SAP and IBM have always shared a commitment to providing dependable solutions for business users. SAP was first founded by former IBM employees in 1972, and was using IBM servers in its own data centers by 1973. So it’s no surprise that the ultra-reliable IBM iSeries has garnered so many fans in the SAP world.
What is surprising is just how long those fans have stuck around. The IBM AS/400 (the predecessor of the iSeries) first came out in the late 1980s, and many companies have been running SAP on IBM iSeries for long enough to still use the platform’s original name. But a lot has changed since the AS/400. Companies are rapidly phasing out their on premise solutions and moving to the cloud, and iSeries expertise is getting rarer. IBM users need to make some tough choices to prepare for the future.
From the IBM AS/400 to the iSeries
The longevity of the IBM iSeries shows just what a dependable, powerful solution it is. When the Application System/400 (AS/400) was first released in 1988, it represented a major milestone in computing — a reliable, user-friendly system designed for SMEs, with a huge software library of over 1,000 different applications. Since then, it has gone through a lot of iterations and a few different naming conventions, but at its core it remains the same excellent business machine, distinguished by:
- High performance
- Excellent stability and reliability
- Software factory integration and testing
- Backwards compatibility
Currently, over 100,000 organizations use the IBM iSeries, including many SAP users. The platform is still popular among SMEs, but some of the biggest companies in the world run SAP on IBM iSeries computers, including Robert Bosch — a manufacturing company that made $88 billion in 2016. However, there is growing uncertainty around the platform.
The Future of the IBM iSeries
Despite its loyal following, the IBM iSeries has its detractors — in fact a whole cottage industry has grown around its death. That’s nothing to worry about in itself — the tech press loves predicting the deaths of things, and a decades-old platform makes an easy target for hyperbolic think pieces. But there’s a grain of truth behind the stories. There aren’t a lot of new IBM iSeries technicians coming up, and the older generation of experts are starting to retire.
The needs of modern cloud ERP pose additional challenges. Running your own on premise IBM data center isn’t cheap. Sooner or later, your organization is probably going to need to move most of its mission critical applications to the cloud. You’ll probably need to outsource at least some aspects of your support system. If you’re running SAP HANA on an IBM iSeries platform, that’s going to require a very niche skillset.
Migrating SAP Off the IBM iSeries May Not Be Worth the Trouble
Migration is an option, but it may not be the best one. It can take up to 30 Windows or Linux servers to replace one IBM Power Systems server, which can complicate your transformation and impose significant additional costs. It could also tax your onsite team and your existing facilities — you’ll need more room, more power, networking and cooling, and more support hours to keep all those machines patched and running.
Additionally, an off the shelf Windows or Linux system might not support your entire tech stack. The backwards compatibility of IBM i is a great feature, but it can be a liability when you’re trying to migrate. If you’ve been running AS/400 for 20 years or so, you may have an idiosyncratic tech stack with legacy, platform-specific components that need to be addressed in your migration. That doesn’t mean you can’t do it — companies can and do switch platforms. But you have to weigh the cost and complexity of the project against other solutions.
The Status Quo is an Option — For Now
Staying with your IBM solution might make sense for now. Your landscape is reliable, you have invested in hardware, licenses and talent and you have a compelling reason to keep your mission critical workloads in your own database. That’s great — your Power Systems setup is an asset, not a problem.
However, you still need to plan for the future. Technological transformation is going to keep accelerating, and the talent pool for IBM i systems is probably going to keep shrinking. If your admin quits or retires suddenly, what happens to your landscape? SAP is high-maintenance — it can’t go without service for a week or two while you find a suitable candidate, and you really don’t want several days of unplanned downtime.
And what happens when you need to change your tech strategy? Are you going to have the flexibility to adapt to a hybrid cloud landscape? Will you be able to make a straightforward transition if one of your software vendors stops supporting the IBM i? Will you have the talent on hand to start planning on day one, or will you have trouble finding a partner with the right competencies?
The IBM i Cloud is Good — If You Have the Right MSP
Companies running SAP on IBM iSeries computers have complex, idiosyncratic needs. Most have invested heavily in on premise infrastructure, and many depend on legacy applications or systems. Even just finding good SAP support can be a challenge. There are a lot of cloud hosting options, but very few managed services providers can provide the proactive performance tuning and careful management it takes to provide the uptime IBM i users expect.
Then there’s the cloud migration itself to consider. You may need to do a complex, multi-stage migration to make the most out of your existing investments, or minimize disruption. And on top of that, there’s probably an SAP HANA migration on the horizon, which needs to be part of your technology strategy — whether you move to the cloud or not. In fact, no matter what you choose to do with your landscape, sooner or later you’ll need a provider with:
- A broad range of technical competencies, including IBM i software and hardware, SAP operations, SAP migration and cloud hosting
- The project management skills to plan and execute a complex technological transformation while minimizing disruption and controlling cost
- The ability to coordinate stakeholders at all levels of your organization
- The flexibility to come up with a customized solution that’s right for your landscape.
The question isn’t “what should I do,” it’s “who can take me there?”
Symmetry is the Leader in SAP on IBM iSeries
There’s no one answer that’s right for every iSeries user, but there is one provider: Symmetry. With the United States’ largest IBM iSeries SAP Basis team, our own custom-built iSeries enterprise cloud, and unmatched flexibility, we can prepare your landscape for the future.
We’ll help you weigh your options and investments, and design the solution that makes the most sense for your company. Whether you need someone to plan and execute a cloud migration, design a hybrid solution or just provide occasional support for your onsite landscape, we’re here to help.