IBM i Shops Can’t Help But Look At Linux
April 13, 2015 Dan Burger
What’s it going to take to get IBM midrange shops interested in running Linux on their Power Systems boxes? The references to better resiliency, better security, and better virtual machine density, (the capability to run more virtual machines on Power) are all well and good, but that alone won’t get it done. It won’t turn the tide, which is heavily in favor of running Linux on X86.
Working with the ISV community and continuing to build Linux awareness is part of the strategy.
Linux has become a much bigger deal in the enterprise space than is widely recognized by people in the IBM i community. According to the IBM i Marketplace Survey released last month by HelpSystems, 36 percent of IBM i shops say Linux is running in their environments. Precisely what that is or what it does is not part of the statistical breakdown, but it’s there. And what do you want to bet it will grow in significance a year from now?
Linux has evolved to be a factor in enterprises and enterprises are evolving to see that Linux has a place. There’s always a wait and see period, but there is a lot less waiting now and a lot more seeing. IBM’s investments in Linux have been huge. Not to be brushed aside with the wave of a hand and a “don’t bring that around here” attitude. IBM wants Linux on the Power Systems team. That message is clear. But it invites the question whether the IBM i community wants Linux. Will it be considered part of “our team” or will Linux continue to be considered the “other team”?
IBM needs to make some things happen and IBM i shops need to be aware of what is happening.
In IBM i shops participating in the Marketplace Survey, 6 percent say Linux runs on Power next to IBM i. Thirty percent say Linux runs on X86 servers. To me, that indicates the IBM i staff and the Linux staff are not on the same page and the Power Systems’ Linux benefits have not been considered, although there are undoubtedly shops that have considered running Linux on Power and the benefits were dismissed. My hunch is that IT collaboration is not a priority and the individual teams prefer being individual teams. And for the most part, the Linux team knows little or nothing about the benefits of Power and the Power team knows little or nothing about the benefits of Linux. Overall IT/business goals be damned.
Kevin Beasly is the CIO at VAI, an ERP vendor with a strong IBM i affiliation. For years, VAI has been developing products that run on Linux. Its core ERP application runs on IBM i, but there are multiple tiers that can be deployed in many different configurations–Linux being one of those options. Whether Linux runs on Power or X86 is up to the VAI customer. When customers want to be in charge of the Linux implementation, they typically choose to run on X86. When VAI is in charge of the implementation, Beasley says customers are less likely to care where Linux is running and it ends up on Power in about 50 percent of those cases, even when there is already Linux on X86 in those shops.
“We’ve only just begun seeing companies using Power Linux in the past two years,” he says as if mapping the landscape. “People don’t just switch because it’s good for them. We see a lot of VMware. Companies with a lot of X86 tend to virtualize. To get VMware shops to switch to Power will be a timing issue. When it’s time to replace servers, that’s the time they may look for something bigger, better, faster. If equipment is not doing the job, it may bring change.”
As everyone in IT knows, change does not come easy.
Vendor lock-in is another obstacle of aligning business and IT goals. Switching virtualization technologies has its technological hurdles, which only grow taller when partisan politics (us versus them divisions) are involved.
Replacing one virtualization technology with another is a long discussion, Beasly notes. And PowerKVM, server virtualization based on Power8 technology and compatible with the KVM running on X86 iron, is new to the game compared to VMware. It will take some time and a boost in awareness to build momentum in the replacement game.
Rather than the rip and replace option, there’s an approach that Beasly thinks will work better.
“As an ISV, we’re delivering a new application–a new workload–so that makes the timing good for a change. Maybe the VMware is full and there’s no place to add a new application, or the price is right, and we can get some Linux going on Power. I see some opportunity there without trying to replace an existing system,” he says.
New products bring new awareness. When long-time IBM midrange vendors start talking about their Linux products, their customers are going to notice. It adds credibility to Linux and provides a level of validation to the idea of co-locating Linux with i on Power.
Part of the awareness building process that’s aimed at IBM i shops is the increase in technical sessions at conferences such as COMMON and IBM Edge.
COMMON president Pete Massiello, in an interview with IT Jungle two weeks ago, was promoting a session agenda with an increased emphasis on Linux.
There will be some new Linux sessions at COMMON and some new initiatives being talked about. There will be some real technical sessions and some “Why should I care about Linux?” and “What Linux can do for you” sessions. The session schedule throughout the conference begins with basic introductions to enterprise-class Linux on Power and progresses toward deeper technical discussions. Session abstracts can be found at this link.
One of the session speakers is Donnie MacColl. In an email exchange, MacColl explained that his session objective is to demonstrate that Linux on Power has a lot in common with IBM i on Power. There are best practices for monitoring and controlling critical processes, applications, and the virtual I/O server; capacity planning and management reports; and checks on CPU disk and memory. The terminology is different, but the processes have a lot in common.
MacColl is director of technical services at Halcyon Software, another IBM i software vendor that has developed Linux-based products.
Beasly echoed MacColl’s thinking that Linux and IBM i are closer to being alike in appearance, navigation, and function than most people think. He also made the observation that while some IBM i vendors have in the past “jumped straight to Windows” (as a secondary market to IBM i), he’s now seeing more vendors supporting Linux.
“IBM has reached out to us in several partnership arrangements including marketing, customer engagements, and technology testing,” says Tom Huntington, director of technical services at HelpSystems. “A lot of it has to do with Linux on Power handling big data–data analytics, data storage, business intelligence.”
This is part of the systems of engagement packaged with the systems of record architectural discussion that is frequently espoused as a best practice.
“The biggest reasons for running Linux on Power are going to be scalability and reliability,” Huntington says. “Companies are going to look at the benefits of having a single footprint with partitions–having Linux Web servers in the same system with IBM i backend servers. All of this can be accomplished within the same frame that’s more scalable and reliable.”
The question of skills will also be a consideration for companies. Virtualization capabilities mixed with IBM i knowledge are likely to be desirable but not an easily available combination.
“You could flip this around,” Huntington says while referencing skills depletion as a top concern in the Marketplace Survey. “You could look at this as an opportunity for IBM i shops to bring in new hires and younger people to help them. If you bring in new staff and make Linux on Power next to IBM i your server requirements, the administrators who have Linux experience will be in a virtualized environment that introduces them to IBM i and shows them the potential of that system.”