybody is working remotely. Before that, it was everybody was concerned about getting you know hacked, or you know access to their data. So that security doesn't surprise me one bit that that is #1 today and it really should be. Unfortunately in the IBM i world we from a HelpSystems perspective like to say it's a securable platform. Our other activity we do is a free security scan that we do and we find a lot of poorly configured systems. So a lot of education either needs to be done or people need to learn that they need to lock things down a bit more on this platform.
Paul: So—so is it a thing that maybe like in the last couple of years again, have you started to see maybe a swing towards Cloud as well, Tom, or more people talking about it as opposed to doing it or—?
Tom: People are definitely talking about Cloud. As a matter of fact this week here as we speak I'll be doing a COMMON Cloud workshop at the end of the week. And you have a lot of the vendors talking about it; you have a lot of the traditional I call managed service providers who have been doing it for many years for this platform, and certainly customers are looking towards the Cloud. Most of it is driven I would say by our fourth item on the marketplace survey and that is concern about skills and trying to offload some of their lack of skills on the platform to the Cloud provider or to the MSP to help them out.
Tom: A little different than other platforms where I think—in other cases if you compare IBM i to like a Windows or even Linux, a lot of it is more about let's have somebody else manage it. It's just too many, too much whereas IBM i has really never been that—that's not where the challenge is. The challenge is not in managing the server because it is very—what do you want to call it—a very productive server because you don't need as many people to manage it, and that's pretty clear too in the survey. You see that with how many admins that these very large IBM i shops have and when people look at that, I mean that contributes to total cost of ownership too.
Paul: Yeah, yeah. So over the years then, Tom—again when you look at all of these responses that come in. And I—Iknow you've been around the industry, we've talked about this before quite a bit and dealing with a lot of customers. So was there anything that surprised you in the survey? The way people answered or something that came out that people were doing or thinking about or concerned about and you looked and sort of went "oh, that's interesting [laughs]."
Tom: Yeah, it's like—you know, of course you think you know it all, right?
Tom: I think you know some things—some things are like pretty, you know, obvious. You know I see myself—I know we're on a podcast here but if you can imagine I'm slapping myself on the head right now and saying "oh my gosh , I should have known that," right? Well a few years ago you know we were always after—to me it's always important—to me it's about the applications. Applications drive the technology. And so having a question around applications and what you're using: Is it a banking software? Is it a retail software? Is it insurance? You know, what's keeping you on IBM i? And it finally dawned on us that you know we really should have a question in there that says how many of you write your homegrown or in-house written applications? And we added that in and oh my gosh, we saw a huge spike. So what we found was that yes, people were using Infor and JD Edwards and you know other applications on this platform. But they were also augmenting that with a lot of in-house written applications, whether it be in RPG—or today PHP and Java, and some of the other languages that have become more popular. I guess speaking of that, the last thing that surprised me is the amount of customers that are doing open source today on IBM i. There is a lot of activity in that space.
Paul: Yeah, yeah. It's—yes, strange and wonderful times, I think [laughs]. So speaking of strange and wonderful times then okay, this being 2020 so—so two questions for you on this, Tom: Do you have any questions in this year's survey that relate to Covid basically or what's happened because of Covid, and are you expecting to see sort of any of the usual answers being skewed in some way because of what has happened this year with lockdowns and everything like that for companies?
Tom: Right. Yeah. What an interesting year it is. I started out—
Tom: The year I wrote a blog for IBM. I think they called their iSight blog, called you know something about the year of vision and 2020 hindsight. Oh my gosh. You can throw that all out the window, right? I mean this has been quite a year.
