What You Need to Know About IBM i 7.4

pete massiello itech
Pete Massiello, iTech Solutions

If you remember in a statement about my predictions for 2019, I said that the next release of IBM i would contain some of the biggest enhancements ever put out by IBM for OS/400 or IBM i. 

Well, it is now announced and being unwrapped today, and IBM i 7.4 (formally known as iNext) comes out with Db2 Mirror for IBM i, Synchronous Replication for Continuous Availability as the biggest enhancement.  This is very very cool technology, not just cool, even better than very cool, this is crazy cool technology.  It’s not the only thing being delivered, but certainly the biggest part of 7.4. While the announcements are today, April 23, 2019, the software currently has a General Availability of Friday, June 21.

When I think about IBM i 7.4 and all that is in the release, it has been a long time in the making.  Having been to the IBM Development Labs in Rochester, MN quite a few times over the past few years, I know that IBM has been working long and hard on bringing this release out. Since the database is so integrated into the operating system, almost every part of the operating system had to be touched to add this enhancement. 

When I was explaining DB2 Mirror to someone, I said it was like two systems interconnected that appear as one database. Db2 Mirror for i doesn’t replace logical replication (like MIMIX or iTera), nor does it replace physical replication like PowerHA, it actually enhances and works with these technologies.  If you want a remote copy of your data for HA/DR, you would still need logical replication or physical replication, Db2 Mirror is for continuous availability within the same data center (or currently not more than 100 meters separating the systems).  It can replicate items in SYSBASE or an IASP, but it must be used with a Storage Area Network (SAN).  It doesn’t use Journaling or remote journals, it uses a High-Speed Ethernet (RoCE) between the systems for communications. More and more companies are moving to a San for their storage, as it provides many features and functions not available with internal storage. I don’t think the SAN requirement is an issue because if you were looking for continuous availability, you would probably have a SAN already and be using that with Flash Copy.  My favorite functionalities for a SAN are Flash Copy, Easy Tier, and Encryption, and I am not sure which order I would put those in. Every customer has their unique requirements, but the IBM Storwize series of SANs work great for those technologies. Db2 Mirror for i gives you 24 x 7 Up Time, requires POWER8 or POWER9 hardware, and provides you with Active/Active mirroring.  I think my first demo came over a year ago by Kris Whitney showing us the technology. When he was showing the demo and I realized this was active/active with no journaling, and providing continuous availability I thought it was amazing. The GUI interface is very simple and easy to use, as well as intuitive. This one enhancement will propel the platform to new heights as a backend server. What it does best, has just gotten better with Db2 for i.

As many of you know, I am always talking about the future of IBM i, and that it has a long life ahead for itself.  Well, to further my point, let’s take a look at the new updated IBM i Support Roadmap. 

IBM i Support Roadmap 2019

We can now see 7.4 on the chart, but more importantly, we are seeing two additional releases of IBM i coming out around 2022 and 2025.  I think they have settled on the 3-year cadence, or as I like to call it the Goldilocks time frame. They came out with 7.1 in 2010 but waited too long to come out with 7.2, which was 4 years later in 2014.  Then 2 years later in 2016, IBM i 7.3 was released, which was perhaps a little too quick.  So, today in 2019, IBM delivers 7.4, which is three years since 7.3, and perhaps is “just right”, that is how you get the Goldilocks time frame for IBM i. 

Look at where the current iNext and iNext+1 have support going out until.  Of course, we know there is the lawyer qualification on any future IBM statement, that they are subject to change, but if all things remain the same we have support going out until 2032 for IBM i.  At this rate, the theme for the 40th anniversary might be “IBM i – 40 years and no end in sight”.

We all know that lately, IBM i has been an incubator for Open Source, and since going with RPM (Red-Hat Package Manager) which is a free and open source package management system, the number of open source languages and packages has sky-rocketed.  With 7.4, IBM is sun-setting the 5733-OPS licensed program product, and now all open source packages will be delivered via RPM.  Look for Node.js version 10 support on IBM i, new enhancements for RPG and COBOL have been delivered, as well as a new language R.  It’s not just for pirates either (a poor Dad joke), R is great for Data Analysis, Statistical Computing, Data Mining, and Big Data.  It is currently ranked  7th in the top programming languages of 2018. 

