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Despite problems, V5R1 gets plenty of support

It isn't without its problems, but IBM's V5R1 is a hit among administrators. However, not everyone is sold. More than 38% of search400 users said they aren't yet convinced of V5R1's stability.

With V5R1, IBM has made the biggest changes yet to its OS/400 operating system. But despite the size of the upgrade -- it includes twice as much code as any previous release -- and reports of bugs and failed installations, administrators steadfastly support the new software.

Since last spring, IBM has pushed V5R1 as a godsend for cost-conscious administrators who want to gain more productivity from fewer iSeries and AS/400 servers.

V5R1's new Operations Navigator (OpsNav) makes it easier to manipulate active jobs, queues, subsystems and storage pools. And V5R1 supports Linux applications and enhanced security for Lotus Notes/Domino.

V5R1 also greatly enhances OS/400's processor partitioning. The upgrade's logical partitioning function (LPAR) lets administrators create up to 32 partitions on one server and up to four domains on a single processor.

That means IT departments can lower their maintenance costs by consolidating server farms and running multiple applications -- even from different operating systems -- on the same box. V5R1 also makes it easier to reallocate system resources via OpsNav or an API that IBM provides with the new operating system.

"With support for things like LPAR and Linux, you're getting much more out of one box," said David Peter, 2001 product development team leader at IBM. "It's much easier to scale your operations and respond to changes in workflow."

According to a recent survey by search400 of 201 users, about 62% will have upgraded to V5R1 by the first quarter of 2002. Of those surveyed, 7.5% have already upgraded, 9% have ordered the new operating system and are waiting to receive it, and 45.3% said they plan to upgrade within the next six months -- it isn't a priority for them right now.

Stability problems

But more than 38% of the users search400 surveyed said they aren't yet convinced of V5R1's stability. They said their current operating system works just fine, and they want to make sure it's safe to upgrade.

IBM shipped a defective installation CD for V5R1 last spring. Those who received the bad disk found that installation was impossible or they were confronted by a slew of error messages.

IBM has also already released hundreds of individual bug fixes for V5R1 for problems with the DB2 Universal Database, WebSphere's 128-bit encryption and Java support.

"So far, [V5R1] has been nothing but a hassle," said Andy Holmer, an ERP system developer at World Class Information Systems in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Holmer has been unable to run his trigger programs with V5R1. (IBM overhauled triggers with the upgrade, making them available through SQL on the column and statement levels.)

Holmer's clients, which include Caterpillar, Hallmark and Jacuzzi Inc., rely heavily on the triggers they use now. Any problem with that code could cause their production operations to shut down. For that reason, Holmer said, "I am telling my clients not to upgrade to V5R1 unless they have a compelling reason to do so."

Holmer is also having a hard time saving Web pages to the OS/400's Integrated File System (IFS), which is designed to provide fast access to Web sites, streaming media and other data.

But many administrators are nonplused by talk of V5R1's bugs. "We been hearing about a couple of bugs, but nothing serious," said Albert Pierre, application development manager at Morton, Ill.-based Morton Metalcraft Co.

Pierre said he is simply waiting to use V5R1 when he upgrades to a new iSeries server later this year.

John Alexander, technical support consultant at Rebus Group, said his shop upgraded one of its 20 iSeries machines from V4R5 to test the operating system and hasn't experienced any problems.

"I've been performing OS upgrades to AS/400s since they first became available, and this has to be one of the simplest yet," Alexander said. "As always, the instructions from IBM are very concise, and as long as you read the manual you won't have any problems."

V5R1 not for everyone

IBM's new iSeries 270 and 8xx servers can run Linux and OS/400 from shared processors, but older iSeries models require a separate processor for Linux or they don't support the open-source code at all.

With its backward compatibility issues and features that benefit some, but not all, iSeries owners, V5R1 may not be for everyone.

Some analysts recommend a staged upgrade to V5R1, perhaps from server-to-server, something not possible at companies that rely on 24x7 service from one, or just a few, servers.

"I'd think very carefully about how to schedule an upgrade to minimize your risks going forward," said Wayne Kernochan, vice president of platform infrastructure at Aberdeen Group.

Kernochan acknowledged that weekends, which used to be prime time for server upgrades are not what the used to be because the Web has increased the demand for around-the-clock access for corporate sites and extranets. But he said administrators should at least wait to install V5R1 when network traffic is exceedingly slow.

Kernochan suggests programmers turn off their problematic code and review and install all available, pertinent program temporary fixes (PTFs) before running the upgrade.

IBM recommends that users install group PTFs, as a preventative measure, once every three to four months after installing new hardware or software. Group PTFs typically include numerous individual PTFs that address problems with the same applications.

Despite its early missteps with V5R1, "IBM does deserve some credit for V5R1," said Al Barsa, president of Purchase, N.Y.-based Barsa Consulting LLC. The new operating system, he said, should especially help those who want to take advantage of CPU and server partitioning.

As for the bugs, Barsa said administrators should not be surprised. "But most users, I think, are going to find that it's not too badly broken."

Mark Baard is a freelance writer in Milton, Mass.


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