i5/OS V6R1: Raining on the Armadillo Day Parade
March 31, 2008 Dan Burger
I would estimate that 99 percent of System i users did not have March 21 circled on their calendars. The release date of i5/OS V6R1 came and went with considerably less fanfare than Armadillo Day (October 18), which is to say there was very little fanfare at all. And that’s not to say V6R1 is less exciting than an armadillo. It definitely is more exciting than an armadillo. It’s just that in the i5/OS world, the availability of a new operating system does not cause long lines of excited customers eager to get their hands on it.
The reason I bring up armadillos isn’t that they don’t usually attract crowds at the zoo (compared to a panda cub, for instance) and that is a similarity with i5/OS, but it’s because both are capable of instilling fear in the souls of those who don’t understand them. Almost no one wants to pet an armadillo and it is rare to find a System i, iSeries, or AS/400 user (listed in order of increasing rarity) who is racing to be the first person in the local user group to install V6R1.
Even though V6R1 has been presented, along with all its notable new features, in every publication devoted to System i news, it’s widely believed that maybe 10 percent of the installed base will adopt its use by the time its first birthday rolls around in 2009. Most of us like to talk about new technology and what’s loaded into V6R1–things like blade server support, jacked up database and Java performance, storage virtualization, and support for the Power6 processors that have been rolling into the product line since last July–but those things seldom make an immediate impact on anyone outside the biggest System i shops. Those features will come in good time to more and more of the installed base, but it’s not today’s reality. Not for most users. Not until IBM gets low-end Power6-based System i servers into the field, anyway.
This is not a unique situation that only afflicts the System i environment. Far from it. Users of other business computers are floating in boats that look very similar to this one. And while I am thinking about it, how much do you use and how well do you maximize all the features that are built into the OS running on your desktop? (Most likely Windows if you live on planet earth.)
As far as I can tell from talking with product managers and executives at IBM, third-party software vendors with considerable experience with i5/OS and OS/400, and programmers and system administrators working in the trenches, somewhere between 50 percent and 75 percent of the IBM midrange shops are now running V5R1 or newer versions of the operating system. That seems pretty good until you flip it over and consider that somewhere between 25 percent and 50 percent are not to V5R1 yet. And nothing earlier than V5R3 has tech support any more from IBM.
That brings me to another interesting point about V6R1: the program conversion gotcha. You may have already heard more about this than about new technology that comes with this package. It’s no hidden surprise. It’s been discussed in the IT Jungle newsletters since last year, and has been the subject of articles in other publications as well as in the forum chatter. It’s also been a frequent agenda item at many user group meetings. One source of detailed information is the IBM ITSO Redpaper “i5/OS Program Conversion: Getting ready for i5/OS V6R1.”
A short explanation of the conversion is that it allows programs created for OS/400 V5R1 or later releases to automatically retain creation data (also known as observability). In versions of OS/400 V4R5 and older, there is no automatic conversion, so the process becomes more labor intensive. To make things easier on those who have OS/400 V5R3 and i5/OS V5R4, IBM provides the Analyze Object Conversion tool that helps identify potential conversion problems and also estimates the time required for program conversion.
I talked with a handful of System i independent software vendors who have had early experiences with V6R1. Some of them have converted their programs to run on V6R1 and others have used the analyzer tool and have begun preparations to begin the conversion process. A few have their products ready for V6R1 and have run their own beta testing with customers. Every one of them reported no pain and anticipated no problems or very few problems for their customers that were also ISVs. Those that are not V6R1 ready, they plan to be ready soon. They will handle requests as demand calls for it, but no one indicated that demand was expected to make phones ring of the hooks.
So, there’s nothing to fear except fear itself. Right?
Well, as you might surmise, the vendors make a habit of staying current with the OS/400 and i5/OS operating systems. They had very little to worry about during the conversion process. The analyzer tool didn’t find anything particularly ugly and the conversion process was, as the marketing guys like to say, seamless. I didn’t hear a discouraging word from my contacts at ASNA, BCD Software, LANSA, ProData Computer Services, Profound Logic, and ACOM Solutions.
What I did hear was that conversion success will depend on how well a company has managed its development environment. Someone has to be able to run the API to identify objects that are not V6R1 compliant. And someone has to have the skills to recompile programs that aren’t compliant. These are not difficult tasks as seen through the eyes of the technical gurus working at the many ISVs, particularly those who create programming tools themselves.
As is often the case, the early adopters among System i customers will be the most technically adept shops, with larger programming staffs and a variety of programming skills. It’s a safe bet that they will barely break stride as they upgrade to V6R1. It’s likely that many of these are WebSphere customers and that’s no coincidence. WebSphere performance on System i has never been all that great. Did you know that much of the performance gain attributed to V6R1 comes in the area of running Java? So to some degree it can be said that V6R1 is for the companies running WebSphere. Ditto for the Power6 machines that will be running V6R1 as their default operating system at some point in the future.
That’s not to say there is nothing in V6R1 for the RPG shops that remain the core System i customer base. RPG ILE will reportedly fly faster on V6R1 and Power6. SQL database performance will step up considerably with V6R1 and that will be good for more of the user base.
Conversion to V6R1 will get a little hairy when it comes to ERP systems where pieces of old code will be frequent and compiling by hand will be, too. We’ll keep an eye on how that is developing for the ISVs and for the organizations wrestling with upgrades. You may have noticed that IBM Global Services is ready to help with V6R1 conversion projects. That’s an indicator that companies will be asking for help. And they’ll be paying for it, too. (See Global Services Offers i5/OS V6R1 Migration Help from last week’s issue for more on that.)
How much consequence will all of this be for the average System i shop? For now and for the next few years, it will be about as much as the next Armadillo Day.