IBM Sunsets i5/OS V5R4 Again–For Real This Time
February 13, 2012 Timothy Prickett Morgan
If any iteration of the OS/400-i5/OS-IBM i platform could be said to have lived long and prospered, it is i5/OS V5R4, often now called IBM i 5.4 although that was not its original name. This release, which was announced on April 10, 2007, has had a long life among the OS/400 family of operating systems not only because it was a good, solid OS, but because the msove to the more recent IBM i 6.1 and 7.1 required a program conversion process customers either couldn’t do or didn’t want to do.
But last week, in announcement letter 912-011, IBM said that September 30, 2013 will be the last day that Software Maintenance (SWMA) support services will be available for i5/OS V5R4 and its related systems programs.
The cessation of tech support for i5/OS V5R4 is the other shoe that has not dropped and that has been hanging in the air for years, with independent software vendors and end user companies alike getting antsy in recent months about not having clarity over the plan.
Back in February 2009, in the worst part of the Great Recession, IBM announced that it would stop selling i5/OS V5R4 on January 5, 2010, giving customers ample time to plan their upgrades to IBM i 6.1 or 7.1. But the economic recovery was still not so good in early 2010, and Big Blue correctly read the market and said it would keep selling i5/OS V5R4 through May 2010 while at the same time compensating for that extended sales cycle by raising prices on license activations for this release of the operating system on Power5, Power5+, Power6, and Power6+ servers. This was just ahead of the Power7 systems launch, and the carrot-and-stick approach basically gave customers more time to do program conversation while buying more powerful iron for their V5R4 systems in the short term. The one thing that customers didn’t know is when IBM would stop offering SWMA for i5.OS V5R4.
IBM is thinking long term again by giving customers more time to make the jump, and believe it or not, this is a side effect of the convergence of the AS/400 and RS/6000 server businesses. Because moving operating systems and changing processors was a much bigger deal on all Unix boxes (whether made by IBM or not), Unix operating systems tended to have a very long lifespan. Customers could move to new iron, but keep the old OS for a lot longer than you might think was sensible for a company trying to sell new software.
“Clients today like the new approach of having fewer big releases and having technology refreshes delivering new functionality more quickly,” explains Ian Jarman, manager of Power Systems software at IBM and the longtime voice of the AS/400’s progeny, referring to the method of updating the IBM i operating system that was imported from the AIX side of the Power Systems house last year.
The time that IBM is giving i5/OS V5R4 customers to plan for the end of support is substantial and nothing to complain about–especially when you consider that everyone has been expecting this announcement for the better part of three years. “This gives people approximately 18 months to plan for upgrades, and we are telling customers about it much earlier than we would normally do,” says Jarman.
If you really are desperate to keep running i5/OS V5R4, then IBM is not just going to cut you off. If you scroll down to the bottom of the announcement letter, you will see a statement of direction that says this: “For clients that need additional time to migrate to a supported release of IBM i, IBM intends to announce a fee based extended service offering for the IBM i Version 5.4 Operating System. Hardware maintenance is not affected by this announcement.”
“The goal of the service extension program,” says Jarman, “is to give people an extra window, should they need it.” The extended support is consistent with what IBM already does with its AIX operating system. But it is not cheap. The extended support option for i5/OS V5R4 is expected to cost in the range of 1.7 times that which customers are paying now for SWMA for the vintage OS. IBM is making no promises on the price at this point, or how long extended support will be available, but the typical extended support contract in the industry is two to three years, yielding a lifespan of seven years or so for an operating system version.
One other thing you might find interesting. Just last week, commercial Linux distributor Red Hat added three years of life to its past Enterprise Linux 5 and current Enterprise Linux 6 operating system for precisely the reason why IBM has stretched SWMA support for i5/OS V5R4 over the past several years and is offering extended support: because that’s what customers are asking it to do. Under the new plan, RHEL 5 and 6 get five and a half years of regular support, then two years of gradually winding down support where, and then three years of extended support where you basically get bug fixes and security patches and nothing else.