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The Voice of the Community

All around the world, user groups are providing feedback to IBM and fellow users about Power Systems. The community is richer for such efforts.

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Image by Illustration by Mark McGinnis

User groups play a unique role in the awareness of IBM Power Systems* and the clients that use the technology. They are forums for exchanging information, learning from IBM and fellow users, and exploring how technology improves business operations.

Many Power Systems user groups allow clients to gain knowledge and promote networking. Some are sponsored by IBM and others are independent groups. Each user group enables clients to listen, learn and participate in the vibrant community of Power Systems users.

Whether you need to improve your own understanding of the platform or are interested in seeing IBM make innovations that will help your company achieve its strategic goals, there’s a user group to suit your aims and ambitions. Here’s an overview of four of the larger user groups that provide client benefits.

AIX VUG

For more then 10 years, the AIX* Virtual User Group (VUG) has endeavored to educate customers on Power Systems and show them how to get more out of the platform. Anyone is welcome to join the VUG, which meets monlthy. Each webinar features presentations by IBMers on topics chosen from customer requests, new product announcements, new features and functions, or anything else the community would be interested in. Performance-related presentations as well as tricks and tips webinars are always a big draw, says Joe Armstrong, an IBM client technical specialist for POWER*, who has organized the webinars since 2007.

“The user groups help us understand how clients are using our products, and that also helps us better understand the marketplace.”
—Dawn May, IBM program manager for the LUG

Popular past sessions include Allyn Walsh and Chuck Graham on single foot I/O virtualization; Jeff Stuecheli on the POWER9* chip; Gareth Coates on tricks of the POWER masters; Alfred Freudenberg on SAP HANA and Power Systems; and Gary Andrews on gaining the competitive edge with Linux* on POWER. “People keep coming because they get to hear smart people share their knowledge,” Armstrong explains.

The Linux technology-focused webinars have been especially well attended and have received great ratings from attendees. “You never know what’s going to click with people,” Armstrong says.

The growth of the VUG is testament to Armstrong’s ability to pick topics of interest to users. When he took over as the VUG organizer in 2007, the distribution list included 60 people and only a couple dozen attended the webinars. The VUG distribution list has expanded to 6,200 people and each webinar now boasts 500-800 attendees.

Webinars are usually held on the last Thursday of the month beginning at 10 a.m. CDT. Attendees are mostly from the U.S., but AIX users from Canada, India, the U.K. and Australia are on the distribution list, too. Presentations are geared toward the technical users and many administrators and engineers attend. Each webinar is recorded and posted on YouTube following the session. The VUG wiki lists upcoming and past presentations with links to materials and YouTube, and explains how to get on the distribution list.

Attendees often comment that the presentations provide great education for free. Not every IBM customer can make it to IBM Edge or IBM Technical University, but they can make it to a 90-minute webinar once a month. “If those attending the webinars can do their jobs better, then their managers should be happier and the business should be happier, Armstrong says. “If the clients stay IBM clients, then it’s a win-win.”

IBM i Large User Group

The IBM i Large User Group (LUG) was launched in 1994 by a small number of clients who wanted to communicate the needs of large users of the AS/400. Today, the LUG focuses on improving the Power Systems platform for enterprises that have a large production workload that runs on IBM i. While the LUG is organized independently of IBM, it maintains a close working relationship with the company, says Dawn May, IBM program manager for the LUG.

Companies wishing to join the LUG must meet membership requirements and be approved by the board of directors. LUG membership, which is confidential, consists of about 100 companies.

LUG members travel to Rochester, Minnesota, three times each year for meetings that last four and a half days. The LUG has two key deliverables, one strategic and the other more tactical.

The January meeting focuses on strategy. The LUG presents members’ strategic requirements for the next several years to IBM. These strategic requirements are culled from ongoing discussions of work groups, which meet to collect the forward-looking needs of the large users. The IBM i development team collaborates with the LUG on the strategic needs.

The LUG is also interested in tactical needs, called requirements. These requirements, which can be submitted by any LUG member, are generally short-term changes needed to help the IBM i and POWER platform better meet business needs. These can be part of the IBM i OS, the POWER hardware or related software or firmware. “From an IBM perspective, the LUG helps us with client satisfaction because we are delivering the function that our clients are asking for,” May explains.

“It’s really important to see other ways that people are doing things, maybe ways that you hadn’t considered.”
—Jeff Carey, COMMON president

One example of a key requirement that came from the LUG and the COMMON Americas and Europe advisory councils was delivered in IBM i 7.2. These groups requested major changes to how IBM i managed and accounted for temporary storage usage. IBM was able to accommodate the request, which satisfied many clients. LUG membership requires a nondisclosure agreement with IBM. This allows the company to share insights and future plans with LUG members. It also allows IBM to have a dialogue with clients to hear any concerns while the projects are still in the development phase, May says. This is important as LUG members represent a good portion of the world’s business and depend on IBM i, she notes. It also helps the IBM i development team, which is keen to deliver the features and functions that are valuable to clients.

