The i Platform Roadmap Is a Work in Progress
May 12, 2008 Timothy Prickett Morgan
With the Power Systems convergence more or less accomplished, on paper at least if not in the minds and data centers of System i and System p customers, and with Bill Zeitler, general manager of IBM‘s Systems and Technology Group retiring on August 1 and the company’s supply chain expert, Bob Moffatt, taking over the server unit at that time, tongues are a-wagging about the long-term future of the i platform. It was a coincidence that Neil Palmer’s article in this newsletter last week, There’s No i in Future, But Is There a Future in i?, came out at the same time as IBM chairman and chief executive officer, Sam Palmisano, announced Zeitler’s departure, but this story also got people to thinking about the long-term support within IBM for the i platform.
It just so happens–and this is not a coincidence, but intentional–that IBM is hosting its New Power Equation roadshow in 14 American cities near key collections of OS/400 and i5/OS customers and their reseller and application provider business partners right now. Moreover, last week IBM’s Systems and Technology Group hosted a sales school for System i and System p resellers just ahead of its Technical Conference this week in Los Angeles. So the questions are coming up just as the answers are starting to be delivered hush-hush to key people in the i ecosystem. Having always depended on the kindness of strangers, I have been able to obtain a slim amount of roadmap information out there for the i platform, which I am happy to share with you. Don’t get too excited, since the data is pretty slim.
First, IBM’s i platform roadmap is not drawn to scale, so determining exact timing for i 6.X and i 7.X releases is not possible. What the roadmap shows is the i5/OS V6R1 preview in early 2007 and the i 6.1 launch in late 2007, which obviously did not happen, since the V6R1 preview (previously known as i5/OS V5R5) happened at the end of July 2007 and i 6.1 being announced at the end of January this year and shipping in March on all but the Power 595, which gets it this September. Anyway, this roadmap shows IBM putting an i 6.2 release into the field in mid-to-late 2009, followed by Power7-based systems coming in early 2010.
IBM has not said much about the i 6.2 publicly–in fact, it hasn’t said anything–but earlier this year I told you that i 6.2 would run on the Power6-based JS12 and JS22 blade servers and the Power 520, 550, 570, and 595 servers (I didn’t know all of those names at the time) as well as on the Power5+ based and user-priced i5 515 and 525 servers and the Power5 and Power5+ machines with the 520, 550, 570, and 595 model numbers. The i 6.2 operating system will not run on the second-generation iSeries 800, 810, 825, 870, and 890 servers, which were built using Power4 or earlier PowerPC chips, or the first-generation iSeries 270, 820, 830, or 840 machines, which used even older Star-class PowerPC processors. It seems likely that i 6.2 will also run on Power6+ servers, and very likely the first generation of Power7 machinery.
As for the i 7.X platform, all IBM is telling partners and customers this week is that it definitely exists, on the whiteboard at least. Specifically, the roadmap that IBM is sharing with these key i ecosystem players says that IBM’s Rochester Lab is designing the future operating system now with input from the advisory councils of the COMMON Americas and Europe user groups, its own Large User Group (LUG), and various advisory councils of the key independent software vendors for the i platform. The latter was a bigtime player in the merger of the System p and System i product line, since the largest OS/400 and i5/OS shops have tended to have both platforms side by side in their data centers for supporting different workloads to run their businesses. They got sick of having to deal with two different sets of price catalogs, basically, and with these large shops probably driving half of the revenues for the System i business, IBM didn’t have much choice but to listen.
IBM is telling customers and partners about some general themes for i 7.X, but as I read these, it would be hard to tell them from the requirements for V5R5, er, V6R1, er, i 6.1. Anyway, the themes for i 7.X including exploiting Power7 processors and storage area networking technology; extending the core DB2. RPG, Java, C, and COBOL technologies in the box (PHP was not mentioned, but this is clearly part of the plan); and delivering so-called “high impact enhancements” like blade server optimization . In a more detailed page of the roadmap–and I use the term “more” loosely–IBM says that it will exploit IBM’s broader investments in common software infrastructure such as the PowerVM hypervisor, WebSphere middleware, and Systems Director systems management tools. The company said further that it will adhere to interoperability standards such as enhancements to TCP and IPv6, SQL protocols, and Java tweaks.
See what I mean? As roadmaps go, this is pretty weak on the detail. Then again, the AIX folks didn’t get nadda as far as I can tell, not even a mention of AIX 7.X. But of course, no one is worried about IBM investing in AIX at this point. I said at this point. HA!
It is hard to tell what will make i 6.2 different from i 7.X, but it will probably have something to do with whatever hardware IBM is cooking up for the Power7 hardware platform. I have said that I believe that the 2010-ish generation of servers will have a common processor socket–it could be Opteron-style sockets from Advanced Micro Devices using HyperTransport interconnections or it could be Intel’s “Nehalem” sockets and QuickPath Interconnect. But as I said several years ago in The X Factor: One Socket to Rule Them All in this newsletter, all server makers have to be thinking about converging their server platforms to a single set of CPU sockets, memory subsystems, and motherboards. That is the next obvious area for platform consolidation. It will be interesting to see if this does indeed happen–and if the server makers and chip makers can get together and agree on standards.
Either i 6.2 or i 7.X should also include two features that AIX 6.1 has and that i 6.1 does not have: Live Application Mobility and Live Partition Mobility. The former allows an application stack inside a logical partition to be moved from one machine to a new partition on another physical machine when they are linked to the same storage area network, while the latter allows the movement of the entire operating system instance, including its applications and databases. This mobility functionality is what makes virtualization useful beyond normal server consolidation, and the i platform needs it every bit as much as AIX, Windows, and Linux do. And they all have it.