IBM i Upgrades Not All On The Same Path
September 15, 2014 Dan Burger
There are many IBM midrange shops that recognize the value of investing in and implementing the new capabilities in the IBM i operating system. Sometimes we lose sight of that because there’s no tidal wave of OS upgrades on the heels of major new releases. There never has been. It’s more like the steady flow of a river, which looks calm on the surface and belies the activity that goes unseen.
You can get a glimpse of that by talking with someone like Pete Massiello. His company, iTech Solutions Group, is on schedule to do 150 IBM i OS upgrades this year.
“Right now we have 29 OS upgrade projects under way,” Massiello says. “We keep track of them on a board in our office. They are all at different stages and our business is doing more than it ever has. We used to keep these projects on one board, now it takes two boards.”
Not everyone is upgrading to IBM i 7.2, which was released four months ago. The flow at this time, based on Massiello’s business, is mostly in the direction of i 7.1–an OS that was released in 2010. That’s an easier transition for most companies because their existing hardware allows that upgrade. At this point in time, the hardware requirements of IBM i 7.2 doesn’t mesh well with the boxes most companies have on hand.
“Most of our upgrades right now are going to 7.1, but every month it is shrinking as more move to 7.2,” he says. The biggest portion of those moving to 7.2 are already at 7.1, he says, although he encourages companies at 6.1 to upgrade to 7.2 as long as they can get there without a hardware upgrade.
A company running on a Power5 machine, as an example, would not have an upgrade path to IBM i 7.2, so the choice would logically be to upgrade to 7.1 TR 8 and move to 7.2 when the time was right to upgrade the hardware. Power8 hardware will not support IBM i 6.1.
IBM i business is good, Massiello says. His company is selling a lot of hardware–four machines last week is an example of that–and this heightened level of activity has been keeping the folks at iTech Solutions busier than expected.
“I thought that after September 2013 our OS upgrades would fall off,” Massiello told me on the phone last week. “I thought with most people moving off i5/OS V5R4–support was dropped in September 2014–things would slow down. At that time, iTech’s OS upgrade business was approximately 75 percent V5R4 to i 7.1. It never did. The number of shops on V5R4 has been reduced and we are doing a lot fewer upgrades from 5.4 than six months ago, but we continue to have upgrade business. And now that IBM has announced 6.1 will not be supported after September 2015, I think more people will be moving from 6.1 to 7.2.”
Back in May, at the COMMON Annual Meeting and Exposition, Alison Butterill, the IBM i product offering manager, told me IBM was shipping a lot more i 7.1 than 6.1. In fact, IBM was barely shipping any 6.1.
Regarding IBM’s decision to drop i 6.1 support a year from now, Massiello supports that timing.
“Rather than continuing to support 6.1,” he says, “I’d rather see IBM put its resources into 7.2 Technology Refreshes and into i 7.3–or whatever the next OS will be called. There’s a lot of time and energy put into supporting three releases of the operating system as opposed to two releases.
“Look at how long these releases have been out. V5R4 was released in January 2006; 6.1 came in January 2008. IBM i 6.1 is a six-year-old operating system. When IBM came out with 7.2 in May, support for 6.1 could have been pulled in September 2014. That would have been enough notice for companies to get their plans in place to move to 7.1 or 7.2. And 7.1 has been out four years already.”
When you take into account the number of OS releases IBM supports at any one time, you also take into account that, with the Technology Refresh incremental functionality program, the full releases will be less frequent than in the past.
Another effect of the TR program is that major OS releases should be more stable because it’s not such a large technology dump all at once. The reluctance of upgrading to brand new OS releases because the new functionality might still have bugs needing to be worked out should be diminished. In effect, there’s a longer test cycle now for new releases.
There were eight Technology Refreshes between the release of IBM i 7.1 and 7.2. There will be more Technology Refreshes for 7.1 going forward and there will be separate TRs for 7.2.
Getting back to those 29 OS upgrade projects that iTech has on the boards, Massiello says some of those will be completed in a month and others will be there for four or five months or longer. One has already been on the board for 18 months as the company has struggle with a combination of application issues and resource constraints.
The farther back you are on OS releases, the harder the upgrade becomes,” he says. “As time elapses, it becomes more complicated because there are more dependencies–meaning you have more things to upgrade and you find out more software that needs upgrading.
The shops that go off our board (upgrade completed) in a month keep their software current and are under maintenance. When the upgrades of other software are simpler, it makes the entire upgrade simpler. Instead of finding 15 pieces of software that needs upgrades, there are only two or three.”
IBM publishes PTFs that are needed before an upgrade and companies that have applied those also have a smoother upgrade. Those PTFs were created to fix things that other shops have run into in previous upgrades.
Some of the problems that companies experience during upgrades occur because upgrades come so infrequently, Massiello suggests. If you only do a task once every eight years, for instance, it’s not going to be as familiar and fresh in your mind as a task that you do three times a week.
That’s a big reason why iTech keeps busy doing upgrades.