i5/OS V6R1 Announced Today, Ships in March
January 29, 2008 Timothy Prickett Morgan
Today is the big day. i5/OS V6R1 is finally being launched by IBM. The operating system for iSeries and System i servers, which has been under development for years and which Big Blue previewed last summer, is formally announced today and will begin shipping on March 21. That’s just before the i5/OS and OS/400 faithful are gathered for the now-annual COMMON user group conference and expo, this time being hosted down in Nashville, Tennessee. Giving IBM’s techies plenty of time to get their presentations together to show off all the new features and functions.
There are a lot of things that go into V6R1, and IBM’s pre-briefing yesterday did not have a lot of the details that will be in the announcement letters when they come out later this morning, on January 29. But Craig Johnson, IBM’s i5/OS product manager in the Power Systems division of its Systems and Technology Group, was kind enough to give us a high-level overview of some of the important bits of i5/OS V6R1 that were not included in the technology preview that IBM put out last July.
Some of this information was, of course, already making the rounds in the i5/OS and OS/400 community, which is why we have been able to provide some coverage of the V6R1 launch in The Four Hundred prior to today, (including yesterday’s issue, which covered some of the new virtualization features that are important to the release, and the V6R1 and V6R2 support schedule, which appeared in the newsletter two weeks ago). And IBM’s techies in Rochester last fall gave our own nerds over in Four Hundred Guru a preview of the RPG and CL enhancements coming with the new i5/OS operating system release. As things go, this is one of the most previewed operating system releases that the IBM midrange team has put into the field in its three decade history of shipping AS/400-alike platforms. (I am including the System/38 in that description.)
The very first thing that IBM is emphasizing in the new V6R1 release is native encryption, which is important since some applications running on OS/400 and i5/OS platforms but also on other platforms (including mainframes) are still storing critical information (sometimes credit card numbers, even) in an unencrypted form. Now, support for the AES symmetric key algorithm is coded right into the operating system, and can be used through two new features–Option 44 of i5/OS is the encrypted backup enablement feature, and Option 45 is the encrypted ASP enablement feature. As the names for these features suggest, one encrypts information stored on tapes that are made using the Backup Recovery Media Services (BRMS) add-on for i5/OS, while the other encrypts the data at the auxiliary storage pool level in the file systems of the System i server. Both of these options are not freebies, and Johnson was not privy to pricing information as we went to press with this issue. The AES algorithm inside V6R1 uses the computing resources of the Power processors inside the system to do its encryption and decryption, and it cannot make use of adjunct co-processor cards for encryption already announced by IBM or, as far as I know, the vector math units inside the new Power6 processors. This can, of course, change, and just might depending on how much oomph it takes to run the AES encryption.
Further on the security front, i5/OS is getting enhanced intrusion detection and prevention capabilities with V6R1, including real-time notification to security staff through e-mail, pagers, and such when something is amiss and improved event logging. The new security features in V6R1 are accessible through the new Web-based management tool, Systems Director Navigator for i5/OS, which is the kicker to iSeries Navigator that plugs into IBM’s cross-platform Systems Director toolset. V6R1 also has the ability to throttle back clients that have initiated denial of service attacks on networks controlled by i5/OS. i5/OS requires a digital signature on all executable files, too, and does not allow so-called patched programs to mess around below the machine interface. (So say so long to those governor busters.)
On the high availability front, IBM has cooked up some new options for customers who are looking for disk-based high availability. The new High Availability Solutions Manager is an amalgam of the high availability clustering software that was woven into the microcode of OS/400 back in the V4 days thanks to a licensing deal with Vision Solutions and the cross site mirroring (XSM) clustering technology that IBM created two years ago to do disaster recovery at the disk level instead of the application level. The High Availability Solutions Manager for V6R1 is not based on any technology that IBM acquired when it bought DataMirror last year, but Johnson says that IBM is working on a refreshed version of those products, too. The High Availability Solutions Manager requires V6R1 and the use of Independent Auxiliary Storage Pools, iASPs. The data replication and disk-based mirroring of data on source and target machines is handled synchronously on external DS8000 arrays or on internal iSeries or System i disk arrays; EMC‘s Symmetrix arrays are not certified on it as yet. The data mirroring can be done from the metro level out to the global level (where it is done asynchronously because of the signal delays).
IBM is not, by the way, trying to undermine the sales of high availability and replication software from Vision Solutions, Maximum Availability, or its own DataMirror products, which are part of the Power Systems division software stack now. “These other products continue to be viable options,” explains Johnson. “This new product is a response to some customer requests for a high availability solution that is disk based.”
As we reported in yesterday’s issue of The Four Hundred, V6R1 does indeed have two new virtualization improvements that are going to be quite helpful to customers. The first is support for the Virtual I/O Server, sometimes called VIOS, approach to I/O virtualization with i5/OS V6R1. Virtual I/O Server was created for AIX and Linux machines on the Power5+ generation of System p boxes. Now, Virtual I/O Server runs on Power6-based servers with i5/OS V6R1. (Earlier iron and earlier i5/OS and OS/400 releases will not be supported.) Virtual I/O server is part of the System p product line’s implementation of the Virtualization Engine hypervisor, which is called Advanced Power Virtualization, and this piece of software does exactly what the name suggests. It is an I/O layer that allows multiple logical partitions–in this case on the System p boxes, running AIX or Linux–to share SCSI devices and Ethernet ports. With virtualized I/O, you do not have to have physical SCSI controllers and Ethernet adapters for each logical partition, which is expensive as well as wasteful and difficult to manage. Perhaps as important, by using Virtual I/O Server, companies can create logical partitions without having to resort to mucking about in the dreaded Hardware Management Console, or HMC. You use a program called the Integrated Virtualization Manager to create and destroy partitions. It is not clear what the pricing is for Virtual I/O Server and the Integrated Virtualization Manager, and hopefully it is a nominal fee.
By the way, customers using the JS22 Power6-based blade server have to use the Virtual I/O Server, since the drivers that plug into that blade have already been virtualized and IBM did not think it very smart to rewrite the drivers for a native implementation inside i5/OS V6R1. The Virtual I/O Server takes up a single logical partition on a machine or within a blade chassis, and then other partitions talk to it to get access to I/O. External DS4XX and DS8XX disk arrays can be the physical I/O behind the Virtual I/O Server, and so can internal RAID 5 and JBOD disk arrays in the iSeries or System i box running i5/OS V6R1.
Further on the virtualization front is a new feature called Virtual i5/OS partitions, which will allow one partition and its disk controllers and network adapters to share their I/O with one or more other i5/OS partitions. The idea is to be able to create development and test partitions quickly without having to buy redundant peripherals; once again, this new offshoot of logical partitioning requires i5/OS V6R1 and Power6 processors, too, just like the encryption and high availability enhancements. All of the partitions in the box that make use of the Virtual i5/OS partitions have to be running V6R1; you can’t have a V6R1 partition feeding I/O to OS/400 V5R3 or i5/OS V5R4 partitions–but this would undoubtedly be a useful thing. This feature is free in V6R1.
The V6R1 release includes other improvements in support for iSCSI networks, Java and DB2 performance enhancements, a new performance monitoring tool called Performance Investigator, tweaked pricing on DB2 Web Query, and that promised repacking of development tools for the System i platform by IBM’s Rational tools division. We will go over these in next week’s newsletters, as soon as the announcement letters are out and the details are available.