Big Blue Moves Up Technology Refreshes For IBM i
August 6, 2018 Timothy Prickett Morgan
We knew that IBM was getting ready to flesh out the Power9 server lineup with the “Cumulus” processors for scale-up systems, used in machines that span from four to 16 sockets in a single system image, and we told you all about that last week for an announcement that is expected to come to pass on August 7. This is fitting with all of the rumors we heard at the beginning of the year, which expected the big iron to come in the third quarter.
Normally, we expect Technology Refresh updates for the current versions and releases of IBM i to be available in March and October each year, with the announcements coming a little before that time. For whatever reason, IBM has decided to break with this tradition here with the second update coming in 2018. The word on the street is that Technology Refresh 9 for IBM i 7.2 and Technology Refresh 5 for IBM i 7.3, the two currently supported releases of the follow-on to the OS/400 operating system that is 30 years old now.
Interestingly, IBM’s developerWorks technical website has had placeholders for both IBM i 7.2 TR9 and IBM i 7.3 TR5 since April 18, and the techies have just been waiting to post stuff there about all of the new features. These pages are blank as of the moment, but should be filled in sometime after next week.
Oddly enough, we have not heard much about what is in these two Technology Refreshes, but we expect the usual database and SQL enhancements to feature prominently, a smattering of open source add-ons and enhancements, and maybe some adjacent enhancements for the PowerVC implementation of OpenStack, the PowerSC security tools, and the PowerHA high availability software. We also guess that the new Power E980 will require these Technology Refreshes to run IBM i. We do not expect for Big Blue to support IBM i on the Power E950 midrange box, but this is perhaps the best machine for the midrange. (I will share some thoughts on this in a future issue.)
As far as I am concerned, it is far more interesting to contemplate what iNext and iNext +1 look like. As far as we know, the next full release of the software will be called IBM i 7.4, and we have heard of IBMers referring to it in that fashion, and frankly, it has been two years since IBM i 7.3 came out and we expected IBM i 7.4 to come out in October. The gap between IBM i 7.1 and IBM i 7.2, as the roadmap above shows, was twice as large, and we hope that resistance to upgrading is not somehow causing IBM to stretch out its release schedules. The Technology Refreshes allow IBM to add new functions on all current releases, so it doesn’t make much of a difference. But we don’t want to get into a situation where IBM is supporting four releases instead of two or three, and customers get stagnated. This hurts the base, and it hurts the business.
We also wonder when there will be a new version of the IBM i platform, which should signify a more dramatic change in the software than even a bunch of Technology Refreshes strung together. OS/400 V3R7 and V4R4 represented big changes – the first one the move from CISC to RISC processors, the latter one added server virtualization way ahead of other platforms – and so did IBM i 6.1. We think that IBM i 8.1 should be a different kind of platform, one that signifies the future. But it is hard for us to imagine what Big Blue imagines that future might be except for the kind of incremental changes it has been making in the past eight years. We appreciate that IBM keeps adding features, but it is not creating the next OS/400. We have spoken many times about what a new and different OS/400 of the future might look like, but IBM seems uninclined to go in these directions – embedding machine learning and GPU accelerated databases and analytics, moving to true in-memory performance, things like that. IBM seems perfectly happy to be a member of the Linux community, doing its part, and letting Google, Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft, and a bunch of other hyperscalers determine the future of data processing.
It is odd, when you think about it.
That said, we are grateful that IBM is still supporting IBM i, on behalf of its 125,000 customers who are also our customers. It sure beats how HP 3000 and Itanium and DEC VAX and Alpha system customers were treated, that is for damned sure.