The Abacus IBM i Test Drive Gains Renewed Relevance
March 12, 2012 Timothy Prickett Morgan
Catching product transitions to conduct a little bit of new business is a tricky thing, and it is particularly difficult when the product transition that you are trying to take advantage of moves suddenly and unexpectedly. Just ask Abacus Solutions, which launched a virtual test drive service for IBM i 6.1 at the end of 2009 just as IBM was getting ready to stop selling i5/OS V5R4. And then Big Blue, at the request of customers facing the Great Recession, changed its mind and kept selling V5R4 a little longer.
The idea behind the test drive service was simple enough. IBM said in late January 2009 that it would stop selling its venerable i5/OS V5R4 operating system in January 2010. (Remember at the time that support for OS/400 V5R3 was sunsetting on April 30, 2009.) Many System i and Power Systems customers using V5R4 were facing the program conversion process necessary to make the jump to IBM i 6.1 and to take full advantage of the Power6 and Power6+ server iron underneath it. And the jump from V5R4 to 7.1 required the same program conversion. The expectation at the time was that IBM would offer standard support for V5R4 until the end of 2011, and maybe just a bit longer. IBM did not say at the time, leaving us all guessing.
Knowing that customers don’t have a lot of spare capacity around to do this program conversion and may not even know fully what would be involved in such a conversion, the techies at Abacus cooked up the IBM i 6.1 Upgrade 61-Day Virtual Test Drive , which launched in December 2009 and which allowed customers using the company’s disaster recovery replication services to pay a fee of $3,250 to restore applications and databases from OS/400 V5R2, OS/400 V5R3, and i5/OS V5R4 machines to a machine running in the Abacus data center running the i 6.1 operating system. Then, Abacus techies ran IBM’s Analyze Object Conversion tool from IBM, and create a roadmap document that shows whatever issues they have with the program conversion. Then, your own programmers can access this remote IBM i 6.1 instance machine through a virtual private network for 30 days, so they can even tweak the code as needed to be compatible with i 6.1, and Abacus could either spit out tapes that can be used to do the real upgrade on the real box or give them a full report to see the issues they face. Customers willing to come to Abacus facilities outside of Atlanta and talk about all of the other services the company offers could get the test drive service for a mere $2,000.
This all sounded like a very generous and helpful offer, and one that would be useful to many V5R3 and V5R4 shops. And then in November 2009, as V5R4 was set to be withdrawn from the IBM catalog in January 2010–and the IBM i 6.1 test drive would be increasingly relevant–IBM announced it had extended sales to January 2011. And a little more than a year later, in December 2010, IBM extended its sales of V5R4 again until May 27, 2011 and gave the impression that it was in no great hurry to end standard support for V5R4 with the economy still jittery. And that made the need to do a test drive less immediate.
IBM did stop selling V5R4 in May of last year, as promised, and now IBM has said the final date for standard support on V5R4 is September 30, 2013. And just to get the attention of customers, IBM told The Four Hundred that the extended support option for V5R4 would probably cost on the order of 1.7 times the cost of standard support for that release, so if you are thinking of stretching your use of that venerable release, you really need to start taking a look at IBM i 7.1.
And now is probably a good time to contact Abacus and do a test drive. The service is available for both IBM i 6.1 and 7.1, says Patrick Schutz, iSeries product manager at Abacus and a partner in the firm, and can be used to see what issues customers face as they move from OS/400 V5R2, OS/400 V5R3, i5/OS V5R4, and i5/OS V5R4M5. The service now costs $4,500 if customers do it remotely or $3,000 if customers make the trip to the Abacus offices. That is a bit more expensive than the deal was back when it was announced, of course, but Abacus has to balance its costs against the time and resources it allocates to the test drive.
“It’s not a money maker, but a trigger sale and a means to give customers confidence in both Abacus and their operating system upgrade,” explains Schutz. “It’s an artificially low price, in fact.”
To take part in the latest rev of the test drive, all you need to do is do an Option 21 from OS/400 or a full BRMS backup and send the tape to Abacus, which will restore it on a partition on one of its machines that closely approximates the CPW, memory, disk, and other capacities of the box you are running on. The Abacus techies go through the conversion process, documenting it and giving you an exact timeline of how long the conversion takes and what issues it will have. Once that is done and the conversion and upgrade report based on the data that Abacus gathers is put together, your programmers can VPN and monkey around with the system and tweak it to fix issues and see that the fixes work. If you want Abacus to encrypt the data on the system used during the conversion trial, that can be done for a nominal fee as well, and you can hire Abacus techies to do remediation as well.
To date, Abacus has done test drives for 25 unique OS/400 and i5/OS shops covering 40 different tests. Obviously, with V5R4 now officially having its standard support plug pulled 18 months from now, there will probably be increasing demand for the virtual test drive, so you might want to get at the front of the line now rather than be stuck waiting.
By the way, there’s one new twist with the test drive this time around. If you do happen to engage with Abacus (or its sister company, Xtend Consulting, which sells new and used servers of all makes and models, for other products or services in the wake of the test drive,) the company will apply that test drive fee as a credit.
“We think of this as a stepping stone to a much larger engagement with Abacus,” says Schutz.
By the way, if you do a test drive, at this point, it makes no sense to do a program conversion to IBM i 6.1, and in fact, IBM says that most customers with V5R4 are moving straight to the latest Technology Refresh of IBM i 7.1 these days. With a jump straight to IBM i 7.1, you’ll get several more years of standard support since this OS release is that much younger. And equally important, with the Technology Refresh coming out roughly twice a year to provide new function and hardware support for IBM i 7.1, you’ll be able to get current and keep current. IBM i 6.1 does not have the Technology Refresh mechanism.
You can find out more about the virtual test drive and contact Abacus here.