Michael Ryan Discusses i-UG and Running User Groups


Paul Tuohy: Hi everybody and welcome to another iTalk with Tuohy. I'm delighted to be joined today by a gentleman who I think now for about four to five years I've been trying to organize an iTalk with and he keeps coming up with excuses as to why he couldn't do one with me, but I finally tied him down. So hello, Mike Ryan.

Michael Ryan: Well hello. You finally got me.

Paul: I finally got you [laughs]. So Mike, you are the chairman of i-UG, which is the U.K.-based IBM i user group―more of which we'll talk about in a second―but maybe just to start off can you maybe tell us all a little bit about what you do in the industry, you know, what your day job is?

Michael: Sure thing. I've been involved with what can be called the midrange of GSD for many, many years right back. I cut my teeth on a System/32, then 34, 36, 38, gone through that the birth of the i―the AS/400 and through the iSeries life, starting really as a programmer and moving through more analysis and design. I started to get really interested in just how it all clicks and hangs together and the very environment since. So for many years, I've been very interested in squeezing the most out of―we'll call it the IBM i. In the early days, you really did have to do that, because if you're looking at a B10, B20, B30, or even going back on the 38s and the 36s, there was a real limit on the amount of space you had, the amount of computing power you had, and so efficiency was key. I've really gotten into that in a big way and trying to make sure that you're using it in the best way. As things grew, I was the one who said "who'd ever want anything bigger than an F Series AS/400?" Then "goodness gracious, nobody could want anything bigger than an 840." And of course it increases and grows and grows. Now, although we're not looking at the minute pieces, still you know it costs money to go higher and higher up the food chain of what an IBM i on Power can actually deliver, so that's where I came from. That's why my heart is in it and if you cut me in half, it would say AS/400 even though IBM wouldn't like me to say that. They’d like me to say IBM i on Power. I just―just love it.

Paul: Yeah. So have you had a look at the new POWER9s yet?

Michael: I've not put my hands on the POWER9, but you know one of the guys in my team, they―for i-UG is Steve Bradshaw―

Paul: Yeah.

Michael: A leading light in IBM i anyway. His has arrived and I'm threatening to go down and just stroke it.

Paul: [Laughs] It's―it is an impressive piece and as you know Mike, I'm not a hardware guy. So like as you know, whenever I'm in conversations with you and Steve, I'm the one standing there with the blank look on his face but it's―but even I when I―I had this on a previous iTalk when I was lucky enough to be down in Austin last year in the labs. So I saw it while it was still being tested there and it is. It's an impressive―an impressive bit of kit. But listen, let's talk a little bit about i-UG. I'm sorry. You're one of these user groups that I―whose name I just like saying. i-UG [laughs]. It's primeval. So your annual conference is coming up in just a few weeks―

Michael: Yeah, yeah.

Paul: In June, Mike. Yeah?

Michael: Yeah. Yup.

Paul: So and one―again looking forward to seeing you. I will be speaking there again, but the interesting thing for me about the upcoming conference is that―well I think like every user group who has an annual conference, everybody is going to be celebrating the 30 years of the platform, this sort of IBM celebration thing. But this year i-UG also has an anniver―a big anniversary celebration.

Michael: Yeah, we do indeed, very mathematically convenient. We're 25 years and I've been involved with the i, with the user group in its various guises through the past―for at least 18 of those. Some of those early years was just participating and looking what some guys had brought together, and those were the heady days when a user group was―you had to shut the doors at some point because so many people trying to get in. Things have changed these days, it's a little bit more difficult, but it's been good to watch it evolve, and over those 25 years, it truly deserves―but it has lasted. It's got some pretty rough times. It's got some point where it was almost ready to give up, but we've managed to pull together. I don't know whether you know how it's built up, the i user group. It was an organization after a few years called NASUG, which is Northern A Series User Group, which worked well until IBM decided they'd change the name [laughs]. So we really thought about it for a year and came up with MISUG and things changed when we joined with COMMON. Things changed again when we amalgamated with the only other user group in the U.K., the CUA. That's probably a matter of record and history. People know how that went through. So it's great to feel that when we got down to just 12 members turning up, four of them being those of the people who had tried to pull it together. We sat down and said we could do better. So we called it a night and decided to make a bit of a change. Then luckily we managed to―one of the guys up here just attending was Steve Bradshaw who said "yeah, go on. I'll give a hand." So the rest is history, really.

