Reading The IBM i Tea Leaves For 2020
January 6, 2020 Alex Woodie
When the calendar flipped over from 2019 last week, the IBM i platform began its fifth decade, an amazing feat of longevity in our current age of punctuated technological equilibrium. As we set out to foresee what may become of IBM i in 2020, we have a couple of avenues we can take.
On the one hand, we can try to guess what sorts of moves IBM will make with the platform. IBM isn’t in the habit of telegraphing its moves too far in advance, so this would be an act of speculation. On the other hand, we can look to the recent past and extrapolate that into the future to give us an indication of what may happen.
This is the approach that Pete Massiello, the president of iTech Solutions Group, took in a recent IBM i Year In Review webinar recorded in December. As an IBM business partner, Massiello is privy to what IBM is doing behind the scenes and is almost certainly under a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) regarding any beta tests that IBM may have going. But he’s also a midrange veteran and a capable observer of how IBM operates, and he was able to separate those two roles when discussing IBM i likelihoods in 2020.
“We know that Technology Refreshes are coming out, and it’s no secret when we talk about dates that the cadence has been every six months,” Massiello said in response to a question asked by his colleague, iTech Solutions account executive Laurie LeBlanc, during the webinar. “There’s no reason to believe that IBM would change that cadence, so you would expect six months from now, thereabout, we’ll see another Technology Refresh. That will have things for 7.3 and 7.4. No more 7.2 Technology Refreshes.”
IBM has stuck to a fairly regular schedule of making announcements, whether new releases of the operating system or Technology Refreshes, in April and October. Last April brought the release of IBM i version 7.4 and IBM i 7.3 TR6, while October brought the unveiling of IBM i 7.4 TR1 and 7.3 TR7. If that cadence holds – and there’s nothing to suggest that it will not – that would put us on track to see IBM i 7.4 TR2 and 7.3 TR8 in April and IBM i 7.4 TR3 and 7.3 TR9 in October.
Massiello provided some clues as to what we might see in those releases.
“There are some pretty cool things coming out, I know, in the next Technology Refresh, but I really can’t talk about specifics,” he said. “But I guess if we could say something, without being specific, I would say certainly look at what’s coming out in the open source world with IBM. I always think about IBM i now as being an incubator for open source languages. There are so many that are being brought to the platform, and I think you’re going to continue to see that. And I think you may even be surprised at some of the things you actually get to see ported to IBM i.”
He also offered this prediction for IBM i shops who are currently running IBM i version 7.1, which is currently in extended support that’s slated to end on April 30, 2021.
“My recommendation is to get off of 7.1,” he said. “The longer you stay on 7.1 the harder it is to get to 7.3 or 7.4. If you’re on 7.1 now, it doesn’t make sense to get to 7.2. You’re better off getting to 7.3.”
When it comes to servers, Massiello had some additional advice for IBM i professionals. We’re currently in the sweet spot of the Power9 lifecycle, and IBM i is holding its own in driving Power9 sales. But the Power9 chips are so powerful that they are overkill for many smaller IBM i shops, who will likely ride their Power7+ and Power8 servers as long as possible. “Unless you’re really pushing the hell out of the machine, Power9 is going to give you plenty of performance,” Massiello said.
Power6 and Power7 servers reached end of service on September 30, 2019, and IBM will no longer offer support for Power7+ at the end of 2020. End of support for Power8 has not yet been announced. With many folks in the IBM i community delaying hardware upgrades for so long, in some ways there’s no great rush to get to Power10. But it’s right around the corner, and IBM has a roadmap for Power11, too.
“You’re probably talking 2021 for a Power10 chip. That’s probably a fair estimate without any knowledge of what’s coming out,” Massiello said. “Power9 is here. It gives you a great jump over Power7 [and a 50 percent performance boost] over Power8. With Power10, you’re going to see a comparable jump.”
In the meantime, IBM faces a large number of IBM i customers who are running on unsupported hardware and unsupported versions of the operating system. Hard numbers are tough to come by, due to the nature of the situation. Suffice it to say, there are a fair number of Power5 machines still in the field, some of which are running i5/OS V5R4, such as the customer in the Northeast for whom that Massiello recently replaced failed RAM and disk drives. That’s an unacceptable risk, in his opinion.
“You run your company on an unsupported operating system on unsupported hardware, and if something goes wrong, you’re going to be on an unsupported job,” he said, “because I certainly wouldn’t put my butt on a line for something like that.”