Amid rumors of layoffs in Rochester, Minnesota, Dr. Frank Soltis, creator of the technology-independent architecture used in the System/38, AS/400, and subsequent i systems, is retiring from IBM after a long and enviable career. There's a bit more to the backstory, of course, plus a bit of supposition, and maybe even a dose of fear, uncertainty, and doubt. It seems as if the news publicly broke last week viaa note shared by Neil Palmer on the Midrange-L mailing list titled, "IBM's Frank Soltis 'let go.'" Palmer paints a vivid picture of Soltis being forced out of IBM, amid a "purge" of Rochester System i faithful employees. Palmer's post represents the darkest explanation for Soltis's retirement, as well as any layoffs that come from Rochester. If you're into the dark side, check out the thread and imagine the chilly winters in Rochester. If you're not, IBM's business is still changing. IBM figured out much of its reorganization of the Systems and Technology Group, which started in 2007, by January of 2008, well before IBM made its Power Systems convergence announcements at COMMON in April of this year. What does this mean? IBM's future was settled on a single hardware platform, and most jobs were morphed to adhere to a new Power Systems focus. Soltis had a choice--take on a new broader cross-platform position at IBM--or move on. As irritating as this might be to the System i faithful, it's hardly surprising. Jobs change and great people are laid off all the time. Are the decisions behind the scenes particularly good? Not always. Either way, it's often based on math and budgets, as in, "If we change your title to this, we can put you in that budget and still make our numbers." Plus, IBM's brass doesn't see shifting jobs as an issue at all--in fact, the executive shuffle is part of the company's culture. We don't know the exact weather in Rochester, the winds of change or barometric pressure under IBM's roof. But I do know something--everybody has job opportunities they are disinterested in taking advantage of. Soltis, it turns out, was planning to retire in January, but IBM asked him to stay on during a Power Systems transition period. What About Those Layoffs? Meanwhile, the Post-Bulletin newspaper in Rochester reported two separate IBM layoffs--10 people on October 31 and 12 people on November 12. Some of those IBMers have 30 days to try to find another job within IBM. The paper didn't reveal specific job types or business segments, and IBM apparently declined to provide details. In addition, 35 contractors working for Computer Task Group in the Rochester facility lost their jobs, and some contractors to IBM are being hit with 10 percent pay cuts. The Post-Bulletin reported that IBM has approximately 4,000 employees in Rochester. Have other layoffs gone unnoticed? Probably. But 22 positions? The percentage is so small I can't even figure it out in my head. How many employees is Sun Microsystems laying off this month in the U.S.? Somewhere between 5,000-6,000. And Dell? I believe the company planned to cut nearly 9,000 jobs in October. Change By Design IBM's business is most definitely changing, but the sky is not falling. Incidentally, the convergence with System p has been in the works for a long time, and more important, it happened by design--it's an evolutionary advantage. As Soltis noted in a 2005 article in the SystemiNetwork.com archives, the iSeries has more than 25 years of experience in implementing virtual technologies:
The decision to create a virtual system is probably the most important one that the original designers of the S/38 ever made. Without that decision, it's difficult to say where the iSeries would be today. In all likelihood, it would have joined the many other midrange servers from Digital, Data General, Wang, and HP that were popular during the 1980s and 1990s but are now relegated to scrap heaps. Thanks to its virtual system design, today's iSeries and the i5/OS operating system can live virtually forever.No Word From IBM By the way, IBM didn't respond to SystemiNetwork.com inquiries by press time, but IBM typically does not discuss layoffs in any sort of detail. Soltis Talks I did, however, catch up with Soltis via email and asked him about his upcoming retirement and what he's interested in doing next. Here's a snip:
I have been one of the strongest advocates of using common hardware and software technologies in all our systems. With the Power Systems announcement in April, we have accomplished much of this sharing. In the future, IBM developers need to focus more on this cross-system sharing instead of the individual systems. I have spent my entire career at IBM working on one system, and it has been a great career. I could not see myself working on anything else, so I decided it was a good time to retire.Soltis also mentioned that he plans to stay involved with the i world through some business partner and user group activities, though he's not yet sure how that might shake out. "I don't think it is possible for me to entirely leave the System i community," he added. "Nor do I want to." Of course, as Soltis says above, the IBM i world isn't exactly losing him . . . still, retirement is a pretty big opportunity. Who knows what paths will open up for our Dr. of the i?
I did agree to spend this year traveling around the world talking to System i customers and business partners about Power Systems and what this unification of i and p means to them. I am currently in Canada meeting with various customer groups. Tomorrow [today, actually], I will be in Toronto speaking at TUG. This is one of our best user groups, and I always enjoy speaking to this group. My official retirement date is December 31st. After that date I am looking forward to finishing some of the many projects I have started. The pile of parts that has been in my garage for over a year may even turn into a car. I plan to do more teaching, and I may even finish another book that I have started.