IBM i Finds A Place At Edge Conference
September 26, 2016 Dan Burger
The IBM i community was born and raised with platform-specific tendencies. That was the way of the IBM IT world for many years. It’s not the way anymore. The strategy for IBM Power Systems, running i and AIX, is much more open. It’s OpenPower and OpenStack oriented. Its roadmap has cloud and cognitive computing highlighted. The IBM Edge conference last week left no doubt about that. So what’s left for i?
Power Systems general manager Doug Balog says there’s plenty. IBM continues to invest in IBM i, Balog says, using the stream of OS releases 7.1, 7.2, and 7.3 as indicators that the corporate mothership is intently monitoring and responding to customer requests.
From his Power Systems mountaintop, Balog has a view of the IBM i ecosystem that takes in an active managed server provider business, which fits comfortably into the Power Systems roadmap for cloud. He likes what he sees. But then again, there’s reason to believe he sees what he likes.
“We have hundreds of MSPs around the world who have decided to focus on IBM i as a business model,” the GM says. “They are very regional and they aim for IBM i clients that are sort of struggling with currency, skills, modernization. The customers are looking for help. Someone to take that on for them. The MSP becomes that source.”
The struggles are real. The help is necessary. The details of who will help, what kind of cloud is best, and how much it will cost are still being worked out.
For the most part the IBM i MSPs are known entities in their regions. They’ve been IBM business partners that have traditionally sold hardware and independent software vendors (ISVs) that have for years sold tools and solutions. They have trusted relationships with the IBM i customer base and know the pain points. They also see the need for services increasing. Their message to the small to midsize IBM i shop is “Why not let me run your system for you?”
It’s not a new message. Two years ago, Balog noted in an IT Jungle interview that the more than 200 MSPs had IBM i servers in their data centers. In the past two years some of those MSPs have reported business growth, but the demand has been lukewarm. The MSPs were looking at significant data center cloud infrastructure costs and limited demand for their services. After some slow going, however, it might be time for managed services to get more traction. These things do take time.
To encourage MSPs, IBM is rolling out cloud server incentive program, which was announced at Edge. The program includes three server options, with technology that has been in the marketplace for several years, but repackaged to be cloud relevant. Pricing of the servers is where the incentives comes in. This is not entirely new either. IBM announced a program called EasyScale pricing in January to stimulate some MSP action on the AIX side of Power Systems and last month announced the sliding scale pricing was available for MSPs featuring IBM i servers.
“We have pricing models that allow MSPs to pay as they grow. They can take our system with a low investment and as they add clients, they pay on a scale-up basis,” Balog says. The cloud servers, referred to as the C-Class of the Power Systems Enterprise machines, come packaged with open source management tools and 12 months of access to the IBM cloud. (We will be profiling these in next week’s issue, so stay tuned.)
“The MSP businesses are going to buy these cloud machines,” Balog predicts. “They will be running multiple clients on a system and will need the virtualization capabilities, a single footprint that can scale up for HA.”
Meanwhile, the new cloud servers and pricing incentives will also be available to IBM i shops with plans to build their own on-premise cloud environments.
“There’s an incredible demand from Power customers (IBM i and AIX) for taking their core infrastructure and modernizing to an on-prem cloud,” Balog contends. “And we know clients won’t want to stop with on-prem cloud. They’ll want to reach into IBM’s cloud where we have a data center full of Power Servers. Embedded in the server offering is twelve months of Linux on Power in SoftLayer, the IBM cloud. Services to set up backup and recovery to the cloud are also part of the package.”
Traditionally it’s been backup and recovery in the cloud that has been the biggest draw for IBM i customers to put workloads in the data centers of IBM business partners long before that service was referred to as cloud.
Whether its on-premise, or in IBM’s cloud, or some of each, Balog says the Power Systems strategy is positioned for the future. It’s his job to make it so. The cloud aspect is just a part of the strategy that has a big emphasis on Linux, analytics, and cognitive computing. More on that topic in a separate article this week.
As a real world example of getting it done, the huge office products company Staples was invited to tell of its successful journey to integrate backend systems with a new cloud-based system. Although not specifically mentioned, it is widely known that Staples runs its core business on IBM i. Its choice was to build a hybrid cloud because it had information that was for internal use only (kept on premise) and information it would share outside the company (kept in the IBM cloud). Power is key to running our website, supply chain, and backend systems. Advice: get started. A lot of value in the cloud. Don’t try to boil the ocean. Staples started the journey with automating the server build process. From there it built out an infrastructure as a service. That went all the way to infrastructure for production.
It’s good to see an IBM i shop explore the Power Systems roadmap like this. Obviously Staples has devoted resources to take on a project of this magnitude. It’s the other end of the scale from the SMB shops mentioned earlier that are struggling with currency, skills, modernization, but it demonstrates, just as that smaller shop would, that Power Systems and IBM i are capable of things that are not typically associated with the platform.
As Balog describes the customer base, “It’s not about shops looking to port off the platform, but looking to take full advantage of it.”
He also noted that IBM i has been stable in terms of the revenue it generates. Revenue grew single digits in the most recent quarter of financial reporting and this comes after positive revenue gains throughout 2015. That’s a pretty fair record considering this is the third year in the in the Power8 cycle.