IBM i Tech Refresh Coming This Spring
February 20, 2012 Timothy Prickett Morgan
If this were a normal and historical operating system update for OS/400 or i5/OS, this lead story in The Four Hundred would be talking about how AS/400 and iSeries shops would have to brace themselves for a new operating system version that is coming out. But as it turns out, IBM‘s new Technology Refresh approach to sliding in new features and hardware support for IBM i is a lot less dramatic.
That doesn’t mean Technology Refreshes, of which we have had three in the past year and a half or so, are unimportant. You can be important without being dramatic, and in fact, this is a better way to be if you think about it. No one wants a drama queen, particularly when it comes to enterprise-grade, mission-critical operating systems.
This reminds me of something I talked about last May when going over the Technology Refresh methodology that IBM is using to update IBM i 7.1. The Technology Refresh for IBM i is similar to the Technology Release interim release method that AIX has used for years, but with one big difference. IBM Technology Refreshes are cumulative, meaning TR3 has all the functionality of TR2 and TR1 packaged into it, and that the future TR4 we are hearing about will have any new functionality as well as everything that was in TR3, TR2, and TR1. AIX Technology Releases (not Refreshes) are sequential, which means customers can apply them individually and have to apply them sequentially to build the most current release. AIX shops are way jumpier about applying patches, I guess.
Anyway, the word on the street is that Big Blue is crafting another Technology Refresh for IBM i 7.1 and is fixing to have it come to market sometime around April or May. Sources familiar with IBM’s plans were not any more specific than that, and this may be due to the fact that IBM itself may at this point not be sure of the schedule.
My sources are also not certain what features are going to be in this Technology Refresh. It could possibly include the live migration feature for logical partitions running IBM i that I told you about last week, but I have a feeling–and at this point it is no more than a feeling–that this feature will be part of a Technology Refresh later this year, quite possibly one that comes out in conjunction with Power7+ servers, which I expect in the second half of this year. If I were IBM and I wanted to help sell new iron, I would restrict live migration to Power7 and Power7+ machines running IBM i 7.1 TR4. (Actually, if I were IBM and I wanted to sell new iron, I would have done a whole lot of different things, including having live migration for IBM i LPARs out the door a long time ago. But that is literally a different story.)
If I were working on IBM i 7.1, I would do a few other things, too. First, I would get the number of threads that the IBM i kernel can address in a single system image up on parity with AIX and Linux. When the Power7 systems first came out in February 2010, IBM i 7.1 could only scale across 32 cores and 128 threads and needed a special PTF patch to scale to 64 cores and 256 threads. AIX 6.1 had an upper limit of 64 cores and 256 threads while AIX 7.1 could span the full-on 256 cores and 1,024 threads on a Power 795 machine. Ditto for SUSE Linux Enterprise 11 and Red Hat Enterprise Linux 6, which can span 256 cores and 1,024 threads.
I expect a slew of enhancements with storage subsystems in any IBM i Technology Refresh, mainly because there is so much going on in the storage front these days. There are always new controllers coming out, and IBM just put PCI-Express 2.0 peripherals slots into Power 7XX Gen 2 machines last October. There is, without a doubt, always a need to improve the integration of flash storage with IBM i workloads, particularly with DB2 for i databases. Moreover, IBM’s most advanced storage arrays, the XIV clustered file systems and the Storwize V7000 hybrid block-and-file storage system, are the kind of things that midrange and high-end IBM i shops want to use and smoothing integration with AIX, Linux, and IBM i has to be a priority for Big Blue. Not everyone can cope with Virtual I/O Server, which is used to virtualize I/O for many IBM high-end disk subsystems, and it would be interesting to see IBM provide native drivers for IBM i 7.1 for these advanced disk systems. I don’t expect Big Blue to go that far, but it is a no-brainer for better integration to come out.
I would also not be surprised if IBM i 7.1 TR4 had, buried in its guts, interim support for whatever the Power7+ chips are and their related systems, giving a select handful of customers a chance to test the new iron. This is how the Unix and Linux crowd supports future iron for testing purposes, and I see no reason for IBM i 7.1 to be any different. If we dig real deep into this future TR4, we might find out a thing or two about future iron.
And finally, it is probably not too much of a stretch of the imagination for IBM to have some kind of patching for Client Access to allow for the testing of Microsoft’s Windows 8 desktop operating system running in conjunction with IBM i 7.1. Windows 8 came out in a developer preview last September and goes into beta at the end of February, but thus far, Microsoft has not committed on a launch date for the operating system. And Microsoft is hardly talking about Windows 8 Server at all.