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A Recap of IBM Think 2023

IBM held its Think 2023 conference in Orlando, Florida, last week, where it was announced that the company is celebrating the 35th anniversary of IBM i by reaffirming its commitment to the legacy Power server-based operating system, expanding its functionality with Technology Refreshes and offering new subscription licensing options.

In a recent call with industry analysts, IBM executives announced a series of IBM i Technology Refreshes, new management and system interface capabilities, updates for the IBM i 7.5 TR2 and 7.4 TR8 and RDi 9.8. They also unveiled several new and enhanced IBM i services—the method to gain access to IBM i objects and system information.

During the call, Steve Will, chief architect and CTO of the IBM i operating system; Steve Sibley, IBM vice president of Power Systems offering management; and Dan Sundt, IBM i product manager, IBM Infrastructure; all emphasized that the installed customer base continues to thrive. IBM’s ongoing commitment to support the IBM i OS running on its line of Power servers is unwavering, they say.

The messaging and roadmap around the IBM i reflects the computer giant’s overarching strategy and the pillars for all of its 2023 offerings: hybrid cloud, AI, sustainability, security and focusing more on business outcomes rather than just IT.

“The IBM i installed base remains strong and continues to grow. IBM has very broad ISV support and certification for the platform. Our roadmap continues into 2032 and beyond,” Will says. Big Blue releases a new operating system level about every two to three years. In between new operating system levels, IBM releases Technology Refreshes (TRs) to support new hardware features and ease the burden of IT administrators always chasing new OS levels, which is hard on change control teams.

“Each major IBM i release will be supported for seven to eight years,” Will and Sundt say, with extended support continuing for another three years. “The next release after 7.5 will have a lifecycle well into the 2030s—so there is a long future to the platform,” Will adds.

Announcement Highlights

Individually and collectively, the latest IBM i Technology Refreshes and IBM i Services all incorporate new and enhanced functions designed to make life easier for enterprise customers and IT administrators when interacting with their systems and environments.

Specifically, the latest IBM i 7.5 Technology Refreshes (TR2 and 7.4 TR8) and IBM Navigator for i contain new features that augment corporate customers’ and IT administrators’ ability to access, manage and monitor their environments. These expanded functions provide IT administrators with additional information not available in previous versions along with some features missing in Heritage Navigator, according to IBM.

IBM also enhanced Merlin, a modernization and application development tool, by offering customers the option for subscription licensing. Additionally, developers and third-party ISVs that build applications on IBM i using Merlin can access automated conversion of fixed-format to free-format report programming generator (RPG) and built-in security. The developers also gain access to Git, Jenkins and other modern development tools for faster provisioning, modernized apps, reduced time to market and a single pipeline for DevOps.

Other IBM i-related upgrades include:

  • Big Blue is expanding its usage models and adding a one-to-five year subscription model to its perpetual license for the Merlin application development tool for Linux.
  • The IBM i Remote System Explorer API is a new interface that enables customers to work with various components on their host system.
  • IBM also added software data compression capabilities for all existing Save/Restore interfaces that already support compression for save files and optical devices. Will and Sundt say this feature is particularly useful for cloud configurations where physical tape was previously not an option. Non-configured logical disk units can also now be completely removed without an IPL.
  • The IBM i Access Client Solutions has been updated to provide significant value for database engineers by improving the usability of SQL for day-to-day operations. These enhancements are valuable for general system users as well. These come in the form of enhancements on using SQL scripts for system management capabilities.

IBM Bolsters i Services

IBM also released several new IBM i services that leverage the power of SQL and the IBM Db2 for i SQE, according to Will. This gives application developers, database engineers and system managers “a smooth path to explore IBM i objects and data in ways that were not possible with previous technologies,” Will says.

The latest IBM i services are:

  • The DNS_LOOKUP_IP is a new scalar function that accepts an Internet Protocol (IP) version 4 (v4) or IPv6 formatted IP address and returns the corresponding host name.
  • The NETWORK_ATTRIBUTE_INFO is a new view that returns a single row containing information about the network attributes of the system. The information returned is similar to the detail available through the Display Network Attributes (DSPNETA) CL command and the Retrieve Network Attributes (RTVNETA) CL command.
  • The new The SAVE_FILE_INFO view, SAVE_FILE_OBJECTS table function and SAVE_FILE_OBJECTS view all return information about save files. The information returned is similar to the detail available through the Display Save File (DSPSAVF) CL command.
  • IBM enhanced the PTF_INFO, the original SQL service, to include an additional column to enable the product option to be returned.

IBM’s most recent IBM i upgrades come just two months after the Armonk, New York-based tech giant released upgrades for its Power10 servers that also targeted Big Blue’s small and midsized business (SMB) customers. In February, IBM released updates for the Power suite that included a subscription option for the Merlin modernization tool, live partition mobility for the entire Power10 portfolio and scalable 2-to-6 terabyte (TB) bundles for SAP Hana running on Power10. Corporations that choose this option can expect to pay approximately $20,000 a TB depending on configurations, according to IBM’s Sibley.