Tom: So we did for this fall survey taker—we do have two questions related to Covid. Just the—the impact of some of the different IBM i-specific technologies and whether people are using them, and then you know what were the major hurdles and issues? So I honestly don't know what to expect from those two questions yet from a standpoint of how people are going to answer and what the major impacts were, but I do think and get a feel—you know one of the questions that we had early on that you know scared us, scared IBM, scared everybody in this industry was you know, are you leaving the platform, right? That question has turned out surprisingly over the years to be less than we thought, and of course we have people that are increasing their use of their IBM i. I honestly think because of Covid a lot of organizations have stopped any kind of special or projects that—special projects that are thinking about you know modern—you know taking people and putting them maybe on other technologies, some of those more far reaching bigger projects that have been going on for many years. I think a lot of that stuff has been put on hold and we're—we are getting back to the grassroots, which is what's running the business, and guess what? What's running the business is IBM i. For a lot of organizations it's the core business application. So I think that migrating off the platform might even get a little smaller this year. It wasn't—it wasn't a big number to begin with. Year over year I saw that rate to be about 1.2-1.5 [percent] from an attrition standpoint—
Tom: And with the people growing it, not a big deal—
Tom: So I think that that'll—I believe that's going to surprise us.
Paul: Yeah. Yeah and of course it's not one of the questions that you can put out there, Tom, which is: are you thinking about coming to the platform? You know because it is—
Paul: Geared towards the people who are already there so—
Paul: Because of course every year there are a number of people who come to the platform as well.
Tom: And I—and I still remember when I first started talking about the survey. I was getting challenged by a bunch of people saying "well of course it's a positive survey because you're only asking IBM i people." Well I go you know I can't—if you just bought a car. Let's just say you bought a Toyota. You're not going to have somebody come over from Honda and ask you how do you like your Honda or how do you—
Tom: I mean it just—you don't have the experience, right? So—
Tom: It has definitely been IBM i professionals filling it out. You have to realize that sometimes it's the manager filling it out who has very little experience with the platform. We've certainly—that has probably been the other trend that we've seen over the lifetime of the survey, and that's just from me visiting customers, is—there's more and more people who are responsible for IBM i that don't know the platform.
Paul: Yeah, yeah.
Tom: They just know it runs. It runs a bunch of core business for them.
Paul: Yeah. Okay well listen, Tom: before we go on, since we were touching on things like lockdown and everything like that. So—so if I remember correctly you live in the Upper Midwest. So have you managed to get out and about—obviously socially distancing yourself from people, but—or have you been housebound for the last few months?
Tom: Yeah, it's been an interesting world. You know I'm somebody that normally is gone, you know at least 25% of the my time throughout the year. And this September here as we've said I'm—over the last two decades I've probably been gone, you know, two or three weeks every September. So it's interesting to be home so much. The benefit of being in the Minneapolis, Minnesota, area is that within drivable distances we have some great kayaking, great fishing, things like that. So I've had a couple of what I'd call getaway trips so that I'm not just here at home because again, I've been feeling a little itchy. I've been traveling so much and I know you travel Paul too, so it's—
Tom: A different world all of a sudden when you're confined and not getting out, so—but you know on the flip side I'm not driving to work, so that saves me 35-40 minutes every morning and then again at night.
Tom: So that's always a good thing. So what I have been doing—just like before I got up early here to talk to you on a Monday—I've been working out almost every day.
Paul: Yeah, cool.
Tom: So it's good for my health.
Paul: Cool. And just before we go, Tom, the other thing as well is I believe I have to welcome you to the club. You're now a granddad.
Tom: Ha—ha yes. Yes. Baby Lola.
Paul: Baby Lola. Cool.
Tom: She's wonderful. She is already a holy terror. She can destroy—destroy a room or make it a lot messier than it started in probably 15 minutes. She's really a special thing to us and we've very fortunate to be grandparents now. So a new chapter in my life: Thank you, Paul.
Paul: Yeah so it is the—I have two—two of my own granddaughters and they're 4 and 2, and they are—it is just great. You're—well I already know. I've been there for year, I've been having a ball and it just gets better. So I think—
Tom: Thank you.
Paul: That's a good—that's a good note to leave it on, Tom. Thank you for talking to me today.
Tom: It is. Grandparenthood. There you go. She's going to call me papa, so call me Papa Tom [laughs].
Paul: Papa Tom. Okay you shouldn't have said that. You're now doomed.
Tom: Thank you.
Paul: So everyone that's it for this iTalk. So please—the link to the survey is in the description, is in the abstract for this iTalk. Please click on the link. Go and take the survey. Everybody's opinion counts. So that's it for this iTalk. Tune in again for the next one. Talk to you all soon. Bye.