IBM i 6.1 Upgrades: What’s In Your Box?
July 15, 2015 Dan Burger
With IBM’s official end of support for the IBM i 6.1 operating system coming up at the end of September, it’s natural to wonder what effect this will have on the IBM i community. It’s not exactly a long walk off a short pier for those organizations using 6.1 as their primary OS. The upgrade is uncomplicated. IBM has an extended support plan for the undecided. But what about the unsupported?
The winding down of 6.1 is certainly not going to stir up things like when this release was the freshest rose in the garden and support for V5R4 was withering. It was March 2008 when 6.1 began shipping and it was the beginning of a difficult time for IBM i shops. Most of us in the IBM i community remember 6.1 because it unleashed a gnarly permutation of the Technology-Independent Machine Interface (TIMI) that underpinned OS/400 and its follow-on versions of the operating system. That TIMI alteration allowed hardware upgrades while maintaining application compatibility across many hardware generations. But it required a recompilation that the installed base had not encountered since migrating from the System/38 to the AS/400 in 1988. The program conversion process was laborious for more than a few shops, particularly those that did not have their source code, and it kept many customers on OS/400 V5R4.
For one thing, the number of IBM i shops running 6.1 as end of support nears is a much smaller number than the log jam of shops running V5R4 as it lumbered toward end of support. Another factor is that the upgrade from 6.1 to 7.1 or 7.2 is relatively easy.
To get a better idea how this might all shake out in the final two months before support for 6.1 goes into overtime, IT Jungle talked with Jim Oberholtzer, CEO at Agile Technology Architects, an architectural and management consulting firm based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Oberholtzer has been a member of the COMMON user group for 19 years and has served on the COMMON Board of Directors.
“The majority of users will do the upgrade as part of the migration to the new hardware,” Oberholtzer says. “And the biggest reason is the cost of maintenance on the older hardware. I have a number of customers with Power5 and Power6 hardware and their three-year cycle of maintenance is coming due. The cost of upgrading to a Power8 is lower than the cost of the maintenance.”
That’s not a blanket statement, he says, because it depends on the amount of hardware that is hung on the box, but business partners are not having a hard time justifying Power8 upgrades based on the maintenance numbers.
The additional horsepower, which was not a particularly compelling factor in the past for a lot of IBM i shops that had plenty of performance (enough to do the job of multiple X86 servers), is becoming a compelling factor, Oberholtzer notes. One reason is the increase in Web-based applications that take more horsepower and memory to run. His example to make this point is an Infor customer that upgrades to Infor LX, the newest version of a manufacturing ERP package that was once known as MAPICS and was a green-screen-only application.
And speaking of green, Oberholtzer also counts the green side of upgrading as a factor. He references one of Agile Tech’s customers that is upgrading from Power6 to Power8 as an example. That shop went from almost 40U of equipment that used about 7,000 watts of power to 6U of equipment and about 1,800 watts.
“It doesn’t take a mathematician long to figure out that’s one whale of a lot cheaper to run,” he says. “And they are getting the increased horsepower that goes along with Power8.”
The impact of regulatory compliance is another reason OS upgrades are happening in a more timely fashion. Running unsupported software is a good way to draw the ire of compliance auditors–a time and money annoyance that is best avoided.
IBM has a pretty good idea where the IBM i installed base sits in terms of the percentage of shops running the different operating systems, but they don’t share that information. However, in the 2015 IBM i Marketplace Survey conducted by HelpSystems, we get the following numbers: 24 percent of those surveyed were running 6.1 as their primary operating system. The survey showed 63 percent were using 7.1 and 4 percent were using 7.2. And for the record, 7 percent were at V5R4 and 3 percent were pre-V5R4. This survey was based on information gathered in late 2014, so we can assume the number of shops running 7.1 and 7.2 have picked up since then, particularly 7.2.
Obviously, there are shops that will not be upgrading, but Oberholtzer puts them in the minority.
“If the box is coming to its end of life, because of a transition to another platform, there’s no reason to do the upgrade,” he notes. “And often they will not buy extended support. The existing OS is stable and runs well. They will see it as so stable they can afford to let it sit.
But that will come back to haunt them because almost all plans to get off the platform never happen. Somewhere along the line it is discovered that it is more costly to leave the platform than to stay. So not upgrading comes back to burn them.”
One shop Oberholtzer works with has been moving to the Windows platform for seven years.
“They are not any closer than they were seven years ago. And they’ve spent millions of dollars on Intel equipment, when $150,000 would have done it for the IBM i platform,” he says.
There are other reasons for customers to hold back from upgrading 6.1 to 7.1 or 7.2. Certification of applications by independent software vendors in some cases have not kept pace with the operating system and in other cases home grown apps are not compatible with releases newer than 6.1. In other cases, there are I/O or storage systems with support that remains at the IBM i 6.1 level.
But as Oberholtzer points out, what will drive OS upgrades from IBM i 6.1 to 7.1 and 7.2 will be the maintenance costs of the older boxes. When shops come face to face with a new hardware maintenance contract, almost all of them will buy a new box and IBM i 7.2 will be part of the deal.
IBM’s extended support for 6.1 will continue until September 30, 2018, which would bring support for 6.1 to more than 10 years from beginning to end.