IBM i Turns 35

Jack Woehr
IBM i Champion for Power Systems and Quantum Computing, 2021-2023

June 21, 2023 marks the 35th anniversary of IBM’s announcement of the AS/400, which in ensuing years has passed through stages of profound hardware and software transformation becoming, in turn, the System i, the iSeries, and finally, simply, IBM i.

History of IBM i

The AS/400 emerged at a time in the 1980’s when enterprise-scale databasing on Intel architecture was not an option. A larger, more reliable, more communications-ready, more fully-featured hardware and software solution was required. The AS/400 was the latest answer from IBM in a series of sub-mainframe enterprise solutions that had included the System 1, System 34, and System 36.

The AS/400 hit the market based on flat-file record management programmed primarily in COBOL, Pascal, and RPG, the latter a 1960’s mainframe report generator whose programming syntax was based on the columns of the already-vanished punch card. Networking was IBM’s SNA. Immediately thereafter, SQL hit relational databasing like a hurricane. and TCP/IP became the network protocol of choice. The AS/400 quickly adapted to both, incidentally adding C/C++ as programming languages (dropping Pascal shortly thereafter) and integrating a stream-based file system (called, appropriately, the IFS for “Integrated File System”) with its original native Object File System (OFS).

The AS/400 was based on a custom 48-bit processor designed by IBM. In the 1990’s, IBM settled on an IBM/Motorola/Apple RISC Power architecture (remember PowerPC Macs?)  that spans its modern hardware offerings, with variants underlying both the IBM z series mainframe and IBM Power Systems. IBM i today is no longer a distinct hardware architecture, but a virtualized operating system hosted on IBM Power systems, typically under PowerVM along with AIX and Power Linux.

IBM i Support

IBM i is today a “legacy system”. A legacy is something of value, despite the fact that it may be encumbered by debt, as when one inherits a manor house, of great intrinsic worth but needing maintenance. IBM i is a fully modern system, providing the open source tools needed to serve up enterprise data as web services, including Perl, Python, PHP, Ruby, gcc C/C++, Node.js, nginx, git, … the list goes on. At the same time, IBM i engineers are supporting databases and business rules embedded in legacy programs that have migrated from IBM platform to IBM platform over half a century and which now reside on a platform that is unparalleled for reliability and overall cost effectiveness.

And those engineers who are supporting the IBM i are supporting it today with fully modern programming environments, coding from text files using VS Code remotely and performing change control using git and testing using CI/CD pipelines.

IBM i is indeed a legacy, and it does present ongoing challenges. Absolute Performance is fully able to support the enterprise in maintenance of the hardware platform, including migration to Absolute Performance’s cloud and full operational monitoring, high availability and disaster recovery (HA/DR), along with 24/7 system programming services. Absolute Performance’s partner, the Seiden Group, stands ready to help with coding, modernization, hiring, onboarding, and mentoring.

IBM’s roadmap for the IBM i extends at present as far as the 2040’s. Happy birthday, IBM i, and together let’s keep our legacy of reliability and value delivered for decades to come!

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