IBM i 7.4 Rolled Out, And IBM i 7.3 Tech Refresh Rolled Up
April 24, 2019 Timothy Prickett Morgan
Every couple of years, we get a new release of the IBM i operating system from Big Blue, and it has been quite a number of years since we have seen a new version of the platform. But that’s alright, since IBM has its Technology Refresh mechanism for adding support for new hardware and for adding significant new software function to the platform without breaking release-level compatibility and therefore requiring customers to requalify their applications, or worse yet, be forced to port their applications to an updated operating system.
This new Technology Refresh approach has been a very good thing, and we are not eager to see a new version that causes everyone to stop innovating and port their code. Anything that can avoid that scenario is a good thing.
This week, IBM rolled out IBM i 7.4, the latest release, as well as IBM i 7.3 Technology Refresh 6, which adds many of the features of that are also in IBM i 7.4 into that older release, which came out in 2016. There is not a Technology Refresh for IBM i 7.2, not with a new release out. So from this point forward, IBM i 7.3 and 7.4 will get the refreshes and PTF patches will be available under extended support for IBM i 6.1 and 7.1, which went off normal support back in 2015 and 2018, respectively. IBM is only going to keep at most three releases active on regular support at any given time, although sometimes, if a release runs a bit late there might be a short time when only two releases are on regular support, as was the case briefly in late 2018 and early 2019. Here is a graphical representation of the release support coverage:
And here is the cadence of releases in the past five years, with placeholders for years hence where IBM iNext and IBM iNext+1 will be coming.
The releases are not tied to particular hardware, so the naming has not ever been consistent where the Power chip level and the operating system level had the same name, although that would be convenient. But the operating system versions and releases come out separately from processor and system releases, and this is a good thing even if it does violate our sense of symmetry.
We will be going through the details on Technology Refresh 6 for IBM i 7.3 as well as the new IBM i 7.4 releases in detail, but for now we can give you some of the highlights. IBM i 7.4 and its Db2 Mirror clustering add-on will be available on June 21, while IBM i 7.3 Technology Refresh 6 will come out on May 10. If you can’t wait for our analysis, IBM’s developerWorks site has supplemental information on IBM i 7.4 available here, and for IBM i 7.3 TR6 there. You can also dive into announcement letter 219-214 for the feeds and speeds on IBM i 7.4 and peruse announcement letter 219-213 for the initial details on IBM i 7.3 TR6. We are still chewing on all of this information, which came out yesterday, and also gathering up some more materials to do more complete coverage. Details about the Db2 Mirror feature of IBM i 7.4, which provides continuous availability through active-active clustering of a pair of Power Systems servers running IBM i, are provided here, by the way.
Speaking very generally, this cadence of enhancements, and the details of them, are aimed at the strategic directions that Big Blue has for the IBM i platform, and this is perhaps as important as the specific enhancements. Here is how Alison Butterill, the IBM i product offering manager for many years now, laid out those strategic directions to IBMers and business partners ahead of the launch this week:
These objectives are consistent with IBM’s overall goals as a company as well as for what can be reasonably expected to be attractive to customers running IBM i on Power Systems servers.
The trick for IBM is to find the right cadence for new releases, which usually require recertification of applications, given the needs of customers and third party software developers. According to Steve Will, IBM i chief architect, the independent software vendors think four years between releases is too slow, and customers think that a two-year cycle between releases is too fast, so with IBM i 7.4, IBM is splitting the difference and doing a release after three years.
Now everybody can complain equally.
In any event, stay tuned for more detailed coverage on these updates to the IBM i platform. We will be diving in.