Sharing Power Systems: An IBM i And Linux Story
October 20, 2014 Dan Burger
If you want to have a conversation with IBM‘s Doug Balog about i on Power, be prepared for Linux on Power to be part of the discussion. The two are inseparable when you’re the person running the Power Systems business, which, by the way, is exactly what Balog does. The reason i and Linux are inseparable is because they are each very good at different things and they need one another to be good at everything.
Balog sees Linux on Power as the answer to every aspect of the systems of engagement. He sees IBM i and AIX as the powerful and stable systems of record. And he sees workloads increasing for both the front-end and back-end systems.
“I have to get clients that run on i to stop putting other workloads on Intel,” Balog told me at the IBM Enterprise2014 conference earlier this month. “They should put it on the Power platform around the i platform. That’s the strategy. I want to pull workloads off Intel. IBM is no longer conflicted. We sold the Intel business. And I want to get workloads on the Power platform where it makes sense.”
Putting new workloads on IBM i may or may not make sense. That will vary from one organization to the next. But putting new workloads on Power makes a lot of sense for Balog and for IBM i advocates. What’s good for Power is good for i.
“Adding new workloads to the platform by surrounding i with new Linux workloads and new analytics workloads–mobile and social workload–is how we can get Power back to growth overall. And i will benefit from that growth,” Balog says.
Comingling Linux and IBM i has been tried before. It wasn’t pretty.
“Linux on Power in the past was never the equal of what it is now,” the Power Systems GM says. “We had a couple failed attempts. We did not embrace it as a company as much as we do now and there were technical barriers to the porting of those applications from Intel to Power.”
Balog says the application porting issues that had ISVs backing away from Power are history and that Canonical Ubuntu Linux and SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 12 have evened the playing field making Linux on Power the equal of Intel when it comes to application portability, operational management, and virtualization with KVM. A similar degree of integration will be coming soon with a new Red Hat Enterprise Linux version.
Being the equal of Intel in terms of portability is fine with Balog, but before that conversation is off the burner, he’s adding that engagements with ISVs are now about optimizing software on Power, which some are using as a differentiator and a competitive advantage. Linux running on Power, Balog insists, has better resiliency, security, and better virtual machine density, which means running more VMs on Power.
To get Power Systems sales growing again, Balog needs existing customers to convert from Windows to Linux and run those converts apps on Power. For eight of the past nine quarterly financial reports, if that is happening it’s not happening often enough or fast enough. Growth is not coming from IBM i or AIX. Linux represents about a quarter of overall server revenues and is one of the few platforms showing growth.
“In terms of business trends for IBM i, there is very little difference in i versus the Power business you see,” Balog says. “i is not a growth engine, while the rest of the Power business performs as you have seen it publicly reported.”
Proprietary Unix is a shrinking market and there is little joy in the fact that IBM is number one in that market.
“I don’t see that fundamentally changing,” he says. “I keep coming back to the market is growing around systems of engagement and the cloud, which are based on Linux. You got to play where the market is growing. Trying to convince the market they are wrong is a tough row to hoe.”
For years, IBM has attempted to gain new workloads for IBM i and AIX. There is very little to show for that. At the same time, there’s been a considerable amount of server consolidation. Regardless, IBM has hundreds of thousands of customers running their core business on i or AIX.
“I am not trying to make IBM i or AIX the new workload engines,” Balog openly states. “We tried that play for years. It’s a false understanding of where the market shifts and dynamics are going.
“Sometimes you can’t push against gravity. And the gravity in the market is that applications are being developed on an open source set of tooling and open source packaging. I don’t think you can deny the market shifts. The cloud equals Linux and Linux equals the cloud. The same is true about the applications of engagement. They are very much open source based.”
Open source software and cloud computing is where Balog is focused, but he does not disregard the importance of integrating open source with i and AIX.
“We’ve seen it in our mainframe business. We’ve made this play. It is not take away from this and add to that. It’s a case of all boats rise,” he says.
The i boat rises because systems of engagement drive transactions on systems of record. As more Web interfaces generate more data there’s likely to be more analytics around that data. Both the front end and back end systems have to handle that data. And that’s a big part of the challenge facing IT infrastructure providers. More data brings with it data quality issues and data integration issues. There’s not a lot of discussion about that. But when you talk about infrastructure, Balog glides comfortably into a conversation about managed service providers.
By his reckoning, there are more than 200 IBM i-focused MSPs worldwide. By my reckoning, most are set up to provide infrastructure options to IBM i shops, particularly those shopping for backup and recovery services. Some of those, especially IBM’s largest business partners, have been in the hosted services business for a decade or longer. Avnet and Sirius come to mind. I’ve written stories about their MSP businesses that are largely based on trusted relationships they have had with clients for many years.
They are good IBM customers because they buy a lot of infrastructure and they keep it current. They also make use of IBM services to keep their skills sharp and on the cutting edge of technology.
Growth in the MSP business, Balog says, depends on creating more value, and that can be done by helping shops deploy mobile and analytics solutions–Linux on Power only, please.
Running IBM i on Power in one partition and Linux in the partition next door is an option that Balog believes will be good for Power Systems and as we all know by now . . . when the water rises, it floats all boats.