Technology Drives More OS Upgrades Than Deadline Pressures
June 10, 2013 Dan Burger
It is not like the just-opened valve on a fire hydrant, but the number of OS upgrades from i5/OS V5R4 to IBM i 6.1 and 7.1 is a steady stream of activity. Up at the enterprise level of the IBM midrange, this is old news. It’s unlikely any of those shops are still sitting on i5/OS V5R4. But in the small to midsize businesses, the OS upgrade activity buzzes along like tree cutters turned loose on 500 acres of forest. Technology marches on, finally.
There has been a lot of talk about the end of tech support for i5/OS V5R4 building a fire under shops to get the upgrade accomplished. And the program conversion process necessary to get beyond i5/OS V5R4 also has been credited with slowing the upgrade parade. But the biggest anchor has likely been the economy. All of these have had an effect. Progress, however, is back in business again.
A year from now there will still be a great number of IBM i shops remaining on i5/OS V5R4 and even older versions of the operating system. I wouldn’t be surprised if it is somewhere near 50 percent. They are still struggling with a recovering economy and a vastly different economic landscape increasingly dominated by mega-companies intent on crushing their smaller competitors. Those large enterprises are making technology investments that the small fries have delayed and are likely to continue to delay.
Look at the hustle and the energy, however. Consultants that specialize in OS upgrades are up to their eyeballs in projects.
Pete Massiello, owner of iTech Solutions Group, has 27 upgrade projects under way and that load has been pretty much constant since the beginning of the year. The pace is quicker than a year ago, but not by a great amount. Massiello estimates that more than three-quarters of the upgrades are the jump from i5/OS V5R4 to IBM i 7.1.
Doug Bidwell, on the other hand, has guided OS upgrades for many more businesses this year compared to last. That is not a true reflection of the IBM i community, he says. It has more to do with a new business partner relationship his company, DLB Associates, has established. But it does represent the IBM i community’s attentiveness and expanding fixation for moving forward with OS upgrade plans.
Randy Farnbach, an information technology and services expert and veteran of many OS upgrade projects, figures the amount of OS upgrades he has done in 2013 is up at least 20 percent compared to a year ago.
Farnbach believes technology is mostly responsible for getting companies interested in OS upgrades.
“Go back two or three years ago when we were working with SCSI-based disk drives,” he says. “You could buy new storage without updates to the system. Now we have gone from SCSI disk drives to SAS disk drives to SAS Gen-2 disk drives that have their own prerequisites from the OS level. Those types of things are driving people to do a lot of OS upgrades and updates all the time.”
Price/performance on external storage is getting very attractive, Farnbach says. And the Technology Refreshes are making it easier to integrate new technology into the system. It is one of the reasons people are doing more software upgrades.
“Our customers have been moving from V5R4 to 6.1 and 7.1 with very little resistance,” Farnbach says. “Probably 80 percent are moving to 7.1.”
The resistance that exists is monetary, Bidwell believes, and adds that there is no reason companies without the budget to upgrade can’t stay at i5/OS V5R4 for a while, he says.
“No one is worried about IBM’s support at V5R4,” Bidwell explains. “It has been out so long and the cume levels have been frozen–there are no bugs on V5R4. The only reason they are not staying there is because they are not on a tight budget. I think you will find a year from now, there will be a large number of AS/400s frozen at V5R4 for economic reasons. And they will not pay for continued support.”
Bidwell went on to say that in his view there is a stratification of IBM i shops based on the amount of money that is dedicated to IT.
“There’s an economic class involved with OS/400 and IBM i,” he says. “These are companies that had enough bucks to get started and maintain for a while, but not enough bucks to go forward until the economy turns around in their favor. That’s the lower class. The middle class has enough bucks for OS and software upgrades, but they are not going to upgrade hardware. The upper class can afford to upgrade software and hardware.”
Many times, Bidwell points out, the middle class has to be shown that they are paying maintenance on old hardware that is two or three times the cost of maintenance on new hardware. It sometimes changes the decision about not being able to afford new hardware.
For companies that have made the decision to upgrade to IBM i 6.1 or 7.1, the biggest obstacle confronts those that have dropped Software Maintenance (SWMA, in the IBM lingo). This can involve sorting out a long list of applications from multiple software vendors and updating individual software packages so they are compatible with 6.1 or 7.1 and also paying after-license maintenance costs to get back on maintenance for the IBM i platforms and the applications.
Massiello estimates 10 percent to 15 percent of the OS upgrade projects he sees involve out of date and unsupported versions of a third-party software.
“It can be a roadblock, a cement wall that stops you in your tracks,” he says. “We estimate it takes about three months to plan and complete the average V5R4 to 7.1 OS upgrade. That’s not three months of solid work. It’s three months of wall-clock time including meetings, analyses, finding the application objects that won’t convert, calling and doing the back and forth with the vendors–it just takes time. And if it involves software that is no longer supported, it pushes the amount of time it takes to do the upgrade well beyond three months. If it’s an ERP system and there are a lot of modifications, the new system has to be installed and the mods are retrofitted. It’s a huge project. This could be six months or more.”
Another aspect to this is that often the companies that have not stayed current on software and hardware have likely cut IT staff to the bone. Workers who wrote the code and have some understanding of it are gone. No one left on the staff has experience making software, OS, and hardware upgrades. Sometimes this has gone on for as much as ten years, Massiello says. This compounds the difficulty of an upgrade.