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IBM i Community Trends for 2020

IBM Champion for Power Systems Tom Huntington reveals key data points from the 2020 IBM i Marketplace Survey by HelpSystems.

2020 iSight blog on a purple bar with an image of dark glasses below.

With limited information available about what IBM i users are doing on this platform, IBM i is one of technology’s best-kept secrets. Even companies that use this technology struggle to explain to their own teams what IBM i stands for and who else is using it. The IBM i Marketplace Survey from HelpSystems—and this new iSight blog, for that matter—was designed to solve this problem.

I have authored this survey for the past six years and I’m pleased to share some highlights from the 2020 edition with you iSight readers.

Who Uses IBM i in 2020?

I recently had the chance to speak with the members of the New England Midrange Users Group (NEMUG) and someone asked me, “If IBM i is not going away, then where is it growing?” 
Indeed, IBM i is not going away. We see growth in the banking, transportation, and warehousing and distribution industries, as well as very stable applications in manufacturing, which has always been strong on IBM i.
We had over 500 individuals participate in the 2020 survey. About half of our responses came from North America and the other half from other parts of the world. This is a big shift from the first year of the survey where North America represented 80 percent of the responses. IBM i has global appeal!

And for six years running, more than 90% of survey respondents confirmed that the IBM i platform offers a better return on investment (ROI) than other platforms. There have been some great studies reporting on the on total cost of ownership (TCO) for IBM i. After all, the TCO and unique applications are what have given this platform its loyal following and its historic IT technology run. 

But, like so many things in life, organizations have to see it to believe it. Unfortunately, that sometimes means moving business off IBM i—even after decades of stability—only find that the new application and servers don’t meet business needs or cost four to five times more than expected because they have fewer features and require more development resources.

Even SAP has around 2,500 customers that run on IBM i. Like Oracle with JD Edwards, they keep extending the deadline for moving off IBM i with a recent, five-year change on the mandate to move to HANA from a server like IBM i. 

What Is IBM i Used For?

It’s safe to say that IBM i is sticky. It’s hard to find a commodity application for distributing your beer, running a dog show, managing your labor union, running the community bank, or doing discreet manufacturing. That’s why 73 percent of IBM i shops have homegrown applications, ones they have written in house that are unique and provide competitive advantages. That was the vision for IBM i: it has been built for business.

In addition to running core business applications, IBM i is a highly reliable database server that is scalable because it runs on IBM Power Systems hardware. The survey results show that 31% of you have POWER9 and another 56% have POWER8, keeping very current with the times.

When you look at numbers like that, it’s clear that IBM i is hardly a legacy sever. It just takes a little money and a weekend, and you are on the latest and greatest hardware. Compare that to the other groups in IT who spend months and months just getting to the next version of the operating system and hardware. Not to mention cloud and hybrid cloud environments.
With IBM i, you can choose to keep your server on-prem or run it in the cloud. The reason you might go to the cloud is because you no longer want to be in the data center business. This is in stark contrast to what we see in other platforms. Here, IT has gotten out of control because of the sheer volume of X86 servers running other operating systems on a technology that does not consolidate like Power Systems and IBM i. 

Believe me, IBM i has a huge advantage when it comes to containing costs and staying current.

What Are IBM i Users Worried About?

In the IBM i Marketplace Survey, we always ask about top concerns as you plan your IT environment. Over the past few years, a clear trend has emerged. Security tops the list at 77 percent followed by high availability and disaster recovery (HA/DR) at 66 percent and modernization at 54 percent.


IBM i is arguably the most securable platform for running business, but we continue to see security at the top of this list because of poor configurations and increased worldwide regulations. The information that HelpSystems releases in the annual State of IBM i Security Studyconfirms this, based on anonymous scans of around 500 actual systems each year.

The biggest issue we see year after year is that the IBM i community is not using all the IBM i security features to lock down the data in your Db2 database. Plain and simple, we see lots of horribly configured systems from a security standpoint. Let’s all agree to pay closer attention to this area 2020, please!


High availability and disaster recovery (HA/DR) are the second area of concern on this list. The good news with IBM i is that it is a very recoverable system and many organizations are evaluating their current tools and processes in 2020. This is great! The key is testing. IBM i shops that test recovering from tape/VTL or test their role swap capabilities with their high availability tool are very successful on this platform. 

The bigger concern is that some organizations never test their recoverability—and some aren’t even doing backups! Understandably, it can be difficult to evaluate all the technologies available in the HA/DR space to determine which ones are right for your business. 

You can join the HelpSystems webinar here to get some help in this area. Later this month, HelpSystems will launch an IBM i Business Continuity eCourse to help you navigate technologies like VTL, FlashCopy, SAN, data replication, and IASP as it relates to high availability. Let’s work together in 2020 to help you deliver an even higher uptime and faster recoverability!


Rounding out the top three IT concerns is modernization. The IBM i community has been modernizing since the platform became IBM i back in 2008. If you’re a developer on IBM i, modernization should be a way of life by now. 

This system of record is the cornerstone for many organizations. In the survey, 72% of you said that IBM i represents 50% or more of your business applications. Today’s developers are delivering modern interfaces to the data that resides securely and yet highly available on IBM i with open source, Java, PHP, SQL, and other tools. IBM i truly offers many options for developers to meet the needs of newer end users.

What About IBM i Skills?

On a related note, I would be remiss if I didn’t close with a few observations about the fourth most pressing IT concern on the list: IBM i skills.

Modernization doesn’t stop with application interfaces. We need to change our toolsets to attract new talent. The IT staff shortage is not just an issue for IBM i organizations. It’s a global IT concern that impacts all platforms and it will only get worse in the coming years. Yes, we need to maintain the RPG/COBOL-based applications that were uniquely developed for your business, but access to the system must be modern.

Take IBM i skills into consideration as you look at moving to the cloud. Managed service providers (MSPs) have been hosting many organizations in private clouds for years. With this framework already in place and with new public cloud providers—including IBM themselves—one way you can regain IBM i talent is by turning administration and operations over to your cloud provider.

You can find the full IBM i Marketplace Survey Results on the HelpSystems website. You can also hear more commentary from me and other IBM i experts—including Alison Butterill, Ian Jarman, Brandon Pederson and Timothy Prickett Morgan—by watching our recorded webinar.

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