At an IBM event recently, the presenter asked for a show of hands of companies that are still running AIX 6.1. Quite a few, even though the last service pack for AIX 6.1 is scheduled for April 2017 … not too far off.
Then the presenter asked about AIX 5.3. It was a shock to see how many businesses were still running on this version of AIX. After all, it’s quite an exposure running an operating system that has not been supported since April 2012*.
It got me thinking. Why would a company run its critical systems on an operating system that had no support?
Generally, I expect it comes down to the perception of just how hard it would be to upgrade. It’s not just the AIX version itself. From my experience, businesses that don’t upgrade their OS, also tend to run on old versions of the system firmware. If they have a virtual I/O server (VIOS), then that is probably way out of support, too.
And then there are the applications. There may well be a concern that the applications are so old, that upgrading them would be risky.
“It’s all too hard.”
Applications, OS, firmware, VIOS, and maybe a Hardware Management Console. That’s a lot of upgrading to do, especially if the IT team is not to used to upgrading.
In the face of a big upgrade project, you can understand why businesses might choose to leave production systems on old hardware, old firmware, and even out-of-support operating systems.
However, the risk of not upgrading is also pretty high. If the operating system should need to be rebuilt, due to some hardware interruption or human error, it could be a very messy and painful exercise with a big impact to the business.
Even worse, an IT team could be faced with attempting an emergency upgrade even to get to a supported OS level.
So what should they do?
They should approach it as they would any big project: break it down into small, digestible parts. And when it comes to the AIX component, the trick is to use the many features which allow for easy upgrade and easy rollback.
For example, creating a copy of the operating system rootvg on a separate disk can provide for an easy rollback using a short reboot.
Similarly, the Network Installation Manager (NIM) can be used for a quick restoaration using mksysb OS backups. You can also do an AIX migration—such as from AIX 5.3 to 7.2—using NIM.
In fact, there are so many different ways of upgrading systems to supported levels that there are too many to list here.
There are some valuable documents on the IBM Support Portal page, such as the Service and Support Best Practices. Two documents in particular will help to start the process to a supported AIX version.
One is the document on Upgrading AIX from 5.3 to 7.1. At the time of writing this article, the latest version of AIX is 7.2, but this older document (upgrading to AIX 7.1) still has a wealth of valuable information and steps to take.
The other document is specifically for migrating to the Power8. It’s called: “Transitioning to Power8: Migrations Paths for AIX systems to Power8.” Once again, you’ll find this has some very helpful advice and links to documents to help you through the process of moving to new hardware (and a new AIX version).
As with all upgrades, it’s important to do testing on non-critical systems, and to be ready to restore from a current backup, in the unlikely event that it’s needed.
If you have questions regarding planning and executing the upgrade, it would be best to contact IBM Business Partners or experienced consultants who can guide you through the upgrade process.
Running on old and unsupported operating systems can be an exposure the business doesn’t need to face. By upgrading to a recent, supported, level, the businesses don’t only reduce the risk of facing an emergency upgrade. They also are in a far better position for moving onto newer, more robust and high-performance hardware.
* There was an extended support agreement option available, and some companies opted for versioned Workload Partitions—vWPARs, but on the whole, the companies running 5.3 were not taking either of these options.
Service and Support Best Practices for IBM Power Systems