Big Blue Provides Extended Support For IBM i 6.1
April 20, 2015 Timothy Prickett Morgan
Operating systems do not last forever, but they can and do go on for a long, long time in the corporate datacenter–at least the way operating systems, databases, and applications are configured in monolithic fashion these days. In other realms of corporate computing, companies are thinking about moving to lightweight software containers that wrap around microservices and heavier pieces of code, allowing for the operating system underneath the container to be updated without messing with the system and application code running in the container.
But most of us don’t live in that world and we are wrestling with monoliths and will probably be doing so until the turn of the next decade at the very least. And that means companies have to plan for the sunsetting of operating systems.
As The Four Hundred reported last September, IBM had planned to discontinue standard Software Maintenance, known as SWMA (pronounced “swamma” by IBMers), on IBM i 6.1 and the interim IBM i 6.1.1 on September 30 this year. IBM withdrew both of these releases from marketing on December 9, 2014. When IBM withdraws standard support, it generally offers an extended support contract, too. And in announcement letter 615-016, IBM has indeed announced that it will be providing extended support for these IBM i 6.1 and IBM i 6.1.1 releases. This is a global announcement, and each region had the same announcement. IBM i 6.1 has had a very, very long life indeed, and with extended support will have a little more than a decade of support from Big Blue after a three year extended support contract. This is about as long as the i5/OS V5R4 (sometimes called IBM i 5.4 or i5/OS 5.4) operating system was in the field, as you can see from the table below:
The extended support services are not precisely the same as SWMA. I was under the distinct impression that extended support does not include cumulative PTF updates and that is because IBM does not generate new bug fixes for releases that are outside of normal SWMA. But the announcement letter says very clearly: “New fixes. You get fixes for new problems.” So go figure. The other new bit (for me at least) is that IBM is offering sub-capacity pricing for the extended support service, so the fees will be prorated based on how many cores IBM i 6.1 and 6.1.1 are running on in a system with multiple releases running on logical partitions. Usage support–meaning you try to do something and it is not working right, or you need help figuring it out–is part of the service extension during normal business hours. IBM will not do new feature development on IBM i 6.1 or IBM i 6.1.1 as part of the extended support.
Just a reminder: Extended service covers the IBM i operating system release as well as the 45 or so other licensed program products (LPPs in IBMspeak) that are under the SWMA umbrella through the Power Systems division, and by the way, when marketing or tech support for an operating system is withdrawn, the software licenses and support services for these couple of dozen programs are also withdrawn.
When IBM announced extended support for IBM i 5.4, it said that it planned to charge a 70 percent premium over the cost of regular SWMA to get the extended support, but when it delivered the extended services for IBM i 5.4, it set the price at a 60 percent premium, which was a nice bit of savings. Extended support costs $2,080 per core on P05 machines to $11,200 on P30 and higher machines. Alison Butterill, product offering manager for IBM i, tells The Four Hundred that the price uplift is the same 60 percent for IBM i 6.1 and 6.1.1. The extended support contract can run for as little as 90 days and for as long as three years after the September 30 cutoff for regular SWMA.
IBM doesn’t provide numbers, but Butterill said that “a fair number of people” enrolled for the extended support for IBM i 5.4, but interestingly, quite a few of those people have since moved over to IBM i 6.1. The IBM i 5.4 base was quite a bit larger, but they needed a little more time to make the jump to IBM i 6.1. For extended support on IBM i 6.1 and 6.1.1, Butterill does not expect the volumes to be as high, mainly because there are lower technical hurdles jumping from IBM i 6.1 to IBM i 7.1, which came out in 2010, or IBM 7.2, which came out in 2014. The reason why many customers have not made the jump already from IBM i 6.1 comes down to certification of applications by a particular independent software vendor, or in some cases for homegrown applications. In other cases, some I/O or storage system that is supported with IBM i 6.1 is not supported with the IBM i 7.1 or IBM i 7.2 release, and customers want to wait until they upgrade that I/O or storage before they do the operating system jump. “For some of our very large customers, it can take them years to move over,” says Butterill.
At this point, the recommended jump for IBM i 6.1 shops is to the latest IBM i 7.2 release, provided of course that the underlying hardware and firmware is able to support the jump. If not, IBM i 7.1 might be the only jump customers can make. It all comes down to situations and customers are advised to get their hardware specs together and pour over the upgrade documents to make sure which OS upgrade is right for them. No matter what, it looks like IBM i 7.2 will be around for a number of years, getting Technology Refreshes to add functionality and supporting new hardware, so this is the easiest path. I wouldn’t expect an IBM i 7.3 or 8.1 release for some time, perhaps years. The four year stretch between IBM i 7.1 and IBM i 7.2 will probably not be normal, but it could be. A lot depends on how customers want to consume software upgrades and the changes IBM makes.
It is not clear how many customers are running IBM i 6.1 and 6.1.1. My guess last fall is that about 40,000 of the 160,000 unique machines in the OS/400, i5/OS, and IBM i installed base (my estimates, not IBM’s) are on modern releases. I reckoned that it was about half between IBM i 6.1 and 6.1.1 versus IBM i 7.1 and 7.2, or about 20,000 machines on the IBM i 6.1.X releases. A recent survey done for a market study performed by HelpSystems in conjunction with IT Jungle and Powerwire.eu, 23.6 percent of IBM i shops polled said they were on IBM i 6.1 and 62.8 percent said they were on IBM i 7.1. Just under a hair under 10 percent were on older releases, and 3.8 percent said they were on IBM i 7.2. I think these numbers show relative figures for those customers that are engaged and active–what I think of as the top 30,000 shops–but not for the base at large. But that is as much a hunch based on some old data as it is actual data.