The Risk of Running an Old IBM i System


There’s no question, running a business-critical ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) application on a 20-year-old server, with a 20-year-old operating system presents a risk to the business. Running very old systems in a company is often described as “technological debt,” as the cost to resolve that status tends to increase over time.  Some investment firms and private equity groups actually use technological debt as a metric in their list of business attributes to review and monitor.   

What are the areas of risk when running out of date software? 

Cyber Risks

The older an IBM i OS is, the more vulnerable it is to cyber intrusion. The often stated perceived “security” of the old OS refers to user access controls within an isolated office of the 1990s, not a server that today is accessible via a company network, let alone a network which is connected to the Internet.  As your company expands and more systems and applications are connected to the IBM i, cyber risks grow. 

Hardware Risks

Besides no longer being covered by IBM support, the hardware itself won’t last forever and replacement parts will eventually not be available for repairs.  As it is, replacement parts for older Power servers are taken from recycled inventory and other old Power servers.  Remember, some hardware failures just happen, without prior announcement, and take your server offline. Those old parts may take days to obtain. The service engineers who know the old servers may be busy working on other projects before they can get to you. Can you afford to have your ERP offline for 3 or more days?

Financial Risks

As time progresses, the complexity, cost, and effort to migrate or upgrade grows. Especially when the updates have been skipped for over 20 years, multiple OS and application upgrades steps may be required.   

With every version that hits end of support, your technological debt grows exponentially 

For instance, to update from V5R4, you need to first update the OS to the latest version that your server can run, for a Power 5 server, that’s V7.1 (see this chart to find where you are). Once there, you can then jump to Power 9. Once on Power 9, you can update the OS to IBM i OS 7.4 or 7.5. Of course, you’ll also need to update applications along the way.  

Disaster Recovery Risks

When running out of date software, vendors may be slow to provide a replacement license key should a need suddenly arise to move to a replacement server (e.g. Disaster Recovery total hardware failure or loss event). With older systems, vendors may flat out refuse to provide assistance if support windows have closed.

The bottom line is, the further level back the server and/or operating system are, the more likely the chances that upgrading can move from a one-step process to a many-step process and this translates into a lot of, time, cost, and complexity. While it’s ideal to upgrade to currently supported hardware and software, consider migrating at least to a “less old” and more recent version of IBM i OS. This action will help reduce your company’s risk while providing a cost-effective option while you evaluate longer-term solutions.     

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