As IBM’s liaison with LUG, May plans and hosts the LUG meetings. She also works with the LUG and COMMON Americas and Europe advisory councils to guide IBM products and services. “The user groups help us understand how clients are using our products, and that also helps us better understand the marketplace,” she adds.

COMMON

Chicago-based COMMON, which is the largest Power Systems user group in the world, is an association dedicated to serving small and medium-sized users and helping individuals further their careers. Although the association focuses on IBM i, it does covers all of the Power Systems offerings.

COMMON holds its Annual Meeting and Exposition each spring, which features more than 300 educational sessions as well as networking opportunities and vendor exhibits. A smaller conference is held in the autumn. The association offers online content and virtual conferences throughout the year.

“COMMON focuses on what you need to solve your business problems, today,” says Jeff Carey, COMMON’s current president. Attendees hear from experts inside and outside of IBM and their own peers to gain insight into how they are solving problems that might be similar to their own. “COMMON features not only IBM’s take on solving problems, but also what people are actually doing, which might be different from what IBM suggests,” he says.

It’s those suggestions heard at the many in-person events that provide value for COMMON members. The association’s many networking and professional sessions are geared to help each individual attendee. Carey attended his first COMMON annual meeting 25 years ago when he was new to systems work. He was impressed with the opportunity to compare his knowledge with his peers. That experience kept him coming back.

Eventually he became a regular speaker at COMMON events. His involvement increased when he was nominated to the board of directors in 2006. He’s served on the board for the past nine out of 10 years. He became president at the 2016 annual meeting.

COMMON’s professional staff handles the day-to-day work. However, it’s still very much a volunteer organization. “There is no barrier for anyone to become part of the organization. All you have to do is raise your hand,” Carey says. The organization is constantly seeing new faces and getting new ideas, which help it grow, he notes.

COMMON provides value to newcomers and seasoned professionals. “It’s really important to see other ways that people are doing things, maybe ways that you hadn’t considered. You can do that with COMMON,” Carey adds.

While COMMON focuses on what you need to solve your business problems today, COMMON’s charitable arm, the COMMON Education Foundation (CEF) works to introduce both college students and educators to all that the Power Systems platform has to offer by providing them with a conduit for education and networking outside of their current learning environment. By exposing and educating a new wave of talent to IBM i and Power Systems in general, the CEF hopes to provide new opportunities for future IT professionals, while augmenting the existing talent pool with new idea generators, contributors and problem-solvers to help the community flourish.

COMMON Europe

Like its American counterpart, Luxembourg-based COMMON Europe plays a role in providing news and education to members on a monthly basis. It also organizes webinars, smaller meetings and the annual COMMON Europe Congress, which last year hosted more than 300 attendees from 20 countries. The next congress will be held in Brussels on June 18-21.

In addition to the umbrella organization, the individual country user groups are extremely active, says Torbjörn Appehl, current president of Swedish user group Data3 and marketing manager for COMMON Europe. Data3 focuses on all Swedish companies running IBM i, from small users to international cloud vendors. Its membership is open to companies and individuals.

The Swedish user group, like those in other countries, holds its own events, including a well-attended conference in the fall. Recently, Data3 held a meeting on systems monitoring based on Nagios. The group is working to broaden developer skills in Sweden with full-day seminars on modern RPG as well as SQL education for RPG developers.

The country user groups and COMMON Europe focus on networking and education to help companies solve their challenges and assist individuals with improving their skills. For example, a Data3 member was interested in seeing a change made to IBM i and posted the idea on developerWorks. Other members of the community supported the idea on social media. The COMMON Europe Advisory Council included the change on its list of requests to IBM. “It was a win-win situation for the client, IBM and the community,” Appehl says.

Both the local and COMMON Europe members value the connection with IBM. Top managers from IBM attend COMMON Europe and are available to speak with local users. Such interaction is very valuable for representatives of small Swedish companies. No other platform makes its executive available to shake hands and answer questions, Appehl remarks.

Local users also help other users who are trying to solve challenges. For instance, one customer was going to switch from IBM i to another platform to run Linux. But other users pointed out that such a change wasn’t necessary because Power Systems runs Linux. The client saved a lot of money when it realized that IBM i can run the newer technologies, Appehl says.

Support From the IT Community

Besides support from their own members, many user groups receive support from IBM, its business partners and ISVs. User groups sometimes meet in the offices of IBM or its business partners, which keeps costs low and enables the user groups to reach out to more of their members.

Business partners and ISVs sometimes speak at various conferences, including the small conferences offered by local user groups, notes May. Local user groups often feature vendor expositions at their conferences, which allow business partners and ISVs to showcase their offerings and offer opportunities to meet with clients to discuss their options, she says.

Some business partners also provide monetary support. For instance, Maxava annually contributes $50,000 to various user groups to fund their activities.

All around the world, user groups are providing feedback to IBM and fellow users about Power Systems. The community is richer for such efforts.

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