HelpSystems Blog

7.1: Is It Worth the Upgrade?

IBM i V5R4 has served as a powerful backbone for many IT departments since its debut in 2006. In fact, the platform proved to be so reliable and efficient that companies still use it today, even after the release of 6.1 and 7.1. One of the notable things about V5R4 is that it’s one of IBM's longest supported releases, but all good things must come to an end.

The Challenge of Upgrading

There are many reasons why an organization might choose to skip the upgrade. The platform has benefited from a lengthy tenure of IBM support, despite some new features; and many organizations running V5R4 have found that it serves their needs. In addition, there tends to be a set of common challenges that may have historically made sticking with the older platform the best option:

  • Lack of budget resources
  • Limited implementation expertise
  • No incentive to upgrade

As anyone who’s managed such a project can tell you, an OS upgrade can be a complex, time-intensive process. Not every organization has the budget to upgrade to the latest release every time something new comes out, and complexity is an issue even for organizations that do have room in their budget.

It's no secret that IBM i runs smoothly and takes very little to manage—once everything is set up, it doesn't take much to orchestrate tasks. The downside? It often runs so easily that organizations lack expertise for implementing new releases. This can be especially difficult for IT environments that have a mixture of different systems and numerous applications that would need to be transferred. The fear of data loss and the risk of business disruption during the upgrade process have kept many companies from making the move to 7.1.

Given the issues associated with an upgrade, it may be tempting to continue using 5.4 even after the end of support date, which IBM has slated for September 30, 2013. Help/Systems will stop V5R4 support for their customers on October 30, 2013. The question will ultimately come down to whether 7.1 provides enough of an advantage over 5.4 to deliver a return on investment. Let’s consider a few of the key features.

Is Upgrading Worth It?

The latest version of IBM i launched with numerous improvements; a few are particularly noteworthy. For instance, high availability has become a necessity for many organizations, especially with IT supporting a broad array of business functions. With PowerHA installed, IT can now use a graphical interface for the High Availability Solutions Manager. The step-by-step guide makes it much easier to configure servers for HA and minimize downtime. Other important improvements include:

Business Benefits: A Closer Look

Even for companies that do not have high availability needs, version 7.1 significantly lowers business risk. For web servers, IBM i 7.1 achieved PCI compliance and, through IBM's continued support, known vulnerabilities in Apache have been patched. Security and compliance can be very tricky when relying on an unsupported platform. It becomes more difficult to protect IT environments against newly discovered exploits. For context, researchers at F-Secure estimated that 70 to 80 percent of all enterprise malware infections could have been prevented by updated software.

The addition of whole-disk encryption in 7.1 is important from both a compliance and data security perspective. While it’s possible to encrypt data using third-party software, using file-level tools would be inefficient and would consume valuable system resources. One of the biggest advantages of whole-disk encryption is that it makes storage hardware retirement easier and safer. Considering that 50,000 hard drives leave enterprise data centers on a daily basis, according to hardware manufacturer Seagate, there is a lot of data venturing outside of an IT manager’s control. Whole-disk encryption provides another layer of security between sensitive enterprise information and attackers because typical erasure procedures do not always eliminate all stripes of data.

Looking Ahead: Future Releases

History often repeats itself, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Looking at the previous releases of IBM i may be a hint of what's to come. There are three areas that IBM has emphasized over the years:

  1. Improved support for virtualization: PowerVM gained functionality to suspend and resume partitions.
  2. Easier storage management: This has been an area of focus since version 5.4, with support for SSD technology. 7.1 continued this trend with the ability to collect I/O performance data.
  3. A more diverse application ecosystem: IBM expanded its support for development tools and open source solutions with 7.1.

At the rate technology is evolving these days, it’s no longer enough to simply look at what the existing solutions have to offer. The releases of IBM i 6.1 and 7.1 set a trend for the platform, with IBM focusing on further streamlining IT operations activities and expanding support for new software and programming tools. It would be safe to assume that these will remain key areas, particularly as the industry places more importance on streamlining activities like SAN configuration and virtualization. At the same time, IBM recognizes the need to make IBM i more accessible to modern developers, so we expect expanded support for programming languages as well as compilers.

It may not be easy to make the upgrade to 7.1—you’ll need make some room in the budget and gather implementation expertise to smoothly make the transition. Given the upcoming end of support date it may feel a little like IBM is forcing your hand, but that doesn’t mean that an upgrade wouldn’t otherwise be worth it. 

It may be easy to overlook enhancements like expanded support for modern development tools. Who needs Java when we’ve got COBOL? Ultimately though, it’s about future-proofing the organization. Yes, COBOL is still widely used in numerous enterprise applications but expertise is in short supply. The potential for an expanded developer pool along with performance and reliability enhancements make 7.1 well worth the investment.

The staying power and reliability of IBM i is legendary. Help/Systems recommends maximizing its full potential by making time for the upgrade now rather than risk running unsupported. Download the Why IBM i? white paper for 14 ways to take advantage of IBM i capabilities. Combined with the complete IBM i 7.1 enhancement list, you’ll have the whole story on how far an upgrade to 7.1 will take your system.