IBM i 7.1 Extended Out To 2024 And Up To The IBM Cloud
March 1, 2021 Timothy Prickett Morgan
In case you have not figured it out, Big Blue has finally figured out that IBM i 7.1 is a wall that a lot of customers can’t get over. Which is something we have been saying for a long time. And to IBM’s credit, it is doing something about it. A bunch of things, as it turns out, and as part of the February 23 announcements last week, IBM did a few more things that will increase the long-term viability of this release.
IBM i 7.1 went off regular support back on April 30, 2018, which was almost three years ago and eight years after the operating system release first came to market on Power7 machinery. Back in October 2020, IBM offered extended extended support on IBM i 7.1 that went from May 1, 2018 until April 30, 2023. And a month later, IBM truly revived IBM i 7.1 by allowing it to run on Power9-based machinery. IBM i 7.1 was backcast to run all the way back to Power5 iron, which dates from 2005 and ran on Power5+, Power6, Power6+, Power7, Power7+, and Power8 iron but was never certified to run on Power9. Not for any technical reason, but for economic ones: IBM didn’t want to spend money on IBM i 7.1 (any more than any other operating system vendor wants to support more than two or three commercial releases/versions) and also wanted the lack of support for IBM i 7.1 to encourage customers to get on current operating systems and hardware releases.
This, however, is not possible for a lot of companies running IBM i applications, and they are stuck, for a variety of reasons, on old operating systems. But that doesn’t mean they have to be stuck on old iron, too.
As we have talked about before, service extension provides a limited kind of support that IBM i 7.2, IBM i 7.3, and IBM i 7.4 do not have. Let’s be precise because this is important. 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. Last fall, for instance, IBM issued HIPER and Java PTF patches for IBM i 7.1, which was unexpected but clearly necessary. With the extended extended support between April 30, 2021 and as far out as April 30, 2024, 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.
In announcement letter 221-100, IBM is doing a few things. First, it is tweaking and staggering the support for IBM i 7.1, stretching out support for running IBM i 7.1 on Power9 iron and contracting it back on Power8 and earlier iron, as shown here:
- Service is extended on the Power9 servers that support IBM i 7.1 and in Power Systems Virtual Server through April 30, 2024.
- Service is extended on Power8 servers through April 30, 2022.
- Service is extended on Power7 and Power7+ and earlier servers through December 31, 2021.
Again, this extended support is just for usage and known defect support. This extended extended support goes into effect on May 1, 2021.
In addition to offering IBM i 7.1 on Power9 servers on premises, IBM is also offering support for IBM i 7.1 on its Power Systems Virtual Server cloud slices, which are based on Power S922 (Power9), Power E880 (Power8), and Power E980 (Power9) servers. Up until now, if you wanted to run Power slices on the IBM Cloud, you had to have IBM i 7.2 or later. Similarly, now IBM i 7.1 slices can be added to Power Enterprise Pools 2.0 fluid OS instance pools, and up until now, you had to be on IBM i 7.2 or later to use this OS in the pool.
IBM could just go all the way and just completely reconstitute IBM i 7.1 and truly support it. As it is, there are limitations to how Power9 machine can support IBM i 7.1 that have to be taken into consideration by customers. We went into the details of these limitations back in November last year, but they bear repeating in condensed form. First, the I/O in the Power9 machines running IBM i 7.1 have to be using the Virtual I/O Server, which is used to virtualize the I/O between the IBM i 7.1 operating system and the PowerVM server virtualization hypervisor. My presumption is that many of the drivers for Power9 peripherals as well as for the processor itself are not inherent in the IBM i 7.1 operating system and hence this requirement. Second, IBM also says in the announcement that the IBM i partitions running IBM i 7.1 on the Power9 machinery have to be running in restricted I/O mode. The timings with the Power9 machines are not precisely aligned with what IBM i 7.1 expects, and we think because the Power7 servers where IBM i 7.1 first debuted were running a mix of PCI-X and PCI-Express 1.0 slots, and those older Power5 through Power6+ servers that were also able to run this release were using even older peripheral speeds.
If IBM is going through all of this trouble, the fact that IBM is extending the life of IBM i 7.1, even if it is somewhat hampered in the way it runs, tells us there is a big problem. Clearly, some IBM i 7.1 shops cannot move their application software ahead. They may have written their own code in a manner that is not compatible with modern releases and have lost their observability templates, the bit of intermediate code that allows for RPG and COBOL applications compiled for earlier Power hardware to be recompiled on the fly the first time they run on newer Power iron. Or perhaps they do not have the source code to their applications so they can recompile, and in many cases that is because their software supplier has gone out of business or they have lost their own source code. Or, they have been off maintenance with a third-party application supplier for so long that they cannot afford the back software maintenance fees on their old release so they can get a newer and fully supported application release that also works on Power9 iron. Or, they just don’t have money to do hardware upgrades and software upgrades at the same time.
Whatever the reason is, IBM is giving IBM i 7.1 customers a breather. And this is a good thing.