I was once asked by a good friend “if I could change one thing about IBM i users what would it be?” I know, I have some strange friends, trust me this is not even close to the weirdest conversation I’ve had with this particular bearded Irish individual, but enough of that right now, back to the point, what would I change?
The answer: I would get them to start patching their systems.
Again dear reader I realise that is not likely to be a eureka moment for you but please bear with me whilst I explain why it might just be worthwhile and then how in the future you might literally be able to do it in your sleep!
Why bother installing PTFs?
The best thing about working with IBM i is the people, and I’m luckier than most as I have a job that allows me to travel and meet a lot of them. These people genuinely seem to love the platform, they literally give up time and money to travel to events to listen to people talk about an operating system! It just so happens that the vast majority of them turn out be rather good fun too.
But even these people would not say IBM i was perfect or even feature complete, they all have ideas for improvements, they use ingenious workarounds for things that just aren’t quite right with the platform. Some big, some small, but they all wish for changes.
Now believe it or not IBM does actually listen to us, its customer (that doesn’t always mean they agree with them or indeed do what they ask), but when they do and they create these new features then how do you suppose they get them to their users? They don’t just magic themselves onto your system, most often they are delivered via PTFs.
Upgrading is Good, PTFing is better
So many people seem to fall into the trap of thinking that the only way to improve their system is to upgrade it, either by changing the hardware or the version of the operating system, this is just plain wrong!
Don’t get me wrong, upgrading is great, I genuinely still do enough myself. If a client has the time and money to invest in new hardware or a newer operating system release this is great but it’s not exactly a monthly event. So, if I could offer you new features, functions, security improvements, better stability on a monthly basis, at no extra cost surely you would take it, right?
Well this is exactly what IBM does, literally new improvements come out in the form of PTFs every month and assuming you have IBM software maintenance (SWMA) there is no extra charge for these patches and yet less than 10% of the people I meet regularly patch their servers.
They love the server, they tell everyone how great it is but they refuse to give a little TLC and reap the benefits of the new stuff IBM is giving away – this is crazy!
New features written for 7.3 have been PTF’d back into 7.2 and 7.1
You may not be aware of this but I promise you it’s true, many of the new features, functions and fixes that IBM has written for IBM i 7.3 have also been PTF’d into 7.2 and even 7.1. I’ve recently been giving a talk on the top ten things I personally like about 7.3 and more than half of them have been PTF’d back to 7.2 and 7.1
So if you want the new shiny stuff from IBM you can have most of it without the hassle of an Operating System upgrade or a hardware change.
Why don’t people upgrade?
So, why don’t that many people upgrade? OK, there are lots of reasons. People will tell you if you ask them things like “I need my system 24 x 7” or “I once installed a PTF and it broke my system” or worst of all and this one really does drive me nuts “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it”.
None of these statements prevent you from patching and the only one approaching an acceptable objection (the need for a 24 x 7 system) is actually the strongest argument for regular patching. Imagine someone saying to you that their car is really important to them, so important that they can’t afford the time to have it serviced, to change the tyres or even to refuel it, it’s a nonsense!
If you truly need a system 24 x 7, then you actually need two systems, either clustered or with some form of real time High Availability solution. And, if you have two systems, then guess what, you can bloody well patch one of them whilst the other is in use.
And for those of you that are in the “if it ain’t broke don’t fit it” camp, you are not wise, efficient or somehow better at looking after your system, you are just plain lazy!
Automatic PTF installation
Assuming there is anyone left reading at this point, yes I am aware I may have just insulted a few of you and I would normally apologise and normally being the nice guy that I am I would usually acknowledge there is an alternate view point to my own and respect it but in this case – no, I literally think anyone who disagrees with me on this is wrong :).
So, as mentioned, assuming there is anyone left reading this, I have some great news! You can now install PTFs automatically and literally have your system do it for you whilst you are asleep!
In 7.3 IBM have introduced a new function to automatically download PTFs onto your system and they allow you to nominate a specific IPL to install those patches which cannot be applied whilst the system is in use or indeed for those of you who would rather they were not installed whilst your system was in use.
How does it work?
You simply turn it on using the change service attribute command (CHGSRVA) and tell your server what type of PTFs you want. In the example below I’ve asked for everything, why not, as I mentioned I plan to be asleep whilst the server does this.
You simply change the Order PTFs parameter to *YES (default is *NO as this is an opt in function) and then you tell the system what groups you want to download. You can be very specific and target a single group or groups or if you are like me you can say *CUMPKG for the Cumulative Package and *ALLGRP for the rest.
This is then downloaded as a series of Save Files into QGPL (if there is any one from IBM i dev team reading this please allow us to nominate a different library, QGPL has enough crud in it already!) and then when you want to install it, simply issue an IPL command with the extra parameter to install the PTFs
And for those of you who are taking me literally, yes you can do this whilst you are asleep, you just schedule the PWRDWNSYS command.
Join the PTF Gang
I’m getting some real positive feedback from the users I’m showing this to, sadly and slightly ironically this is not one of the functions IBM has PTF’d back to 7.2 but perhaps if we all nag them a little IBM will listen and make this available for older releases as well.
If you would like a copy of any of the presentations, you can download them from our website at www.i-ug.co.uk