Surrounding The IBM i
February 9, 2015 Dan Burger
IBM has a plan for the IBM i operating system. It sounds slightly ominous and it might even cause some of the IBM i advocates to lock the doors to the server room. It’s not a secret. In fact, some say the idea is gaining support. The idea is to surround the i. Surround it with new Linux workloads, primarily analytics workloads, which to a large degree involve mobile and, to a lesser degree, social applications.
Maybe you don’t give a flying flapjack about Linux. Maybe, from your point of view, it’s still not ready for enterprise operating system duty and it certainly isn’t the equal of the IBM i. That may be true, but the same can be said in reverse. The i is not the equal of Linux. It comes down to different workloads and different capabilities. Turns out they make great teammates. One strength complements the other. At least that’s what IBM says. But, as you may have just said to yourself, saying it doesn’t make it true. Those of you who have read about the marriage of systems of record (like applications running on IBM i) and systems of engagement (like those running on Linux), know what IBM has in mind. Briefly stated, it is Power Systems infrastructure, with the integration of i and Linux, and a lot of virtualization.
“It’s creating an opportunity for our IBM i clients to add to applications that are valuable to a business. It allows another door to open,” says Alison Butterill, IBM i product offering manager. Innovation, particularly in the area of analytics, are the focal point for IBM i shops. There are extensions of products running on Linux on Power that tie to the transactional data on IBM i, Butterill pointed out during a phone interview with IT Jungle last week.
IBM’s Cognos is an example Butterill uses. “For IBM i clients that believe predictive analytics brings more value to their business, they have the opportunity to run Cognos in Linux in a partition of the same hardware and simply access data from their enterprise applications that are running on i. We know there’s a lot of Linux out there and a lot of ISVs are developing solutions to run on Linux,” Butterill notes.
I, for one, had my doubts about the amount of Linux applications that could be found in IBM i shops. But after getting a sneak peak of a soon to be released survey of IBM i shops conducted by HelpSystems, my perspective has changed somewhat. I’m limited to what I can say until the survey is officially released, but more than a third of the companies surveyed are running Linux . . . and that was a lot more than I would have guessed.
“If there is already Linux in a customer environment, then moving it to the Power platform provides a lot of advantages–reliability, availability, scalability, the speed of the Power8 chip.” Butterill recites those benefits like the IBM i veteran she is. Ease of management and X86 server purchase avoidance are two additional reasons that are also part of the dialog.
Butterill and other IBMers who have sharp pencils aim their pointers at the benefit of using one box to handle a system of engagement and a system of record. And, tapping their pointers for effect, they note the one-box solution is Power.
Compared to past attempts to marry Linux and i, which only made minimal encroachment in the i community, Butterill claims the traction is much better now. Credit goes to a combination of Power8 technology, more robust applications, improvements in partitioning skills and enhancements to the VIOS management tools, which are better but not to be described as easy to use for the uninitiated. You have to do plenty of homework to get comfortable with VIOS.
Infrastructure modernization certainly becomes part of the plan. PowerVM for workload management across multiple systems, live partition mobility for organizations that require 24×7 availability, and PowerHA becomes part of the infrastructure as Butterill sees it. And she sees it during customer engagements around the world.
“It’s all part of the modern world driving infrastructure,” she says. “There are a lot of companies that can’t afford downtime these days. You can’t do these things without modern tools.”
The IBM i community is not going to move quickly into a Linux integration program. Advocates and organizations with hefty investments in IBM will ask to see the value this brings to the i platform.
Talking about extending the IBM i ecosystem and innovating around the Power processor architecture is good for raising awareness. But it’s going to take some success stories to make the necessary impression and prove the value of the IBM i OS increases as a result of closer integration with Linux applications.
Complexity will undoubtedly cause companies to drag their feet. And some will stumble after choosing to go in this direction. Butterill says she’s seen the chances for success increase when existing systems are modernized incrementally.
For Doug Balog, general manager of IBM’s Power Systems business, there seems to be a greater sense of urgency. When I talked with him at the IBM Enterprise2014 conference in October, his focus was simple and straightforward:
“I have to get clients that run on i to stop putting other workloads on Intel. They should put it on the Power platform around the i platform. That’s the strategy. I want to pull workloads off Intel. And I want to get workloads on the Power platform where it makes sense.”