What Is IBM i Used For (And Other IBM i FAQ)

We get a lot of questions about IBM i. Check out our answers to the ones we hear most frequently.

The lineage of IBM i goes back to some of the earliest IBM midrange systems used for small to medium sized businesses but its capabilities have grown exponentially. Some of the largest companies in the world use IBM i running on the IBM Power server as their strategic platform for manufacturing planning, retail, distribution, logistics, banking, healthcare, insurance, hospitality management, government management, and legal case management.

The “i” of IBM i means “integrated”. The capability of the platform to simultaneously host multiple types of workloads is why it is considered highly integrated. Simultaneously supporting thousands of interactive users, one or multiple HTTP servers for web applications, UNIX applications, and JDBC/ODBC connection support for use as a back-end database to other servers. Additionally, IBM i runs on the IBM Power hardware, so additional integration allows Linux and AIX VMs to run on the same hardware footprint.

No. IBM i running on the IBM Power server is not a mainframe. Mainframe is another category of hardware that IBM offers which runs the z/OS operating system as well as Linux. The boundaries of capabilities between i and z have blurred and, in fact, the average Joe on the street wouldn’t know the difference nor would many in IT who have not worked with IBM i would be able to separate the two!

Keep in mind that most companies have a hybrid environment using many different platforms and operating systems. Still, you may be surprised at the number and variety of companies who use IBM i. Major retailers such as Costco, Home Depot, Staples, and Office Depot. Banks of all different sizes from the largest in the world such as HSBC, mid-sized banks such as Old National Bank, and even small, locally owned banks. IBM i is huge in the casino and hospitality industries. Caesars Entertainment and Disney being just two examples. 

IBM i is huge in logistics, shipping, and the trucking business: FedEx, for example, and Estes Express. IBM i is used widely in healthcare product manufacturing and distribution due to the many robust MRP/ERP applications available, including McKesson, Medtronic, and Cardinal Health. The list of other manufacturers leveraging applications on IBM i is very long. Toyota and Volvo are another two examples that also have many their suppliers using IBM i. Other manufacturers who do food processing or make railcars, rubber, and energy products also use IBM i. 

And that’s not to mention the United States Department of Defense, state, local, and other government agencies, as well as court systems. This only scratches the surface on the variety of industries using applications on IBM i.

The AS/400 hardware platform (and the OS/400 operating system) grew out of its predecessor: the IBM System/38 back in 1988. As the capabilities of the platform morphed over time, it was renamed from AS/400 (Application Server/400) to the iSeries eServer in 2000 and was briefly renamed IBM System iin 2006. Then, as the platform went to a shared hardware footprint with AIX (IBM Power server), the operating system was renamed IBM i running on IBM Power. The IBM i moniker has been the official name since 2008. As of June 2018, the name “IBM ”" has been around longer than the name “AS/400”! With the addition of open-source support and new programming languages, among several enhancements, IBM i is truly a modern operating. Referring to IBM i as a legacy OS is like referring to Windows Server 2022 as legacy Windows NT.

IBM i has an integrated database called Db2 on IBM i. Db2 is a database that runs on multiple operating systems including Windows, AIX, IBM mainframe (the z/OS operating system). Additionally, IBM i supports MySQL, MariaDB, and PostgreSQL, with MongoDB support on the way. Other database options are being considered for official support.

IBM i is the name of the operating system. The IBM Power server hardware, based on the IBM Power processor chip, that supports the IBM i OS also supports AIX (the IBM version of UNIX) and Linux operating systems.

IBM i supports many popular open-source languages: YUM, Java, Node.js, R, Perl, Ruby, Python, C++, and PHP. And the list keeps growing after each Technology Refresh (normally twice a year for latest releases). IBM i also acts as a database server that is highly SQL compliant with excellent performance capabilities. These modern languages live alongside and work with applications written in the IBM proprietary RPG language and more recently free format RPG, which have been doing their job for years and sharing the same database. IBM offers information on open-source resources and success stories of customers who have implemented them.

The IBM Power server is a shared hardware platform, based on the IBM Power processor chip, that supports multiple operating systems: IBM i and AIX (the IBM version of UNIX) as well as RedHat Linux.. It also supports a virtualization environment that allows the creation of multiple virtual machines (VMs) to be simultaneously supported much like VMware in the x86 environment. Summit and Sierra (number 2 and number 3 among the top 500 supercomputers) are built on scale-out Power9 servers. With Power10 scale-up servers recently out and Power10-based scale-out servers just around the corner, there might be changes to that list.

Learning IBM i is not difficult. In fact, IBM has done a great job of providing detailed help, command menus, command search facilities, and command “prompting” so, as a user, you do not need to worry about remembering the syntax of a command on the command line interface. After finding or entering a command and pressing the F4 key, the system will display all command parameters and each command parameter has help available. IBM i also includes a built-in HTTP server and systems management web interface called Navigator for IBM i, so that system functions can be accomplished without using the traditional command line interface (CLI).

With the operating system running on IBM Power servers and the support of PowerVM, IBM i can run on fully virtualized logical partitions (LPARs) that can run both on public and private clouds. These LPARs support live partition mobility (LPM), so they can be moved from server to server with little effort, provided you have the licenses for the destination server. There are offerings for IBM i in the cloud through Azure, IBM, and Google Cloud, as well as from some other providers. 

Read the IBM i Story at Fortra

IBM i is the best-kept secret in IT. This OS is so important to organizations around the world but finding out how IBM i is used in modern data centers isn’t always easy. Fortra is plugged into the IBM i community at all levels. Our relationships with IBM, technology partners, and our own diverse customer base help us understand what users need—and we deliver. Visit our virtual IBM i headquarters to learn more.