You and i – IBM i Roadmaps
There are two primary types of roadmap we use to describe the life of IBM i in the marketplace. This post has both: the “release roadmap” which lays out the timing, method and continuous nature of the delivery of new function for IBM i, and the “support roadmap” which describes the duration of the support available for major releases.
IBM i Release Roadmap
The IBM i Release Roadmap lays out the two primary methods of delivering new IBM i function: Major Releases and Technology Refreshes (TRs).
The Major Releases of IBM i arrive approximately three years apart. It’s not always three years between releases, but we’ve learned that when we’ve had a span of four years between major releases, partners say “that’s too long.” And when we shipped a major release only two years after the prior, clients said “that’s too short.” So, unless we find a compelling reason to change our strategy, major releases will come out every three years.
Major Releases gather up all of the function of the prior releases and TRs, and then add new capabilities which require pervasive changes throughout the IBM i operating system. Often, these new capabilities are relate to security, or to interrelationships between object types, and so cannot be retro-fitted well into prior releases.
The IBM i Roadmap chart always highlights the most recent Major Release in the center of the chart, and shows the two prior releases to its left. To its right are indications of the next two major releases. Calling out the next two releases is meant to convey a couple of things. First, there are always new releases of IBM i being planned. There is no end in sight. Second, the team is always working hard on the next release (indicated as “i Next” on the chart) and we also always have plans for the key items which will be delivered in the one after that (“i Next+1”).
The Technology Refreshes indicated on the IBM i Roadmap refer to all of the “off-release” deliveries that are made available between major releases. Ever since 2010, and the introduction of the IBM i 7.1 release, we have been able to update any part of IBM i using Technology Refreshes. Together with PTF Groups, that means we can build our strategy around delivering new capabilities to our community when those new functions are ready, rather than being forced to have them wait for the next major release. This strategy allows us to be very agile, and to respond to client and market requests quickly.
We deliver new TRs twice a year – generally described as being in the “spring” and “fall,” though in truth they are most often tied to the availability of new IBM Power Systems and the related I/O. We announce and deliver the actual “Technology Refresh” in conjunction with those new system & I/O deliveries because the support for that new hardware is delivered by TRs.
TRs are created for the most recent major release, and for the prior release. Generally, the oldest major release on the chart does not receive TRs – it is stable, and is under normal support for most of the time the chart is used. But that gets to the topic of the next roadmap chart.
The IBM i Support Roadmap
The IBM i Support Roadmap contains several messages, also. The primary message is the length of support for each major release. The darkest color for each release line represents the time a release is under normal support. Generally, that’s about seven years. Then, our strategy is to offer a service extension period for clients who need to remain on a release a bit longer. That’s indicated by the lighter color and the “SE” label. The service extension costs more (generally) than the normal support, and typically is offered for three years. Business requirements sometimes cause us to offer an extension beyond that first “SE.” For example, we offer a further extension for the 7.1 release, but that extension depends on the family of Power System on which it’s running.
A more important message from the IBM i Support Roadmap, for many clients, is the length of time represented by the entire roadmap. As you can see, we list the future releases of IBM i on the support chart, as a way to demonstrate how far out into the future you can count on having IBM i under support.
Because the IBM i Release Roadmap shows two releases after the most current major release, this Support Roadmap demonstrates that, given our strategy for seven-year normal support, the “i Next+1” release will be supported to a date more than 10 years from now. As of today, that’s past 2031!
Seeing a roadmap for IBM i which extends more than a decade can provide a sense of IBM’s commitment to IBM i’s future. And that’s one of the reasons we build this roadmap as we do.
The “N+2” Reminder
The last “roadmap” I’m going to include in this post is a reminder: IBM i always allows you to upgrade from the release you’re on to the release which is TWO later. You get an “N+2” upgrade path from every major release.
Today, that means that no matter what family of Power Systems you might be using to run IBM i 7.1, for example, you can upgrade directly to IBM i 7.3. And you can upgrade from 7.2 to 7.4. For planning purposes, it’s important that you understand that IBM i puts the support for this type of “skip a release” upgrade into each major release.
Roadmaps in the IBM i Strategy & Roadmap paper
One final thing for this post: these roadmaps are always included in the latest version of the “IBM i Strategy & Roadmap” white paper, which can always be found attached to the IBM i home page on ibm.com. The links to those resources are:
 This post is an “anchor post” – a post with information every IBM i community member should have. It gets updated as new releases are made available, so that the images & words are accurate to the new deliveries, but the primary messages remain the same throughout time.