Admin Alert: Before You Buy That New System i, Part 2
January 23, 2008 Joe Hertvik
Last week, I began discussing the pitfalls you may encounter when buying a new System i server. This week, I’ll continue the discussion by looking at some other common System i purchasing issues, including the need for additional power in the computer room, operating system upgrade issues, and making sure that you have everything that’s needed for the new machine.
Five Pitfalls When Buying a New System i
While it’s hard to make a complete list of items to watch out for when buying a new System i machine, I’ve found that the following pitfalls can easily rear up and bite you during and after the purchasing process.
I covered the first two pitfalls in last week’s article, and I’ll explore the last three pitfalls this week. Together these two articles create a fairly good list of items to watch out for and budget for as you put in new hardware.
Pitfall #3: Properly Electrifying Your Computer Room
If you’re installing a new machine next to an existing machine or if you’re adding a new Capacity Back Up (CBU) system to replicate your main production system, chances are good that the two systems will need to reside side-by-side during installation or when going into production. If nothing else, you may need this capability to test and configure the new box while your existing system is running. This means that your computer room will need dual circuits to accommodate both your new and old machines as you migrate to a new box.
While the need for power might seem self-evident, it can be surprising how easy it is to overlook it during the budget process. If you go through a system assurance program with your business partner, the need for extra circuits should come up rather quickly. I have recently been involved with several System i installation projects. Without fault, I wound up discussing and contracting for additional electrical requirements on each system. Depending on your environment and the installation you are planning, contracting for new circuits may require a built-in lead time to get the circuits installed, which you will need to plan for. Additional time may also be required if you need to expand your current electrical service to add capacity for the new circuits.
Another pitfall involves the number of circuits needed for an installation. If your System i is running on redundant power by using dual Power Distribution Units (PDUs), you will need two circuits for each System i cabinet that you are installing. If you are installing two cabinets (one for your system unit and one for a disk array, for example), then you might need to add four circuits to your electrical service in order to get your new machine up, running, and configured. While redundancy is a wonderful thing, it has to be planned for otherwise you may have to delay deployment.
The final common electrical issue involves cooling requirements. Depending on how many boxes you are installing and what temperature your computer room normally runs at, adding the heat from a few System i cabinets might be enough to knock your heating, ventilation, and cooling requirements (HVAC) out of whack. My experience has been that this is usually not a problem in larger or old-fashioned computer rooms that are the size of a few basketball courts and use a powerful cooling system that blows cold air up from a razed floor. However, there are just as many mid-sized companies that host System i boxes (along with a few dozen Windows servers) in modified offices complete with an almost adequate cooling system that just barely keeps the servers comfortable. If your organization’s computer room resembles the modified office model, it would be wise to evaluate your HVAC needs as you are planning your purchase. Again, if you need to modify your system, an HVAC installation delay may also delay your implementation.
Pitfall #4: What Operating System Will You Run the System On?
My experience has been that most business partners selling a System i upgrade will automatically assume that you’ll be upgrading to the latest version of the i5/OS operating system. Depending on your situation, that may or may not be the best choice for your install. Last week, I discussed vendor pricing for an upgrade and recommended that you contact all your third-party software vendors to determine what, if any, price increases or license fee transfers you might incur with your new machine. My other recommendation is that while you’re on the phone with your vendors, ask them how their software runs on the operating system that will be installed on the new box. You may get some interesting answers.
For a recent install where the new machine was coming in at V5R4 and the existing machine was running V5R3, I talked to several vendors and (similar to what occurs with vendor pricing schemes) I found a wide variety of answers as to whether or not their software would run on the new operating system. Many vendors said it would be no problem. Others said that we would need to upgrade the software before it would run properly. One or two vendors had not tested their packages but they assumed the software would run OK. And one vendor even told me that the package we were running was so old that not only did they not support it anymore, but that they didn’t even have the ability to generate a new licensing key for the package. This meant that we couldn’t run the software on the machine and the package would have to be swapped out for another product if we wanted to retain that functionality.
The morale of this pitfall is: Don’t take your existing third-party software for granted. Don’t assume that it will run on a new machine and double-check operating system compatibility with your vendors to help ensure success. Depending on how much work and testing will be needed to make your existing third-party software run on the new machine, incompatibilities could have a significant effect on your implementation timetable. If you decide that you’re going to order the new machine with the same OS level as your existing box, make sure that the business partner selling that box understands and ask him to check all components on the new system to ensure that each component is rated to run under the old operating system. Some of the newer cards contain features that are only compatible with newer versions of the operating system, so you may have to account for hardware incompatibilities if you decide to stay down-level with your new machine’s operating system.
Also regarding the operating system, it should go without saying that the sooner you get your programmers looking at new operating system features, the better. Before you make a final decision on which operating system to use, make sure that they check there are aren’t any significant changes in the new operating system that might incapacitate your homegrown business software.
Pitfall #5: Do You Have All the Components That You Should Have Ordered?
Ordering a new System i involves ordering a fair number of components and in the rush to place an order, you or your business partner may inadvertently leave something out. Be particularly mindful of this if you’re in a rushed sales situation, such as might happen if IBM or the business partner offers incentives for ordering a machine before the end of the quarter or before the end of the year. In those situations, mistakes sometimes slip through in the ordering process and you should be fairly diligent in checking the hardware and software equipment list to ensure that you’re getting the correct components. In particular, you might want to check for the following items.
In the rush of a deal, it’s easy to miss things. That’s why it’s essential to keep your head about you and don’t sign off on anything until you’re sure that everything is there.
Everybody Makes Mistakes
It’s easy to make a mistake, especially when you’re buying a high-cost item like a new System i. However, you’re less likely to make one of the mistakes I outlined in this article and last week’s article if you have a better feel for where the danger points are. It’s my sincere hope that these articles will help you avoid at least some of the more common pitfalls when you buy or lease your next System i box.