Look for an Interim i Release Next Year, and i 6.2 in Early 2010
September 15, 2008 Timothy Prickett Morgan
As some of you know, IBM hosted two Power Systems Technical Universities in Chicago last week–one for i nerds and the other for AIX and Linux techies. As we went to press with this issue of the newsletter, some news was beginning to filter back into the cosmic ether–OK, really my email and my telephone, nothing cosmic about it–about what IBM is telling the i crowd. There’s nothing earth shattering so far, but some interesting points.
First, the Virtual I/O Server that, as the name suggests, virtualizes disk, tape, and networking I/O for JS12 and JS22 blade servers running the i 6.1 operating system apparently has some performance issues. The exact nature of the issues are not clear to me, but I have been warning you since IBM put out a spec sheet earlier this year that the I/O bandwidth on these blades might be lower than you expect–and a lot lower than equivalently powered rack and tower versions of the Power6 lineup. And this might have a lot to do with the way VIOS is doing its virtualization of I/O and how i 6.1 is interacting with this layer. The OS/400 and follow-on operating systems already had its own way of virtualizing I/O, so adding another virtualization layer underneath that could be the culprit. I dunno. The thing is, the Power blades require VIOS to run i 6.1. You can’t get around it.
And do, be warned, once again, to benchmark your workloads on the JS12 and JS22 blades before you spend big money, or at least get the real skinny from IBM on the performance of these blades running real workloads. The price and price/performance of the JS12 and JS22 blade servers in the BladeCenter S chassis are very good, even compared to Windows boxes–but that is only if the Power blades are not somehow more I/O constrained than I already think they are.
This leads me to my second point. There is some mumbling from Big Blue at the Power Systems Technical University for i nerds that there could be an interim release of the i operating system, tentatively called i 6.1.5, to correct these VIOS issues as well as any other matters that need to be cleared up. The suspicion among the people I have talked to is that i 6.1.5 might see the light of day in the second quarter of 2009, perhaps in May, if it does indeed happen instead of a massive dose of PTF updates to the existing i 6.1 operating system. I will be poking around to see if there are other issues lurking in i 6.1 that might be fixed in this interim release and other features that IBM might want to weave in ahead of the expected i 6.2 release.
And that leads onward like a straight road in the farm country of Minnesota to the expected launch date of i 6.2, which I am now hearing could be in the January 2010 time frame.
The last time I saw some I platform roadmaps, which were created earlier this year and which I told you about in May (see The i Platform Roadmap Is a Work in Progress), it looked like IBM would be putting an i 6.2 release into the field in mid-to-late 2009, followed by Power7-based systems coming in early 2010 and, presumably, i 7.1 along with it.
As I explained at the time, IBM’s i platform roadmap was not drawn to scale, so determining exact timing for i 6.X and i 7.X releases was not possible. But the roadmap I saw in the wake of the Power Systems convergence showed 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) did not start until the end of July 2007 and i 6.1 was announced at the end of January 2008 for shipments in March on all but the Power 595 systems, which gets it this month. Clearly there has been some push outward for the i 6.2 release, and hence the need for an interim release–particularly if there are issues with VIOS.
As I explained in January ahead of the Power Systems convergence, i 6.2 will run on the Power6-based JS12 and JS22 blade servers and the Power 520, 550, 570, and 595 servers 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.
One last thing: It is entirely unclear how the Blue for Business platform, which IBM considers the next successor to the AS/400 line of midrange computers, will fit into the i roadmap. IBM is expected to start piloting this line of machines, which is a mix of i and Linux with SaaS-style applications and remote support as well as locally run applications on the Power-based machines, at the end of the year for delivery in early 2009. Heaven only knows if these boxes will ship with i 6.1 or i 6.1.5.