IBM Rational is Irrational – Call a SWMA…

Before I begin this rant, let me say that IBM, the IBM I grew up with, has been an amazing company to have a developer relationship with.  I have said it before and I’ll say it again, nobody does support or supports it’s developer community better than IBM.  But Rational, well, not so much…My mantra with HP products is: “Great hardware, crappy software”.  With IBM (ir)Rational my mantra is “Great tools, crappy processes”.

If you haven’t been an IBM i developer then you have missed out on some of the most marvelous marketing missteps on the planet.  Our hardware has gone through multiple name changes (not SO unusual) and our Operating System name has had, to paraphrase the late Al Barsa, “more names than Elizabeth Taylor had husbands”.  We have also experienced the thrill of “unbundling” where the heretofore “all you can eat buffet of developer tools” was reduced to an A la Cart sampling.  This was done, as IBM claims,  to benefit us developers and this is “what we asked for” (yeah, right).  Add to that a set of PC based, GUI development tools that evolved from WDSc (Websphere Development Studio Client), to RDi (Rational Developer for i), to RDp (Rational Developer for Power) and next (yes, rumor has it maybe another name change)…As those names evolved so have the components that have been removed, added, deprecated and enhanced. It is really difficult to keep track of what the current version of tools are and what they include.  You couldn’t design a more daunting environment to navigate when it comes to development tools (And, I am not even going to try to explain the compilers that must be purchased separately.)

So I have come to the conclusion that developing software for IBM i isn’t for wimps.  The tools are great, if you can keep up with the names and the changing features.  But when navigating the SWMA path, things get ugly (I’ll get to SWMA in a minute)

But wait, there is more. IBM also has an awesome developer discount program so that you can purchase the hardware and software at low rates.  In most cases the OS and software components are next to free. All,that is, except the Rational Tools.  For that you pay real money.  The process of configuring and purchasing through the developer discount program is really a breeze. The folks who put together the configurations are helpful and patient and the order and delivery is nearly flawless.  A couple of years ago, though we ordered a Bladecenter S and a JS12 running IBM i, everything we needed showed up properly configured and ready to go.  All the hardware was there and all the software was there which is no mean feat when the hardware itself has changed so radically and IBM i on the blade runs in virtual operating environment.  Even support was OK to navigate, given that the hardware and software came from the “p” (Power) world and the IBM i world.  The REAL challenge was yet to come.  SWMA renewal…

SWMA is the software maintenance agreement that keeps support and software updates current.  Now, I have been on the phone with IBM probably only a dozen times over the 15 years I have been in the software developer program with IBM.  I measure *years* between calls, that is how stable and trouble free the i is.  For me SWMA allows me to stay current with software updates, period. But staying current on SWMA is not easy in the developer program.  IBM doesn’t notify you when SWMA will expire (actually it does, NOW) and the process of renewing SWMA is cumbersome and confusing.  In a perfect world, you would receive a notice which lists all the software and charges and has a link that says “Click here to renew”.   Not so with DD (developer discount)  SWMA.  First you contact IBM.  Next they send you a listing of all the hardware and software you have that is associated with the machine serial number (a mind numbing list of part numbers and ID’s) and then that configuration is priced and a quote sent to you.  The challenge is that if you assume the listing is complete, you may have missed something important. [Quick aside: When it was all bundled together, the SWMA was quoted on the bundle which made it easy.  Now SWMA is quoted separately for some of the unbundled items].  In my case, because the Rational tools had gone through a renaming and product ID change, it didn’t show up on the renewal list so my Rational SWMA didn’t renew (sigh)…

So let’s get to the meat of it.  IBM (used to) not notify of renewals but at least when it was renewed, it was simply renewed as a bundle.  Not so any more. The SWMA renewals are A la Cart.  Here is my specific scenario when it came to the attempt to renew SWMA on RDp (and this truly illustrates the irrationality of the process)

  1. The SWMA had expired.  I had to pay the after license rate (a 200% premium) in order to ‘renew’ which came to $535.
  2. I could buy a “retail” version of RDp for $886 and then *next* year my SWMA renewal would be $117.
  3. Even if the SWMA hadn’t lapsed, I’d still have to pay the $535 to renew because the configuration tool that IBM uses (e-config) doesn’t have a product code for RDp *renewal*, only the after license upcharge.
  4. If I had a license for the ‘OLD’ version of RDp (which is RDi) then I *could* ‘renew’ that for $159 even though it has been withdrawn from marketing.

So I pay a penalty for being on the developer discount program when it comes to renewing SWMA on Rational developer tools.  I pay no such penalty on any other software product on my IBM i.  Something doesn’t seem quite right with that.  All of this comes after hours of talking with my IBM contact, the person who configures the i and SWMA, and a very helpful Rational Sales rep (on the *retail* side of the house).

So what am I going to do?  Well, turns out that when we bought the JS12 we bought TWO licenses of RDi.  One license was upgraded to RDp (within the SWMA window) but the other license was not upgraded.  Turns out that RDi license can be upgraded to the new version of the Rational Developer tool (whatever it will be called) for $159.00.  So my inclination is to pay the $159.00 to upgrade the RDi license and just live with the older RDp 7.6 software we have since it would cost $535.00 to upgrade that (Yes, I know, the older, expired software license is cheaper to renew than the newer license and that doesn’t make sense).  But, as the guy using the configuration tool said “I can only do what the tool lets me do”.

Apparently this particular, very helpful person said that Rational is working to resolve the issue, too late for my current SWMA renewal but maybe BEFORE my SWMA expires on “Open Access RPG” product we own that is, alas, on yet another separate SWMA contract.

A Smarter Planet?  A Rational Tool?  I don’t think so.

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