IBM i OS Links Legacy Technology to Cloud, Advanced Security and AI

Throughout the last decade, IBM focused on ensuring integrated platform and workloads work in the cloud. “The IBM i on Power servers scales from the lowest to the highest configurations without suffering any [negative performance] changes. We pride ourselves on being innovative and integrated,” Will says.

IBM’s Will and Sundt underscored that cloud offering options for the IBM i and other Power server operating system platforms continues to grow. To support this growth, IBM Power Virtual Server announced a 16th datacenter, called DAL10, located in Dallas, Texas.

The workhorse IBM i has long been a staple of IBM’s product offerings for SMBs. Originally introduced in 1988 as the OS/400, it was the singular operating system of IBM’s line of midrange AS/400 servers. In 2004, IBM changed the name to i5/OS before renaming it again to its current nomenclature, IBM i, in 2008.

The IBM i OS runs on all the Power platforms and is currently in use in 115 countries worldwide and IBM executives say it has “thousands of SMB and midsize enterprise corporate customers.

“The IBM i is truly an integrated application platform. We provide a full enterprise stack and we’ve doubled the number of IBM i clients in the last 10 years,” Will says. “It provides customers with low total cost of ownership (TCO) and accelerated return on investment (ROI). The IBM i running on Power servers is simple, powerful and highly reliable.”

Will notes that even as the IBM i evolves to embrace and utilize new technologies like cloud and AI, “it still supports proven applications written over 30 years ago, running critical business processes at organizations in every industry around the world.”

Analysts, Corporate Customers Weigh In

IBM’s ongoing support for IBM i running on its Power servers is well justified according to industry analysts.
A new survey by Fortra, LLC a provider of information technology management software, cybersecurity and services based in Eden Prarie, Minnesota, found that continuing strong support for the IBM i OS running on Power hardware—particularly the latest Power10 server line.

Fortra’s ninth annual 2023 IBM i Marketplace Survey polled 300 IBM i users worldwide. Two-thirds, 66%, of survey respondents said their firms plan to upgrade hardware, software or both in 2023; up 5% from last year’s poll.
The survey also found that 70% of respondents use IBM i to run more than half of their core business applications, says Tom Huntington, executive vice president of technical solutions at Fortra, who authored the 2023 IBM i Marketplace Survey and Report. “This is a testament to the reliability of the IBM i system. Only 4% of respondents expect to have migrated all apps off IBM i within the next two years,” Huntington adds.

Fortra’s IBM i Marketplace Survey unsurprisingly revealed that security, reliability and modernization topped the list of corporate customer business challenges and concerns.

The IBM i, along with Linux and AIX running on Power servers, is and has been the most reliable mainstream server platform for the past 14 years, according to the ITIC 2022 -2023 Global Server Hardware, Server OS Reliability Survey, which polled more than 1,600 customers worldwide in January 2023. ITIC’s latest survey data found that the IBM i (along with AIX and Red Hat Enterprise Linux) running on Power10 servers experienced just one minute of unplanned per server annual downtime.

That is the best reliability and uptime score among over 15 competing server hardware and server OS platforms. Only the IBM Z mainframe achieved better reliability results.

The high reliability of the IBM i OS running on Power servers translates into the lowest total cost of ownership (TCO) and the fastest return on investment (ROI) of all mainstream server hardware and server OS platforms. For example, assuming that a single hour of per server downtime costs a business $100,000 an hour, businesses using IBM i running on the POWER9 or Power10 servers, which experience only one minute of per server annual downtime, would only incur downtime costs of $1,670 for each server. By contrast, SMBs that use rival x86 platforms like Inspur, with 11 minutes of unplanned downtime per server outage, and Dell’s PowerEdge, with 26 minutes of unplanned per server yearly downtime, could rack up losses of $18,370 and $43,420, respectively for each server.

This could potentially be devastating for SMB firms, which typically lack the financial wherewithal of the larger enterprise clients, notes Rob Enderle, president and principal analyst of The Enderle Group, a Bend, Oregon-based consulting firm. “Reliability along with security, performance and manageability are the top challenges confronting all businesses. SMB customers hold the reliability of the IBM i running on Power servers in very high regard because it gets the job done and it saves them time and money,” Enderle says.

Overall, Sundt and Will say that IBM remains committed to advancing both the functionality and flexibility of the IBM i OS on Power servers.

“The IBM i can run anywhere—from on premises, to remote locations and in the cloud. Every technology refresh and new version release will also have something related to security,” Sundt says. IBM is also delivering a full enterprise stack and broad ISV support and certification. “This is why we’ve doubled the number of IBM i clients in the last 10 years and we expect it to keep growing over the next decade,” Sundt concludes.