Of course security is on everyone’s minds these days, as it should be, and IBM i 7.4 has some good enhancements.  First, they are adding capabilities and removing vulnerabilities, Transport Layer Security version 1.3 protocol (TLSv1.3) is now enabled and used by default for System TLS. The Transport Layer Security version 1.1 protocol (TLSv1.1) and Transport Layer Security version 1.0 protocol (TLSv1.0) are now disabled by default for System TLS. The Secure Sockets Layer version 2.0 protocol (SSLv2) can’t be turned on for System TLS. *SSLv2 can’t be added to the QSSLPCL system value. In addition, the System TLS enabled cipher specification list no longer contains Triple Des (3DES), Cipher Block Chaining (CBC), or RSA key exchange ciphers when the QSSLCSLCTL system value is *OPSYS.  Authority Collection has been enhanced to capture details related to authority collection by User profile or Object.  This tool was first introduced with 7.3, and has now been enhanced with 7.4.

Java releases have changed with 7.4 as well.  When 7.3 came out, version 6 (also known as 1.6) was removed, and rightfully so as Java version 6 was already full of security vulnerabilities.  Now, with 7.4 the Java (5770-JV1) options for IBM Technology for Java(IT4J) 7.0 and 7.1 (option 14 and 15) are no longer supported on IBM i 7.4. The default JVM on IBM i 7.4 is IBM Technology for Java 8.0 64bit (option 17).  You now have Java version 8, either 32bit or 64bit as the only option for 7.4.  It’s probably a good time to do the WRKJVMJOB command on your system and see which versions of Java you are currently running, and get them up to version 8 of Java now.

If you currently have the IBM WebSphere Application Server (WAS) version 8.0 or earlier product installed and are upgrading to IBM i 7.4, you will need to migrate your traditional WAS Classic Profile installation and profiles to either IBM WebSphere Application Server v8V8.5 at the 8.5.5.15 product fixpack level (or higher), or to V9.0 at the 9.0.0.11 product fix pack level (or higher).

If you are running the IBM Collaboration software, formally known as Lotus Domino, you will need to be at version 10.0.1, which also requires Java version 8.  There is also a new version of Access Client Solutions, 1.1.8.2, which you will be able to download in May.  The download site is http://ibm.biz/IBMi_ACS.  This new version of ACS has some great enhancements, that maybe deserves a webinar in itself.

There is now support for SMBv3, which is what is used to map a network drive to an IBM i from Windows, Mac, or Linux clients.  This is great news form a security standpoint, as most organizations should be moving to this implementation over v1 and v2 which are security risks at best. There is a new set of security for SST/DST passwords, that is very comprehensive, and provides all the password rules and levels that we have inside of the operating system.  This is a much-needed addition, and you can see how the system is currently set with the Display SST Security Attributes (DSPSSTSECA) command.  I can also create an SST/DST userid from a command line as long as I have a userid and password for an existing SST/DST user.  You can create and change any of the 27 SST privileges as well. That command, CRTSSTUSR will come in very handy.

Of course, we can’t forget about DB2 for i.  There are a boat load of enhancements, some I haven’t yet played with.  Scott and his team have been busy beavers for sure.  We all know about Db2 Mirror, but some other enhancements are:

  • New HASH built-in functions
    • SQL Precompiler enhancements for RPG and COBOL
    • Reorganize Physical File Member enhanced per LUG request:
    • Authority Collection by Object
    • Improvements related to Db2 Mirror
    • SQE
      • Enforcing job temporary storage limits
      • Improved paging within the SQL Plan Cache
      • Improved paging for plans with Random I/O
      • Improved estimates (costing) of plans with temporary objects
      • Improved management of stale plans
      • Improved optimization on busy partitions

There are more gems in here than I can remember.  I know there are quite a few things that I am missing, but I am looking forward to play with.  I would say my hats off to the IBM i Development team, as the release has been stable and rock solid in all the upgrades that I have done already. 

I will be going deeper into these points in our upcoming webinar, 7.4 Things You Need to Know about IBM i 7.4 on May 9th, at 1 PM ET. Register here.

Register IBM i 7.4 webinar

I have updated my “How to successfully upgrade to IBM i 7.4” session, which I will be presenting at IBM Technical University next week in Atlanta Georgia, COMMON in Anaheim, California May 19 to 22, and for an iTech webinar on Upgrading to 7.4 on Wednesday, June 5th.  Register here.

I look forward to talking with about 7.4 at those events, and many others throughout the rest of the year. 

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  1. […] won’t go into all the details here about the new release, as I wrote a blog with many of the details you will need to know, and we provided a video which you can watch to get […]

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