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November 28, 1995

IT’s TOO EARLY TO BET THE SHOP ON IT, BUT OS/400 3.1 IS BEGINNING TO SHAPE UP

By CBR Staff Writer

Believe it or not, Version 3 Release 1 of OS/400 appears to be shaping up. It’s been about a year now since the code was first released to customers and with the help of the few and the brave, IBM has been able to prune and tune V3.1 and get it closer to being safe for production use. We said closer. For all but the plainest vanilla AS/400 shops, V3.1 is still not quite trustworthy. Our assessment of V3.1 is really that of experts in the field, people who make a living installing OS/400 and other programs on customers’ production systems. They have been keeping an eye on the bug patches IBM has been putting out for various pieces of V3.1 code. In some cases, they have been the ones who found bugs in the system and reported it to IBM, which in turn writes PTFs, Program Temporary Fixes, to correct the problems. The big bug fixes are called HIPER PTFs, which stands for high-impact and pervasive PTFs.

Knock out

These are bugs that are likely to knock out most AS/400 customers. There’s another kind of PTF, called the programming error PTF (PE PTF). This is our personal favourite: IBM writes a Program Temporary Fix and it either doesn’t work or it creates other problems on the system, which then have to be fixed by the PE PTF. As of the middle of June, there were 23 HIPER PTFs, three PE PTFs and 20 other less-important PTFs on the cumulative Program Temporary Fix tape. The latest PTF tape, which was created at the end of July, has seven new HIPER Fixes. Most of the HIPER PTFs were created to fix loops, system crashes and various kinds of performance degradation. Others fix pieces of Client Access, TCP/IP or data communications software that have been malfunctioning. IBM is adding about half a dozen HIPER PTFs a week to the list. The rate of HIPER PTF additions is slowing, which is one indication that the operating system is beginning to stabilise. Customers that buy complex instruction set-based Advanced Systems today will get a new spin (a new set of source code, called a build at every other software company) of OS/400 that includes all these Program Temporary Fixes. Customers that perform upgrades will get the same updated code on tape, which means that they won’t have to go through the hassle of applying the Fixes to OS/400 Version 3.1 after they upgrade their existing software. This not only saves time, but it also gives upgrade customers a little more confidence in the operating system, since they don’t see how many big bugs there are in the code. But V3.1 isn’t stable quite yet, and any customer moving up to the new software will have to keep an eye on the PTF postings and apply them as needed.

By Timothy Prickett

IBM was expected to put out another cumulative Program Temporary Fix tape sometime in the late summer. Most of the people we spoke to have suggested that they would wait until this tape comes out before moving to Version 3.1, although some of these same people were in the process of installing V3.1 on customer systems, too. It really depends on how much of the functionality of OS/400 a customer actually uses. In general, the more features you use, the longer you should wait, if you can. If you can’t wait, then your decision is already made. Ideally, customers should wait until all this Program Temporary Fix action slows down or, better still, comes to a halt. No one knows for sure when that will happen. The main reason is that OS/400 V3.1 is a lot more complex than V2.3, which is generally said to be rock-solid by AS/400 gurus. So what’s wrong with V3.1? There are apparently problems with data communications, TCP/IP and Client Access. Whether or not these portions of V3.1 are any more buggy than others remains to be seen. Problems are cropping up with networking and data communications because these are the features that made users move to V3.1 in the first place. As more AS/400 shops move forward, whether they have new complex instruction set AS/400 machines or vintage beige boxes running V3.1 or RISC boxes running V3.6, they will try out other features of the operating system. When they do, they will find more problems. For instance, the SMAPP back-up feature (which we wrote about in July) apparently causes beige box performance to degrade badly. Most people have been advised to turn it off. We have also been warned by gurus that there will most likely be very nasty bugs in the distributed computing features of the new DB2/400 – commitment control, triggers and stored procedures. This is very complex software and regardless of how exacting IBM’s testing procedures have been, the real test is always conducted in users’ production environments.

Not face alone

For many AS/400 customers, installing the new operating system presents difficulties that they would rather not face. Or at least not face alone. Our advice is for them to bring in outside help. IBM has the technicians who will, for a price, walk customers through an OS/400 upgrade and deal with the PTFs as they are created. (IBM offers PTF support through its SupportLine technical support services, which are based in Rochester). If you are moving to V3.1, or better still, if you plan to move to a RISC box and V3.6 sometime in the next 12 months, SupportLine might be worth the money. If IBM’s hand-holding isn’t what you want, most of the big AS/400 dealers and resellers also have technical support staffs who know how to upgrade OS/400 and other systems software – Comdisco and El Camino Resources immediately come to mind. They both have worldwide coverage, too. If you feel that you are over your head with Version 3 software and Program Temporary Fix headaches, it is probably prudent to hire outside experts to handle the software migration.

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From The Four Hundred, published by Technology News Ltd, 110 Gloucester Avenue, London NW1 8JA, phone 0171 483 2681, fax 0171 483 4541. Copyright (c) 1995 Technology News Ltd. All rights reserved.

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