Monday, June 11, 2012

Excuses, Excuses...

Allow me to introduce a teammate and longtime friend Rob Bestgen. For those who have not yet had the good fortune of being in the same room with Rob, let me say that he is one of the best and brightest software engineers I have met – ever.

Mr. Bestgen’s official IBM title includes Senior Technical Staff Member and Chief Architect of the DB2 for i Query Optimizer. For most of us though, he is known as the inspiration and force behind the new SQL Query Engine. For the better part of the last 10 years, Rob led the development team that designed and built our state of the art query optimizer.

Last week I heard from the grapevine that Rob delivered an insightful and thought provoking key note address at the SQL for iSpotlight event. Thinking on your behalf, I asked Rob if he would share his messages here.

Rob, it’s all yours…

Kent Milligan and I had a great opportunity to present at the SQL Spotlight conference in Waltham, Massachusetts last week. I had a unique position of attending in place of Mike Cain, which presented quite a set of shoes to fill. It was quite an experience and I trust the attendees went away satisfied. This was the first time I was able to work directly with Skip, Jon, Susan, and Paul and I must say by the end of the conference I felt like I'd known them for years. What a wonderful set of folks.

Back to the filling of shoes; besides doing a set of sessions spanning DB2 for i, DB2 Web Query for i, as well as the related areas of Omnifind and Data Warehouse design, I addressed the group as the keynote speaker for the conference.

My subject matter was a topic we've heard several times past and present: customers thinking of moving to another platform. Since the core of IBM i is the database, moving to another platform fundamentally means moving to another database. So my goal was to hit the “why I am moving” excuses head on.

Because my rhyming prose is lacking, I failed to come up with any catchy theme. Never fear, I’ve simply identified them as the eight “C”s of excuses:

  1. Capability     … IBM i doesn’t have the functionality that we need
  2. Capacity       … DB2 for i can’t handle our growth
  3. Convenience … the other database is easier to use and maintain
  4. Contraptions … there are more tools available over on this other platform
  5. Crowd          … everyone else is doing it, right?
  6. Creaky         … this old box doesn’t have anything new
  7. Credulous     … I don’t know anything about IBM i
  8. Cost             … I’m sure IBM is more expensive than this other platform

Covering them one at a time, my message to the audience:

For Capability, DB2 for i is both ISO 2011 and ANSI 2011 SQL Standards compliant (core). Few, if any other databases can claim this much Standards compliance. DB2 for i provides a fully functional SQL programming language in addition to its rich data access capabilities. You can write full applications using nothing but SQL. My favorite area is the database technologies that are especially suited for data warehouse and BI environments, many of which are patented. Encoded Vector Indexes, LPG technology, SMP parallelism, Autonomic Learning and Adapting, and MQT summarized tables are just a few of the capabilities available in IBM i.

For Capacity, DB2 for i has the ability to handle 435 Terabytes of data in a single SQL table! Do you know that Power Systems can expand up to 8 terabytes of main memory, and because DB2 is integrated into IBM i, it can leverage it all through single level storage? Or that database can bring to bear all configured processors for IBM i against a single SQL statement using the DB2 SMP feature (option 26 in the OS), or run thousands of different queries at the same time, including mixed workloads?

Regarding Convenience, it's easy to explain that as an integrated database, DB2 for i is one of the easiest databases to own and maintain. Plus with all the interfaces (JDBC, PHP, ODBC...), getting access to the data from applications is easier than ever. This does bring up the real challenge though. DB2 for i traditionally does not require an administrator. This turns out to be a blessing and a curse; a blessing for customers obviously, but it means no DBA exists in the shop to talk about the vast capabilities of the database! Oracle is synonymous with DBA as in “Oracle DBA”. While that's good for making jokes, from a marketing perspective it’s a bit of genius - who better to continually talk up your product than someone with a personal and vested interest in that product?

Since Contraptions and tools are a big part of a developer's world, tools are a big deal. IBM provides System i Navigator and Navigator for i along with the Rational developer tools. While these are all good, IBM does rely more heavily on 3rd parties. This point brought up probably the most discussion in the room. It's the front end that attracts most people, especially freshly minted CIOs and other executives. Unfortunately I'd have to agree with the crowd that this is one of the challenges we all face. We need to continue to nurture and encourage those independent solution providers to continue to add “spice” to their tools. Similar to how a lack of DBAs has exposed a marketing issue, people are influenced by “glitz”. I asked the attendees, and I'm asking you, help us encourage those solution providers to keep their products looking fresh.

Following the Crowd is an interesting issue. In many cases, it is the root issue. The evening before the start of the event, Kent, Paul, Jon and others shared stories about how humans are naturally inclined to follow. One experiment in the UK for example, showed how a handful of actors could start a fictitious line outside a randomly picked store. After a few minutes, other people on the street would start standing in line behind them. After a while longer, the actors would disappear, leaving the hapless people standing in line. No-one ever asked WHY the line was there in the first place, they were just following. There were numerous other experiments discussed that night, but the point remains: FOLLOWING is a strong psychological factor in humans. The best medicine in my mind is education; which is why things like the SQL Spotlight conference is so important to have available, and to ATTEND. I did arm the group with some simple facts that can serve us well:

- Over 100,000 enterprises run their business on IBM i systems to provide services for millions and millions of users
- IBM i has a wide presence in 115 countries across many, many industries.

Remember: education is important, and spreading the word helps the cause.

Regarding the tiring claim of the box being Creaky (old), this continues to be one of those persistent pieces of fiction. Let's state the facts:

- IBM i leverages the latest capabilities in Power Systems Technology
- DB2 for i development has produced dozens of patents, most which are industry leading, and integrated within IBM i
- RPG, Java, PHP and other technologies available on IBM i continue to be the latest available in the industry

Credulous equates to ignorance. This one really summarizes the rest. It's important to get educated and important to educate your boss. IBM can help. Since you're reading Mike's blog, you're definitely on the right track. I thanked the conference attendees for the same reason: they were attending the event so they were on the right track!

Finally, regarding Cost… I'll simply end with the facts about IBM i running on Power systems. 

Acquisition costs: 18% less than x86 servers with Windows Server and SQL Server databases, 43% less than x86 servers with Linux and Oracle databases.
Three-year ongoing costs: 55% less than Windows / SQL Server, 60% less than Linux / Oracle.

Furthermore, there is an IBM i for BI appliance starting around US$40K that requires no additional training for IBM i shops to learn (a new operating environment) and comes with everything needed to get a query and reporting server up and running. Many industry appliances start well over $100K, several over $500K.

So, save the excuses and get to work.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent, Rob. I'll use some of this information in August for my talk about IBM i for non-i PHP developers at the Northeast PHP Conference ( Thanks!