Paul: Yeah.

Michael: With the three of us as the kernel of the group, but with an open ticket to anybody joining a kind of loose committee, then we managed to make it work. It does mean throwing a bit of time into it, but to feel that we'd gone 25 year now―is almost like 20 years ago when people said "well, the AS/400 is dead."

Paul: Yeah.

Michael: It still seems to have breath in its lungs. So yeah, it is going from strength and strength, and we feel that we're bucking the trend a little bit with the way the growth of the user group. So yeah, we got to 25 years. We're going to have cake. We'll have a cake.

Paul: Oh, I'm there. I'm there. Say no more, Mike. I'm there.

Michael: It is a birthday. It's a double birthday: 30 years with the IBM i and 30―25 years with i-UG and we're really, really pleased about it. So we will be putting something―some things on which will be in keeping.

Paul: Yeah. So I mean it is a thing, Mike―and I mean, I've said this to you before. I mean, I think it is a credit to you guys that you know, again in this day and age as you say when a lot of the user groups are shrinking and numbers are declining, that you along with a few of the others are actually going in the opposite direction and growing. It may be a slow and a steady growth, but definitely heading in that direction, so my compliments on that. So Mike, I mean―apart from the cake―what else isvis it going to be a sort of a special conference or a little bit more than the normal one?

Michael: Well, okay. The―we put on four events a year and―but this is our, what we call our flagship conference, the annual conference. That's gone well. It always feels special. Well this year a couple of―for a couple of reasons it is special. One of course is because of the anniversary, so the 30 years and the 25 years. We decided to have a look around see what's kind of available, maybe pick up some stuff off the internet, old stuff, 30-year-old stuff, early stuff. I don't know if you have ever looked but this stuff, it has antique value now. People collect this, will pay fortunes for it, but we're very fortunate. We've got a few of the guys who said "well in my garage I've got this and I've got some twin axis." "Guess what? I've got a white AS/400." And so we don't know exactly all of the items we got together, but we're going to have a central part of the expo hall, which is really dedicated to the oldest stuff and the way that it used to be. I know we're looking forward, but here we'll have some of the oldest kit in our sector right the way through to our POWER9 that Steve is bringing right in the corner of the expo hall. So we'll see the absolute latest with some of the oldest. So we're really pleased about how that's coming together. We will all be wearing flares and flowers in our hair.

Paul: [Laughs] Okay. I'm bringing a camera with me as well.

Michael: But you say, the special: We do―we are expanding. One of the things we did a few years ago, we took a gamble. It was―you know we're just an amateur and unpaid, and you know it is hobby. We broke it out to two days and put education on the first day. It was a big risk as far as we were concerned. It has been an unbelievable success. Clearly, people do want education. It's difficult to get a hold of―and at the kind of prices we're putting, it's almost impossible―but it's worked out very, very well and we've really capitalized on that. So as well as what we feel is our signature, education, which is―Steve turns up, sets a whole POWER environment up. He puts on 50-70 LPARs, a Wi-Fi network, and lots of students are sat with their own LPAR doing IDI, doing journal management, doing your first Node.js program, and all of this delivered. We're immensely proud of that. That's certificated proper hands on education where you're running it, you bring your laptop, you go away, you can do that at home. We are expanding that out a little and we're working closely with the vendors. We've managed―HelpSystems have completely funded for Sue Gantner to come over. Now she's very hardcore IBM―IBM i and all the tools, which are on IBM i, so there's no vendor piece to it other than she will there going through a full day of security. She is one of the experts.

Paul: I'm sorry. That's Carol Woodbury, by the way. You said Susan Gantner. It's Carol.

Michael: Yes. Yes. Yes. Well they've both got long hair.

