There’s Always A New Last Laugh With Legacy
January 13, 2020 Timothy Prickett Morgan
On my bookshelf beside my desk is a shelf that has all of my relevant AS/400 books and copies of the first decade of The Four Hundred, back when it was a monthly newsletter printed on paper. Sometimes, when I get stuck for ideas, I page through my history and yours, and I am often amazed at the wealth of information that myself and my colleagues – as well as many, many sources – helps us to create. AS/400s were a lot more expensive than IBM i machines, and helping people save money was our primary mission, and there were a lot of ways to help.
The world is a different place one, two, and now three decades later. I happened to have pulled the 1996 editions of the newsletter off the shelf, and this was just when Windows NT Server was starting to take off in the midrange, driven first as a client/server compute tier and then by the use of cheap SQL Server databases as OLAP servers for doing ad hoc queries, which were too expensive to run on AS/400s themselves at the time.
Coming in the summer of 1996, Windows NT 4.0 Server was the first real usable Microsoft operating system in the midrange and its successors – Windows 2000 Server, and then Windows Server 2000, 2003, 2008, 2012, 2016, and now 2019 – have evolved considerably in the ensuing years. And like many of the venerable releases of OS/400, i5/OS, and IBM i, many of them have attained legacy status, meaning that they were widely deployed and well-regarded, and despite the end of service and many successive updates to the software, remain in the field.
This week, on January 14 to be precise, the two releases of Windows Server 2008, that being the original release from February 2008 and the R2 update that came out in October 2009 – yes, a decade ago – are being consigned to the Great Bitbucket In The Sky. No, we do not mean the Microsoft Azure public cloud. But rather the Big Blue Screen Of Death: support withdrawal.
We don’t have a lot of data, but two years ago, when Microsoft announced the impending end of support for the two Windows Server 2008 releases, one of the company’s top brass, Ned Pyle, who was the program manager for the high availability and storage group for Windows Server, said that Windows Server made up around 70 percent of all server instances and that Windows Server 2008 made up about 40 percent of that, which means Windows Server 2008 is 28 percent of the entire base. Assuming we were talking about enterprise servers only – not the half of the server installed base at the eight big hyperscalers, which with the exception of Microsoft, is dominated by Linux – then this is probably on the order of 6 million servers running one of the releases of Windows Server 2008. That is easily millions of customers, we think. So, now it is time that IBM i customers get a laugh at a fellow legacy application base.
But they are not laughing too hard, we think, because a very large number of IBM i shops are probably also some of the ones that also have Windows Server 2008 running on some of their X86 servers. And like customers using Windows 7, which is also getting the boot – or rather, the unboot – they better get a migration plan into place soon because security updates are going to stop this week.
Microsoft isn’t stupid, and it is offering Windows Server 2008 customers some carrots along with the support withdrawal stick. And Big Blue could learn a lesson or two from what Microsoft is doing and, frankly, what we have suggested that IBM itself do for OS/400, i5/OS, and IBM i customers on vintage releases for many years. Microsoft is, of course, encouraging customers to move to the new Windows Server 2019, which came out last October, but this may not be possible for all applications. More importantly, it is offering three years of extended support for Windows Server 2008 workloads if customers port their server instances from on-premises to the Azure public cloud. Microsoft is being super generous with extended support because this gives customers a little more time to get current on Windows Server 2019, which is useful for its business. Microsoft is also allowing customers to move their existing Windows Server 2008 licenses to Azure using a mix of Reserved and Hybrid Benefit instances on Azure, which cushions the economic blow of moving to the cloud.
Microsoft is no doubt also betting that customers will also move SQL Server and other workloads to Azure as well, and possibly also make use of other storage, analytics, and machine learning services available on Azure. Once customers move to Azure, they will be a lot more stuck on Microsoft’s cloud and a whole lot less likely to move to Amazon Web Services or Google Cloud or even IBM Cloud.
This is a good bet to make, and it is exactly the kind of thing we have been asking IBM to do for IBM i customers. But for the longest time, Big Blue did not have IBM i available running on Power Systems in its own cloud, as hard as it may be to believe, until last year. But it does have IBM i instances on the IBM Cloud now, and that means Big Blue can offer legacy support on the cloud to help customers get current. And if IBM doesn’t do this, then Skytap or Google or Connectria or UCG Technologies or someone else can do it, or companies like Blair Technology can help them sort it out. What we really need is for IBM to offer logical partitions that run vintage releases – V5R3, V5R4, and 6.1 – without modification of applications. This may take some engineering on IBM’s part, but that would get customers off old iron and onto the cloud and on the path to eventual currency with their operating systems and applications. It would be far better for IBM and its cloud partners in the IBM i base to make a little bit of money a month over a long term of years than to lose the IBM i customers to Windows Server or, far less frequently, Linux.
The way Microsoft is playing it, thanks to its partnership with Skytap, it will be able to offer shops with Windows Server 2008 on their X86 iron and IBM i for their mission critical applications a way to migrate the whole shebang to Azure. IBM can’t do that. And that probably doesn’t make any more sense to you than it does to us.