Say Sayonara To IBM i 7.1 Next Spring
May 22, 2017 Timothy Prickett Morgan
We sometimes think that the IBM announcement system tries to pull a fast one on us. Like many people in this market, we watch this system like a hawk, looking for anything pertinent to Power Systems or IBM i. A very important announcement was made on April 11, well ahead of the COMMON user group meeting in Orlando, Florida, two weeks ago, but no one we know saw it. A business partner saw it late last week and alerted us to it.
In announcement letter 917-080, Big Blue announced the date when IBM i 7.1 will see its software withdrawal and support discontinued. That date is April 30, 2018. As always, the hardware maintenance associated with Power Systems and earlier System i, iSeries, and AS/400 is unaffected by the withdrawal of support for this or any other IBM i or OS/400 operating system release. IBM is always happy to take money to maintain a machine, but like other operating system suppliers, it puts an end date on support for the software because it cannot keep experts at hand to support old stuff when new stuff – in this case, iNext or what many are calling IBM i 8.1 – is around the corner.
IBM i 7.1 is the longest supported release of any IBM i midrange platform in the history of the AS/400 and its progeny, so IBM cannot be accused of cutting its life short. IBM i 7.1 was launched on April 13, 2010, and it shipped ten days later. IBM said on April 11 that it would stop selling IBM i 7.1 on September 30 of this year and that support for this release would end on April 30, 2018.
You can see the official IBM i support lifecycle and upgrade planning page here, and I have built my own table calculating the time between the phases for each version and release based on this and other data, which you can see here:
As you can see, the time lag between the announcement and delivery of OS/400 and IBM i releases has been shrinking even, and the lifespan of releases has been stretching out. In the 2000s, this lengthening was due to a slowdown in sales of the platform and the maturity of the software stack, but with recent releases, thanks to the Technology Refresh update process, a release of IBM i has lived longer because it was designed to be updated. This made both Big Blue and its IBM i customers happy. But eventually, every long road comes to an end.
A few reminders. First, when support is shut down for any IBM i release, all of the licensed program products affiliated with that release is also withdrawn, and the Program Service Extension (PSE) supplemental, fee-based service that is available also covers these elements that are associated with an IBM i release.
As has been the case for the past several versions and their releases of OS/400 and IBM i, IBM is offering PSE, extended support contracts to customers who need to support IBM i 7.1 beyond that April 30, 2018 cutoff date. This support is generally quite a bit more expensive than Software Maintenance contracts on supported IBM i releases – it was a 60 percent premium for PSE on IBM i 5.4 (also known as V5R4) and IBM i 6.1 and 6.1.1.
The extended support services are not precisely the same as Software Maintenance (SWMA). I am still not clear if this extended support includes cumulative PTF updates and that is because I have been told that IBM does not generate new bug fixes for releases that are outside of normal SWMA. But the announcement letters in the past have sometimes said there are new fixes to new problems under PSE. IBM has, since IBM i 6.1, offered sub-capacity pricing for PSE, so the fees will be prorated based on how many cores IBM i 7.1 is running on in a system if you have 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 PSE during normal business hours. IBM will not do new feature development on IBM i 7.1 as part of PSE.
Based on the latest IBM i marketplace survey put together by HelpSystems with the assistance of IT Jungle, about half of the companies that took the survey were at the 7.1 release level, down from about two thirds in the 2016 edition. Companies were moving up to 7.2, which came out in 2014, and just starting to move up to 7.3, which came out in 2016.
Customers with IBM i 5.4 – and there still are some out there, despite the low counts in the data compiled by HelpSystems – had been encouraged to move to IBM i 7.1 because of the relative ease of that jump compared with going to 7.2 or 7.3. No one is moving to IBM i 6.1 at this point, since its maintenance was withdrawn in September 2015. No such move is easy, but a lot of companies – and their application and tool software vendors – will have a little less than a year to come up with a plan to move from IBM i 7.1 to 7.2, 7.3, or 8.1.
There is one other thing to consider if you are on IBM i 7.1, as many of you are. As Doug Bidwell, the techie behind the IBM i PTF Guide, pointed out earlier this year, if you are currently at Tech Refresh 9 or earlier, you have to “slip the LIC,” short for updating the licensed internal code, before applying the latest cumulative PTF updates to your system, and this process is just as arduous as just doing an upgrade to IBM i 7.2. You might as well just got to IBM i 7.2 and buy yourself some more time.
It would be convenient, of course, if there was a direct jump IBM i 7.1 to 8.1, and one that did not require a move to Power9 iron. But we have no idea if this is the plan. If I were Big Blue, I would be finding a way to encourage customers to make such a move en masse, and working to give them incentives to make such jumps to new software and new hardware to boost revenues and get the base current.