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Steve Will on Cloud, Cognitive and More

On this episode of iTalk With Tuohy, host Paul Tuohy interviews IBM i Chief Architect Steve Will on cloud, cognitive, development cycles and more.

Paul Tuohy:Hi everybody and welcome to another iTalk with Tuohy. So it just struck me when I was setting this iTalk up that it has been over—over a year, which is too long before—since I had a talk with my guest today Steve Will, chief architect on IBM i. Hi Steve.
Steve Will:Hi Paul. Good to talk to you again.
Paul:So Steve you know when I was setting this up, I was saying to myself this is going to be great now because I'll talk to Steve about all the stuff that happened earlier in the year: you know 7.4 and Data Mirror and everything like that and kind of the response I got from you was—well the feeling I got from you when I sort of men—touched on that was sort of oh yeah, that old stuff [laughs].
Steve:Yeah.
Paul:So is it fair to say that you're more looking in the other direction and looking forward, Steve?
Steve:Yeah that—Paul, that's actually quite accurate for where we are in the annual cycle. You know I spend a lot of my spring and early summer going around to user groups and conferences talking about 7.4 and talking about Db2 Mirror, and I'll do that again. I mean I'm going to run into you on the road as I got out and cover those topics in various parts of Europe and so on. But at this point in the year for me and for my team, particularly my architecture team, we are heavily into planning for the future. This is our fall plan time of the year and so yeah, right now I'm—I'm focused more on future than I am even on telling folks what's going on right now.
Paul:Yeah and I know this is something we've touched on before Steve for you guys because I mean you're—you're sort of—in our terms you're so far ahead of the curve that a lot of the stuff that came out in 7.4 is sort of like stuff that you would have touched on two years ago and have now duly forgotten.
Steve:Yeah, and you know—while I can certainly dredge it up, I enjoy talking about it now that it's finally out there. We have to be ready to do the next things even if our clients aren't quite adopting the newest stuff yet. You know we've got—with Db2 Mirror for example in 7.4—we've got tremendous amount of function. What we tend to see is that many of our clients will wait six months, a year, two years, three years before they'll ever get to it, so I have to keep talking about that stuff, that's true, but on a day to day basis that's not what's occupying my mind. What's occupying my mind is building on the growth that we have and dealing with the new technologies we have to deal with and so on.
Paul:So Steve I know we have the—like always when there's release, it's a big deal, new releases always are. But is it true to say that you guys, you're now more in a pattern on releases with the TRs?
Steve:Exactly, yup. You know our strategy these days is if we've got a new capability that we believe customers are going to need, we try to put it out in a technology refresh if we possibly can. And so you know it's a little more agile than in the old days where people had to wait for major releases for things to come out. And so we'll have probably, by the time this airs, we'll have probably announced and made available the Technology Refresh 1 for 7.4, and what we're planning in the fall of 2019 here is what exactly are we going to be delivering in the technology refreshes in the spring of 2020 and fall of 2020 and spring of 2021. There will be some thought to what would be in the next major release. There are always—sorry, I have a cold going on.
Paul:No problem.
Steve:So there are always things that we have to plan far ahead for, and so the next major release will have some key things that will get into this plan that will need some work next year. But primarily what we'll be working on is what's the very next thing we're going to have to do.
Paul:So can you give us hint on any of that Steve or like a general direction about some of the stuff that's influencing you at the moment?
Steve:Okay yeah. So you've probably—if you've been watching the iMarketplace, one of the things that's happened in this 6-month period since—since about the COMMON North America Annual Conference—is that there have been several public Cloud providers who have begun to make offerings that include IBM i. So the IBM Cloud did it, SkyTap did it, Google has recently announced that they will have an offering related to it. And so those Cloud providers are taking the technology we've been building a long time, and virtualization and so on, and starting to put sort of new requirements on us. Well we need to be able to build things this way and we need to be able to pull in clients who have various, older sets of technologies and put them on new refresh technologies. And sometimes there are hurdles that can be at least somewhat solved by the technical team, and sometimes it's about just how do we organize this so it's not just for one vendor, but it's for a bunch of vendors who may come along? So there are some of those things that we will definitely be working on and putting into the plan related to those Cloud providers. Now those Cloud providers are joined by lots of business partners around the world who've already been doing IBM i as a service or IBM i hosting and they have pushed us through some of these requirements already, so there's some of that. Then there's the fact that we have a large number of clients, even clients who are much smaller than we had originally thought might want to be able to do continuous availability, who are telling us this Db2 Mirror thing, it looks really great. But for a smaller client like me there are some of the technologies, like SAN and so on, that are too hard for me to adopt just to get continuous availability. And so they are putting requirements on us to make that easier for smaller system users to be able to use. So there's a bunch of stuff. Every time you put out something new there's always somebody who will say "that's great, but could you do this [laughs]?" That's what we're looking at. Then we have—well as you're aware, because you're on the advisory council—we have—the advisory councils have helped us sort through all of the RFEs, the requests for enhancements, that have been submitted by IBM i community members. And each of those needs to be looked at to determine whether there's something that we could do quickly to solve that problem, or if it's something that we just can't get around to. So that's actually a big part of what we're doing during the fall plan, but as soon as we do it, then there will be some that we can do right away. We can decide in the fall of 2019 to do them and by 2020, they'll be done. So that's—that's kind of the theme of what we've got going on.
Paul:Okay. One of the other things Steve, because I mean it was a big thing—I think more back in, well probably back 2018 and maybe early this year as well—is the whole cognitive side, all of this that phenomenal scary AI stuff that's going on out there.
