In the recent IDC paper, “The Business Value of the Connected Mainframe for Digital Transformation,” there is a clear path for its part in digital transformation moving forward. How organizations find that way forward is largely dependent on keeping pace with innovation, including making decisions regarding updates and support.
With the reality of the upcoming iSeries end-of-support date for IBM iSeries 7.1 on April 30, 2018, businesses are faced with how best to proceed in terms of upgrading, migrating, and assessing long-term needs. IBM iSeries 7.1 boasts the longest supported release of any IBM iSeries midrange platform in the history of the AS/400. Although this afforded a longer reprieve, businesses will now need to upgrade off of 7.1 in order to maintain IBM support.
IBM offers extended support contracts that go beyond the 7.1 cutoff date, but costs will be significant. Because the iSeries continues to meet operational performance needs, there are many businesses with even earlier iSeries versions that no longer have manufacturer series support. This latest end-of-support cycle is an ideal time to explore upgrade approaches and long-term solutions for mainframe computing.
Developing an Upgrade Approach
When support is shut down for any IBM iSeries release, all of the licensed program products affiliated with that release are also withdrawn. Although some system service providers are saying that you must be on 7.1 to successfully migrate to 7.2 or 7.3, that isn’t the case. This doesn’t necessarily negate the case for upgrading to the latest version in order to extend the time between upgrades and ensure the latest IBM iSeries capabilities. There are many considerations when it comes to the best upgrade approach, including:
- Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and other applications that are currently running.
- The need for building out a new Logical Partition (LPAR) to facilitate migration without production system downtime.
- The fact that organizations lack a dual development and testing system, which is very cost prohibitive.
- Whether hardware upgrades are also necessary because of iSeries hardware version caps at 7.1.
SQL database needs will also be a major consideration as iSeries owners assess scalability needs and cost savings that are possible with a move to flash storage over Storage Area Network (SAN). These decisions will have long-term operational repercussions as organizations look at ongoing maintenance and upgrades through SQL-as-a-service offerings from providers for efficient resource allocation.
The Migration Plan
Although a remote backup plan may be the ideal scenario, finding the right iSeries and AS/400 outsourcing partner will be dependent on a number of factors in how they structure their services. For example, maintenance contract terms may be as long as five years, which would require making plans for applications running on the AS/400 that are likely to reach end-of-contract well before that of the maintenance contract.
This would require additional expenses and contract add-ons to accommodate the necessary changes. The ideal scenario is to seek out a partner that offers flexible contract terms and the right expertise to meet IT staffing strategy needs that will enable compatibility with these issues.
The next consideration is the Managed Service Provider’s (MSP) backup process, which may not have the built-in flexibility to avoid downtime and the additional expenses that come with a rigid contract. For example, the migration process will require putting the iSeries into a restricted state, which will halt production for several hours.
Many operational environments for businesses across sectors can’t have downtime during the primary hours of production or operations, which means an overnight backup. Rigid migration/maintenance contracts often will have a built-in remote managed services technician fee based on eight-hour cycles for monitoring the process. This is regardless of the fact that the actual process may take far less time, which adds additional and unnecessary expenses to the migration process.
Ideally, organizations should look for a provider with hourly costs for technician monitoring support based on the actual time needed. The most flexible providers will offer both on- and off-site backup services to provide even more price and use-case flexibility.
Every upgrade cycle should be an assessment of what is best for long-term strategy. This leads iSeries owners to consider the major Operation Expense (OPEX) of maintenance fees that can be as high as tens of thousands of dollars annually. Outsourcing maintenance via managed mainframe services can provide a much more viable alternative in terms of costs, access to skilled technicians, and mainframe updates to meet changing and growing operational needs.
Outsourcing also provides a way forward to long-term strategy for platform migrations to the cloud, containers, and microservices. A skilled and experienced partner can advise on migration paths based on business core competencies and IT strategy planning for projected future needs. By partnering with a skilled services provider, businesses can weigh their options from meeting iSeries end-of-support challenges. This can fulfill a host of iSeries needs, including clear current state and operational needs assessments and the demands of an evolving global business landscape.