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Know Where Your Maintenance Stands

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Don’t be caught in a blizzard with all-season tires.

This wasn’t the article I was going to write this week. But I’m covering this topic instead as a warning to everyone in the IBM i community to ensure you’re fully aware of the implications of not having the right kind of support.

The company I work for got a call Saturday night from an IBM i customer with a major “system down” issue. Their old IBM Business Partner has nobody local anymore, so my company and the customer started talking a few weeks ago about starting a new Business Partner relationship. We haven’t had a formal meeting or even a quick cup of coffee. The only things I really knew were that they’re running a POWER7 720 Express and that we were to renew their maintenance for them in about six weeks.

The customer had purchased their yearly software maintenance and hardware maintenance on their POWER7 720 last year. It’s due to expire this year at the end of July. Everything appeared in order, according to the customer.

Unfortunately, when they purchased their software maintenance in July of 2018, they did not purchase the extended maintenance component because they’re still on IBM i 7.1. In order to have software support from IBM on an unsupported release, you need to purchase extended maintenance, which costs double the regular software maintenance fee.

So when they called IBM for support, they were notified that, although they purchased software maintenance, IBM was not going to help them unless they committed to purchasing extended support. That’s pretty reasonable. IBM agreed to help them in good faith that they’d get their maintenance contracts in good order.

That’s when they called me.

Without getting into the details of exactly what their software problem was, I’ll just say I worked with the customer for about an hour and got their system up and running again. The customer is happy, and they agreed to get on extended maintenance for 7.1 first thing on Monday morning. They’re in a situation that’s keeping them from going to a supported release currently; however, that should change in the next year or so. In the interim, we’ll get their contracts in order.

A couple of things are bugging me about this whole scenario.

For starters, the customer was unaware that they were running an operating system that was IBM End of Service. But that happens. I was a customer for close to 20 years, and I know you tend to get busy doing your actual job rather than being aware of all the dates you should pay attention to.

The thing that should not have happened is the customer’s old Business Partner ordered them software maintenance without extended support. The customer renewed it in July…three months after 7.1 went End of Service. The Business Partner should’ve known better.

Ordering software maintenance without extended support for 7.1 is basically the equivalent of putting all-season tires on your car where I live. I’m Canadian. I wouldn’t ever risk driving with all-season tires in February. Sure, they’re going to work when you get a little bit of snow, but you haven’t got a prayer when there’s a foot of it on the roads. And that’s where the customer was: stuck on the road in a blizzard. They paid money for standard software maintenance, but good luck getting service from IBM while still on 7.1.

And this is where you separate the good Business Partners from the not so good. There’s a line in the sand, and I’m drawing it because it’s not the first time I’ve seen this.

There are a couple of things you need to be aware of.

If you simply just pay your software maintenance bill directly to IBM, then IBM is assuming you’ve done the homework and are either on a supported release or you’re about to be. They’re not going to hold your hand with licensing. That’s what IBM Business Partners are for.

If you go through your IBM Business Partner to renew your maintenance, then here’s what they should be doing: attention to detail and rule adherence.

A good partner will work with licensed info (WRKLICINF) and review your processor cores and peak users. They’re going to ensure you’re compliant. If you are licensed to use one processor core and you’re using three, then they’ll advise you to turn two off or quote you the cost of increasing to three and then adjust your software maintenance as such. If you’re licensed for 10 users and you have 100 interactive users on the system, then they need to make you aware of that and provide pricing on adding users. Good partners want to ensure that you’re compliant, or at least notify you in writing that you’re not. If your company is subject to an audit, then you need to be aware of the risks of failing that audit.

A good partner is going to review your OS level to make sure you’re on a supported version. If you’re on 7.1, they need to at least advise you that you need to upgrade ASAP if you’re going to just renew your maintenance. Then they’re going to bug you to upgrade because they know you’d better. If you don’t plan on an ASAP upgrade, they’re going to have to sell you an extended maintenance contract. And it is expensive. But IBM can support only so many versions of the operating system concurrently. If IBM is moving ahead and you’re not, then you have to pay for the privilege of support.

Knowing where you stand is so important. And it’s much easier to figure that out on a Wednesday morning than on a Saturday night with your system being down, your PMR call going to IBM entitlement, and your CFO calling you wondering when things are going to be back in business.

Steve Pitcher
Steve Pitcher works with iTech Solutions, an IBM Premier Business Partner. He is a specialist in IBM i and IBM Power Systems solutions since 2001. Feel free to contact him directly atspitcher@itechsol.com.
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