More POWER7 Iron to Hit the Skids

IBM i (OS/400, i5/OS)
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With POWER7 systems on the way out, let’s discuss migrating to POWER9.

On October 2, IBM announced the following systems will be going end-of-service on December 31, 2020:

Machine Type

Model

Product Name

8202

E4D

IBM Power 720 Express Server

8205

E6D

IBM Power 740 Express Server

8231

E1D

IBM Power 710 Express Server

8231

E2D

IBM Power 730 Express Server

8246

L1D

IBM PowerLinux 7R1 Server

8246

L1T

IBM PowerLinux 7R1 Server

8246

L2D

IBM PowerLinux 7R2 Server

8246

L2T

IBM PowerLinux 7R2 Server

8248

L4T

BM PowerLinux 7R4 Server

8268

E1D

IBM Power 710 Express Server

8408

E8D

IBM Power 750 Express Server

8412

EAD

IBM Power ESE Server

9109

RMD

IBM Power 760 Server

9117

MMD

IBM Power 770 Server

9119

FHB

IBM Power 795 Server

9179

MHD

IBM Power 780 Server


That gives customers with these systems a little over a year to get a plan in place to upgrade to POWER9 servers. This announcement appears to have hit with little fanfare. Given that last year’s announcement of POWER7 servers focused on the small to medium-sized systems (and therefore more common and widespread), it’s not surprising. However, these particular systems announced this month are on the higher end of the compute spectrum and therefore will likely be more complex and expensive migrations to plan for. That’s likely why the announcement gave a little extra time to build space into 2020 or 2021 budgets.

From a planning perspective, it kind of dovetails nicely with the end of support announcement for IBM i 7.2, which will be happening on April 30, 2021. Given that 7.2 was announced in 2014 and IBM has a majority of supported customers on 7.3, that announcement was no surprise. Plus, IBM i 7.4 was released last summer, and IBM doesn’t want to support three versions of the operating system concurrently for too long.

My company did about 400 6.1/7.1 to 7.2/7.3 upgrades in 2018. The majority of those upgrades were to 7.3. Those systems we took to 7.2 and stopped were primarily for Java reasons. 7.2 still “supports” Java 6, although Java 6 isn’t actually supported. What I mean is that you can run Java 6 on 7.2. Vendor applications relying on Java 6 dictated that 7.2 was the furthest we can take a customer in 99% of all cases. With the extra time allowed before the end of 7.2, any vendors who’ve been straggling behind on 7.2 are given extra tension for change to provide 7.3 and 7.4 (i.e., Java 7 and Java 8) support for their software.

IBM’s move incentivizes customers to maintain support by moving off these POWER7 machines to POWER9 in the next 14 months, and it also lines them up nicely for an operating system before or during their hardware migration. Personally, I’d like to get the operating system upgraded in advance of any hardware move. It’s just easier that way. When you’re replacing only the hardware, you’re making things simpler in terms of troubleshooting something if it goes sideways. Is it the hardware? Is it the software? Licensed programs? Java? Doing a mixed-mode migration and skipping releases while going to new iron can certainly complicate the overall migration. This is why I upgrade to a supported release that both new and old iron can run; then the restore to the new system is seamless. Any problems related to the OS upgrade are handled as part of that project. When the new iron arrives, it’s now a simple save and restore to the new system.

When you order your POWER9, you need to be aware of the lack of an internal tape drive and an internal DVD; they just aren’t made anymore. Please ensure your business partner orders an external DVD and external tape drive option (or virtual tape library). Sometimes, customers order systems without an external DVD. I don’t really like that. While POWER8 (with updated firmware) and POWER9 systems support a USB storage device, not everyone is prepared to use it. It’s different. It’s new. That’s not a bad thing, but just be prepared if you want to do a D-mode IPL and you don’t have media devices to do so. Having the DVD on the order ensures that you will have a device to boot a LIC respin from, if it ever comes to that.

The tape drive difference is a bigger concern when it comes to a migration. It pays to keep your tape technology current. If you’re moving from a system with an internal LTO4 drive to a LTO7 drive, the LTO7 drive won’t read your LTO4 tapes. Be sure that your new tape technology can read your old tapes.

I’m seeing a lot of customers moving to virtual tape libraries (VTLs). My favorite value of a VTL is speed. I did a SAVSYS (Go Save option 22) for a customer recently. The SAVSYS took a little over two minutes. On the average physical tape, it takes around 20-30 minutes. If you go the VTL route, always buy two. You’ll want to replicate one device to another. VTLs are electrical. If your VTL dies, you have no recovery device. You want your backup media off site to another VTL. Many of these VTL options allow for deduplication and encryption, so there’s added benefit there. The payback of having two devices is easy. You remove a few costly things: tape management (i.e., people moving tapes), tape storage (a safe or storage service), and tapes themselves, which aren’t cheap. If you factor in those three costs, you can likely justify a virtual tape library. It’ll also reduce your backup and recovery time. I can’t say enough about VTLs.

Happy migrating!

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