This maintenance gives you access to IBM support, fixes, new functions and features (in the form or PTFs) and, of course, free upgrades to newer IBM i releases.
What you may not realise is that if you stop paying the SWMA, when you re-join the programme there is an additional fee. This fee is called a Maintenance After Licence fee, or MAL for short.
The MAL fee is often the equivalent of two years’ SWMA and is designed to stop IBM i users from opting out of support for IBM i in years when they do not plan to upgrade.
I can see the logic of this but it does tend to cause a trap whereby those who let their SWMA lapse, or who have inherited systems with lapsed SWMA, find it hard to justify the cost of re-joining the SWMA programme.
One way to avoid the MAL fee is if you purchase a Power server from IBM (even a second-user model). In this case, not only can you wave this extra fee but you also get a reduced rate on the first SWMA contract you take with it. These contracts can be 90 days, one year or three years, with the latter offering you the best value.
Another time IBM does not levy the MAL fee is during so-called amnesties. These tend to be short promotional periods designed to get customers back on board without the punitive cost. IBM ran such a promotion in the USA earlier this year and it seemed to be a roaring success.
One of my learned peers who supports the US marketplace is Pete Massiello of Connecticut-based iTech Solutions. I asked him what he thought of the SWMA amnesty that finished in May.
Pete replied: “The SWMA amnesty was a great programme. In fact, just last Thursday we were cursing that we couldn’t use it for a new client on V5R3 that we recently started working with who was no longer on maintenance.
“I think it is in IBM’s best interests to make it as simple as possible for all those ‘lost’ customers who are on V5R4 and below to get current on the most recent hardware and OS available. Otherwise, they risk that the customer will just stay where they are and eventually move to another platform. Why? Because the path to get to a new platform will be easier than getting to a new Power8 with a new release of the OS. I would like to see IBM bring this back.”
I, for one, echo this sentiment. In fact, I would like to see IBM go further and offer all IBM i clients at least one opportunity to rejoin the SWMA programme without the MAL fee.
I believe that by doing it this way, they could still stop folks from repeatedly dropping out of the program without extra cost. It would also allow those who genuinely do want to get back on board to do so without the financial pain.
I do hope that IBM runs an SWMA amnesty program in the UK soon as I have a number of clients that would really benefit from it.
Steve Bradshaw is the founder and managing director of Wolverhampton, UK-based Power Systems specialist Rowton IT Solutions and technical director of British IBM i user group i-UG. He has been a key contributor to PowerWire since 2012 and he also sits on the Common Europe Advisory Council (CEAC) which helps IBM shape the future of IBM i.