Steve:Yup, well that's true and you know what we found as we did our 30th anniversary last year and now the 7.4 announcement this year, there are more and more clients who are putting the pieces together—usually with the help of you know the experts that are working in the consulting or services community, the business partner community—to tie IBM i to those cognitive things. So it's become I think, I hope, less scary for folks and more eye opening. You know, what can I do? Can I implement a help desk which is basically being driven by a machine learning chat bot that understands how to work with i? Can I—can I evaluate what's going on in the outside world and change how I market myself or how I do my business processes and not have to really rip and replace? All of that sort of putting your toes in the water is really beginning to start having some projects show up, and you know—fortunately we have a really good marketing team these days who are taking those customer stories and putting them out there where other people can learn from them. So that also continues to be, you're right, a thing that we are focused on. It's just the fact that we don't—we don't have to develop much to make that happen.  In the open source arena, have you talked to Jesse in the last few iTalks?
Paul:Yes.
Steve:I can't—
Paul:Yeah, yeah.
Steve:So—so he'll have talked, right? We've got a bunch of things that have been pulled into the IBM i open source community that help people to make those connections between i and cognitive or artificial intelligence workloads. Yes they are some work, but they don't require us to go reinvent the wheel of how to do machine learning, they're just a matter of taking technology that's out there, and now that have the capability of doing so much open source on i and connecting to open source services out in the world, they've become readily available to i clients.
Paul:Yeah. It scared me. Actually I can't remember whether or not I actually talked to Jesse about it during the iTalk or not, but he was telling that one of the things he's been dabbling with recently is quantum.
Steve:Yeah?
Paul:I'm now truly terrified, Steve [laughs].
Steve:Well I'm sorry that that scares you. No—
Paul:In a good way.
Steve:You know what I—?
Paul:It scares me in a good way.
Steve:Oh good. I'm glad to hear that. Yeah, no Jesse and several members of our team have been keeping up to date on exactly what IBM is doing and planning to do in the quantum space and I actually need to get another update from him. I think he last updated me in May or June and things seemed to be moving very quickly so—
Paul:Yeah.
Steve:Yeah it's great—sort of the beginnings of cognitive, the beginnings of quantum and we're right here at the beginning of that—
Paul:Yeah.
Steve:With folks on our team paying attention to it and figuring out who we're going to connect to it.
Paul:Actually just that leads nicely into the other thing I wanted to ask you about, Steve, and even though I said we're going to be looking forward, I think there is a little bit of looking back. So we still have out there the doom and gloom people, you know: oh, the platform is going away. Everybody is leaving; nobody is using—you know, yada, yada, yada. So, 2019: Good year or bad year for IBM i?
Steve:Oh 2019 is turning out to be a good year. You know in 2018 we had double-digit growth on IBM i—and by the way if you haven't like followed me on Twitter and so on, I shared a video that Power Systems created that mentioned all the great things Power Systems is doing, and one of the things that was mentioned right there in the video was the double-digit growth in 2018. It's hard to follow a double-digit growth year with another double-digit growth year. I don't know that we'll get to double digits, but we're having a very good year. It's been driven by this innovation in the new technologies that we've already mentioned, whether it is Cloud or cognitive or—well not quite quantum yet—but there are people out there who are taking advantage of all of these new technologies and finding more use for the IBM i. Now it's also the case that we're getting new clients. When I was in Japan last year, I met with three different clients. Now I met a lot of clients, but I met with three different clients and each of those clients was competitive wins. Each of them came from a competitive landscape. Two of them came from Windows farms and they consolidated all their workloads onto small numbers of IBM i because you can do so much more on i, and then one of them came from a Japanese mainframe and moved onto IBM i because they were able to take the COBOL code that they had, pretty easily moved it onto IBM i and then take advantage of all the stuff that IBM i has had. So we are gaining new clients. We are also having a lot of clients who are doing more with their traditional i stuff. So yeah, I understand. I do run into the gloom and doom people and I understand where they're coming from. I ran into a nice woman in Michigan whose company seemed to be on the precipice of moving away from the platform. And maybe that will happen or maybe it won't, but she is thinking of her job and that's great—but that's why the community is so great. I was at a conference and I had just been to a round table where several of the businesses represented in the round table were saying, where can I find talent? Where can I find people? I was able to say, you know, there's this woman who is worried about her job [laughs]... right? And that's where, as I said, the community is so great. Because if you get together and you express your concerns, there's almost always somebody who can at least point you in the direction. I really love that about our community.
Paul:Yeah, yeah it's true. So Steve: we're coming towards the end of our time and so I'm also afraid to ask this because I know I could get a 25-minute answer to the question. So—so played any interesting games or that recently, Steve?
Steve:Okay yes, you and I know that I'm going to talk about games if I can [laughs]. My wife and I enjoy fantasy role playing games on Game System. So we just finished doing the Horizon Zero Dawn game, which allows you to play as if you're 1000 years in the future and a cataclysm has happened and now the world is trying to come back from that. That was fun. It had a lot of interesting story, a lot of interesting concepts and a lot of fun. But that's kind of done and the next thing we're going to do is host a game day where we play board games and card games with my friends and my family. All of my kids have turned into gamers of one sort or another, so we're going to have them over to our house next weekend and do that. So yeah, there’s definitely gaming still going on when I am not working.
Paul:Okay so you're going to have give me the date when you're doing that with the family because that's the date I don't want to be in town, Steve, you know? Because if your family is anything like mine when we game together, hmmm—give it a couple of hours [laughs].
Steve:Oh dear. I'll have to game with your family.
Paul:Okay Steve, I think that's a good note to leave it on. Thanks for that—
Steve:You bet.
Paul:And I hope it won't be another year before we talk again.
Steve:Yes. Well let's talk to each other as we travel this time and then we'll set up a time when we can actually be face to face. That's great.
Paul:Okay, perfect Steve, thanks. Okay everybody, that's it for this iTalk. Tune in again for the next one. Bye for now.

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