Paul: [Laughs] And they're both female. I know it's confusing for you, Mike.

Michael: So there you go. It's stage fright. That's all.

Paul: No, no, no. So sorry. I interrupted.

Michael: She is putting that all through using all the tools for security on IBM i. We're hearing that all the time, you know―

Paul: Yeah.

Michael: We want more on the security. Then we're working with the System i developers. We've got―this is where Sue Gantner, Jon Paris and another chap―

Paul: Yeah, that other guy who is with System i Developer. Yeah.

Michael: Of course you're coming to join us, yes.

Paul: Yes.

Michael: And that is―for the first time it's got a real developer feel to it, so it's really development side. That has gone down a storm, it's great. So that collaboration between the System i Developer set and the education that we've got I think is a real strong piece that we're putting on different this year. It means we've got at least five streams going on with various education lectures and hands on. It's―the take up is quite quick at the moment, yeah.

Paul: Yeah, so I mean it's something―actually, I was just talking about 15 minutes before we started the call, Mike, I was talking with Jon and Susan. As you know, I mean, oh, it's what? Three or four years ago I think Jon and Susan were over that we did something at the event as well? But I think that was more workshop-based, and we're delighted this time that we're actually to do a lot of the sessions that we do at the Summit over in the States that we're getting a chance to do them over here in Europe as well together. So we're looking forward to that. I'm especially looking forward to the fact that Jon and Susan are the ones who are tracking across the Atlantic this time instead of me [laughs].

Michael: Yeah, yeah. That's good. That's good. Yeah.

Paul: So Mike, just remind people when and where the conference is on.

Michael: Well it's at Milton Keynes in the U.K. and it's on the 12th and 13th of June. The first day is the education day; the second day is more a regular conference day, still educational sessions but more in a conference base. And then the evening in between we've got a gala evening and some entertaining going on as well. So there's something for everybody across the two days.

Paul: Cool. Excellent. So as I say, Mike, I'm really looking forward to it. So to finish up on Mike, even though you've got a good Irish name like Mike Ryan―as anybody will have guessed from your accent―and as you've already mentioned that you're based in Manchester, which of course is Ireland outside Ireland as everybody knows.

Michael: Yes.

Paul: But for those of us who sort of know the U.K. in any way and especially know about Manchester, there are basically two sets of people in Manchester. There are the people who support Manchester United, and there are the people who support Manchester City. Since Manchester City have just won the premiership, I have to ask youL Are you a happy Manchurian or a depressed Manchurian? Which are you?

Michael: Well there lies a very interesting rub really, because the truth is my father was Man United, so I'm Man United. That's the way it works, I'm sorry. So I'm a Man United but I'm one of those strange beasts that my second favorite team is Manchester City. I'm immensely proud that Manchester is the top two teams in the premier league. I wish it was the other way around, I've got to say, but I'm immensely proud. I'm a fierce supporter of Manchester in all its aspects, but that's a great accolade.

Paul: Yeah, so it's an interesting thing I find Mike that there is that the way Manchester has blossomed―I think is the word I would use―as a city over the last ten years maybe.

Michael: Well it certainly has. There was an old joke that the Liverpudlians said that there has been a 100 million pounds worth of improvements to the center of Manchester, but in actual fact the steady―since the early problems that we had, the steady improvement and the way the city has grown. I don't know why―in some ways just sheer stubbornness in growing the city and on the other end I just―I think the way the U.K. has changed. Manchester has become really quite the place to be. It's moved from a spit and sawdust type city to a real party town. It just seems to be buildings going up everywhere, although that's happening in lots of cities.

Paul: Sure. Okay, Mike, well I will let you get back to your day job. Thank you for taking the time to talk to me and I look forward to seeing you in just a few coup―few weeks time.

Michael: That'll be great. I'll see you there.

Paul: Okay Mike, thank you. That's it for this iTalk everybody. Tune in again in a couple of weeks for the next one. Bye for now.

Paul Tuohy has specialized in application development and training on IBM midrange systems for more than 20 years.

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