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IBM is obsolete

Thirty years ago, I completed a college degree and joined the millions of people who discovered that a college degree is completely useless and I want my money back. But that's not what this blog post is about.

My alma mater ran just about everything on a Burroughs A-9 mainframe. Burroughs was later acquired by Sperry-Univac and at some point they upgraded to a Unisys A-12 mainframe. Whatever. Today, they are still keeping track of class enrollments, grades, tuition, housing, and all the other day-to-day minutiae using the same software, but on "Unisys ClearPath" -- which of course runs on bog-standard AMD64 hardware and emulates the old mainframe.

Unisys people have accepted this fate. IBM people have not. Because they are morons.

From a purely subjective level, you know a platform is dead when the information stupidhighway is saturated with articles written by people who insist that it is not dead. Oh, it's so MODERN now, they breathlessly chant to anyone who is willing to listen (which is nobody, so they then move on to bothering people who don't want to hear about it). It has files and pipes and internet and cloud and rainbows and unicorns and all sorts of modern wonders!

This is very true with regard to AIX (sorry, "IBM p") which is so dead that IBM has sacked all of their AIX developers in the United States and moved support-and-maintenance to an offshore sweatshop. But it's *extremely* true with regard to System/38, which eventually got renamed to "AS/400" and is now known as "IBM i" and runs on the same hardware as AIX, using the same CPU that Apple abandoned two generations ago.

There's a litmus test. Simply ask yourself, "Would I build a brand new (greenfield) workload on this platform?" And I'm not talking about some bank or insurance company that has a bunch of old AS/400 stuff already running and just needs to add one more task. If you're opening a new organization with a new IT department and all new software, are you going to build them on "IBM p" or "IBM i"? No, you would get fired for that, and you would deserve it.

Anything from IBM is, without question, a legacy platform. You might be supporting existing workloads for a few more decades, but as a go-forward play it's dead. It's technical debt. Call it what it is, and stop trying to pretend otherwise. You sound like an idiot.

Posted by IGnatius T Foobar on Mon Apr 17 2023 00:10:33 EDT
7 comments | permalink
papa  says:  Mon Apr 17 2023 00:26:51 EDT
I agree, but I don't get why you're so angry. To me, exploring IBM systems is fun retro-computing, even if the systems are still being produced and sold, just like a PDP-10 simulator.

IGnatius T Foobar  says:  Mon Apr 17 2023 09:46:04 EDT
I get that a lot. I'm not angry, it's just my style. You're right; it *is* retro-computing, and that's a fun thing to explore all by itself. What I find inane is people claiming that obsolete platforms have a bright and brilliant future just because there is enough legacy workload out there for the company to keep supporting them.

You're at a startup. You're in charge of putting together a new software stack. Are you going to buy IBM POWER systems (or request them from a hosting or cloud provider) and write everything in RPG? Of course not.

LoanShark  says:  Mon Apr 17 2023 11:59:49 EDT

if I'm not mistaken, the Visa/Mastercard motherships still run on crazy IBM mainframe setups due to massive I/O bandwidth considerations (?)

papa  says:  Mon Apr 17 2023 18:07:33 EDT
There is a long history of people saying, "We see this new tech, but the old tech we've invested in will remain relevant in the future for reasons," and being proven wrong every time. IBM is a prime example. I think it's a variation on the sunk cost fallacy.

IGnatius T Foobar  says:  Mon Apr 17 2023 19:39:09 EDT
if I'm not mistaken, the Visa/Mastercard motherships still run on
crazy IBM mainframe setups due to massive I/O bandwidth considerations

I believe you are correct. I deliberately left out the IBM mainframes (or "Z" as they now call it) because it seems like a special case ... one that I'm not sure how to address or even what to think about it. Mainframes have freaking *massive* channel bandwidth. And for that kind of workload, I could actually see someone buying a mainframe for a greenfield deployment.

papa  says:  Mon Apr 17 2023 20:50:49 EDT
Mainframes are a good solution for a small and diminishing niche of applications. I haven't worked with AS400/IBMi much over my career. While there may be a similar small niche of applications it's still a good fit for, I think it's biggest charm is backward compatibility. I know of companies that are running applications that were programmed almost 40 years ago and have decided that the cost of IBM's equipment is less than the cost of porting/reprogramming the application.

IGnatius T Foobar  says:  Sat May 20 2023 13:11:48 EDT
That much is true. A program written in COBOL with DB2 decades ago will still run on a Z today. And the DB2 data can be accessed by front end web applications.

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