IBM Further Extends Service Extension For IBM i 7.1
October 5, 2020 Timothy Prickett Morgan
Some operating system releases are like Clint Eastwood, and some are like George Burns. And, may Clint Eastwood make it to 100 like George Burns did, now that we think about it. (He’s 9/10ths of the way there.) We don’t mind the word “legacy” as much as some folks, and use the term “vintage” and “heritage” to express the idea less pejoratively and without the negative connotations and baggage.
I don’t go on LinkedIn all that often, and usually only to connect with people I want to interview or have interviewed, but last week when I logged in, I saw in my feed some commentary running started by our colleague Joe Hertvik, our former Admin Alert editor, about how just because a platform has an evolutionary history does not mean it is legacy. To which I quipped – and you have to remember I am a man of a certain age here, with kids who are 21, 19, 13, and 2 – in reply: “It’s never about how old you are. It’s always about what you can still do – and don’t have to do.”
This applies equally well to people as it does to operating systems. In the case of being a man of a certain age, I don’t have to put up with nonsense and I can speak my mind if I speak responsibly, and yet I still feel pretty young and frankly am in better shape than I have been in a long time thanks to hard, physical labor on my property here in western North Carolina. And in the case of IBM i, a so-called legacy operating system indeed, it is amazing the number of things the operating system takes care of that means it takes fewer people to get things done and it is amazing all of the capabilities that are continually added to the system.
But, sooner or later, because of the laws of economics, no vendor can support an operating system forever. But this is also not a desktop or laptop, but an enterprise application platform, and sometimes, moving forward is not easy. And that means that companies usually have at least ten years of support – five years for full support and five years for extended support where there’s some security and bug fixes but no new features. With some of the operating systems, the support is even longer. In fact, the time an OS/400 or IBM i release has been sold and supported has been increasing, and the longevity of these platforms is being extended because of the difficulty of moving and because, quite frankly, companies have more computing capacity than they know what to do with, at least compared to the first five years of the AS/400 line and certainly compared to the entire lifetime of the System/38.
Take a look:
As you can see in the table above, the number of days from the general availability between general availability and the end of marketing has been trending up and so has the time from general availability to end of regular support. And when IBM started tacking on extended support, it got way up there. And IBM i 7.1, which was launched on April 13, 2010, was the longest supported release of any IBM i midrange platform in the history of the AS/400 and its progeny. And that was before IBM just extended its extended support by another two years, which Big Blue will explain tomorrow it is doing on its traditional Announcement Tuesday.
Before now, IBM i 7.1 had regular support for 2,929 days, against an average of 1,436 days across 25 releases since June 1988 when the AS/400 was launched. In the early years, before OS/400 V5R4, the average was 1,143 days and after that it has been 2,755 days. Including now five years of extended support, IBM i 7.1 will have coverage for a whopping 4,755 days. That will be 37.3 percent of the 12,731 days from June 21, 1988, when the AS/400 was launched, through April 30, 2023, when IBM i 7.1 will, we think, be finally sunsetted.
So why give IBM i 7.1 another two years? “We have a number of clients who have not yet moved for a variety of reasons,” explains Alison Butterill, IBM i offering manager at IBM. “Some of the reasons for customers staying with IBM i 7.1 are due to applications, some are due to support for peripheral devices they need. And we made the decision to extend the service for two more years.”
We think that there are plenty of customers who cannot move beyond IBM i 7.1 because they are off maintenance and so are their applications. Some may have their applications off maintenance even if they have hardware and software maintenance on their IBM i platform. Paying the after-license fees for all of this software is not cheap for a lot of customers, and doing it during this economic climate is not a good idea. In fact, it will compel a lot of customers to fall off maintenance next year, and in a sense, Big Blue extending support for IBM i 7.1 is a kind of leading indicator for what the company thinks the near-term economic conditions will be for the manufacturers, distributors, retailers, insurers, banks, hotels, casinos, and transportation companies who make up the IBM i base. Meaning: Not all that good. So IBM is giving them a break so they don’t have to try to upgrade between now and April 2021.
But it is even more insidious than that. More than a few software companies that we have heard about with niche products that serve very specific governmental and academic institutions or other niches don’t have the money or people to port their code from IBM i 7.1 to modern releases. And there are a bunch that are stuck at even earlier releases. In these cases, there is no way to run this code safely if it has not been brought forward and tested, and in cases where the source code is missing – plenty of small software companies just went out of business – this is not possible at all.
To which I say what I have been saying for years: IBM i needs to have logical partitions that can run earlier releases all the way back to OS/400 V5R3 if necessary. IBM would need to create a hardware emulator to make it look like earlier Power5 or Power6 processors, but this is not impossible. And there is plenty of extra computing capacity to do this in a modern Power9 or Power10 processor even with a terrible emulation efficiency.
There is one caveat with the extended extended support for IBM i 7.1. With normal extended support, IBM covers usage issues – meaning you try to use a feature and you can’t get it to work right, or something starts acting weird – as well as helping customers deal with known defects. IBM also entertains the idea of patches to new defects. It doesn’t guarantee it will patch all new defects that are found, and that is an important distinction. (So, for instance, two weeks ago, IBM issued HIPER and Java PTF patches for IBM i 7.1.) With the extended extended support between April 30, 2021 and April 30, 2023, IBM will not entertain fixing new defects. So it is really extended but slightly diminished support. The price for this extra extended support will not go down, however, and that will be twice the price of regular Software Maintenance (SWMA) for any given machine.
We don’t have the announcement letter for the statement of direction for the extended extended support for IBM i 7.1, but when it is available we will link to it here and provide any other necessary commentary.
Just a reminder we always make when talking about extended support: The hardware maintenance associated with Power Systems and earlier System i, iSeries, and AS/400 iron is unaffected by the withdrawal of support for this or any other IBM i or OS/400 operating system release. IBM is happy to make money maintaining hardware, 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.