IBM i Finally Gets Native Cloud Backup
October 17, 2016 Alex Woodie
One of the most compelling announcements out of IBM last week was the launch of Cloud Storage Solutions for i. The new offering, which becomes available October 28 with a starting cost of $2,400, will allow customers on IBM i 7.1 or later to back up to 1TB on IBM’s cloud, directly through BRMS. Some may even be able to get rid of their tape drives entirely, IBM says.
Cloud storage isn’t new, of course. It’s not even new on the IBM i platform, thanks to the work of a number of managed service providers (MSPs) who have been offering online backups for over a decade. But this announcement is significant because it is coming directly from IBM, which operates more than 50 SoftLayer data centers around the world. And with Cloud Storage Solutions for i, DB2 and IFS data from IBM i shops will soon be spread across those data centers.
Cloud Storage Solutions for i is a new licensed program product that includes a number of APIs to enable customers to move IBM i data up to the cloud in a somewhat seamless manner. Tim Rowe, IBM i business architect for application development and systems management, says it will be as easy to use as Dropbox is for PCs and mobile users.
“Right now we provide solutions to let you connect into SoftLayer so you can very quickly and easily move data to SoftLayer and then move data from SoftLayer back down to IBM i,” Rowe tells IT Jungle. “It’s actually really kind of cool to see this stuff go back and forth.”
IBM’s cloud offering will work directly with the IBM i OS’s backup utility, Backup and Recovery Media Services (BRMS), to store IBM i backups on the SoftLayer cloud. But the offering isn’t tied to BRMS, and customers will be able to move any piece of data, such as IFS files, to the cloud. Today, IBM i pros will do that through a command line and automated scripts. In the future, IBM plans to offer a GUI that will make moving data to the cloud even easier.
The initial version of the cloud offering will support VPN and FTP connections. IBM will also support features like asynchronous transfers, parallel transfers, and a transfer progress indicator, the company says.
Armed with Cloud Storage Solutions for i, smaller IBM i shops with less data could possibly get rid of their tape drives with this solution. Eventually, tape drives may not be needed at all, says Rowe. “Long term, it could very well be a possibility where you no longer need a tape drive to do your backups at all,” he says.
Customers must furnish their own Internet connections, obviously, and the amount of bandwidth will dictate how quickly the initial backup to the cloud takes, as well as subsequent incremental backs up. Uploading 500 GB backup over a 10 Mb/sec line, for example, will take 122 hours, according to this handy dandy data upload calculator. You would need a full weekend (51 hours) to upload a 1 TB database, assuming you had a 51 Mb/sec line (OC1).
IBM recommends that customers with more than 1 TB to backup do not use this solution. In that sense, this offering is aimed squarely and small and midsize shops with modest data needs. There are also some restrictions on file sizes that you should consider.
Customers who adopt Cloud Storage Solutions for i should expect some bumps in the road. But they should also know that the product will improve with time, says Alison Butterill, IBM i Product Offering Manager.
“Keep in mind there are some limitations around file sizes and the speed of the links,” says Alison Butterill, IBM i product offering manager. “Maybe not limitations, but recommendations. Because we’re starting down this path, we need some more customer experience and so on before we continue building it out.”
When it goes live in less than two weeks, the offering will be available only on IBM’s SoftLayer cloud. IBM will also team up with business partners who want to re-sell this offering to their own clients.
Over time, IBM will support other clouds, including Amazon Web Services, which runs what is without question the largest cloud operation in the known universe. Eventually, IBM says that it will provide a way to natively store your precious IBM i data on Google‘s massive cloud, or even Microsoft Azure.
So, when you upload your data to SoftLayer using Cloud Storage Solutions for i, where will it actually be? (Good question!) It turns out that IBM is using an object storage system to store the IBM i data. About a year ago, IBM acquired an object storage system software vendor named Cleversafe.
IBM last week announced that it was putting Cleversafe in the cloud to provide cheap cloud-based storage for large files and big data set, and it turns out this is where the IBM i data will reside too. IBM said that its new cloud offering could store data 24 percent cheaper than what AWS charges with its S3 offering. It also claims that the data in its cloud-based object store is more secure and reliable, thanks to the sophisticated erasure coding in the Cleversafe software that stripes data across multiple nodes in a cluster, and even across data centers located in different regions. (Think of erasure coding as RAID-50.)
IBM supports both S3 and Swift APIs with the new cloud-based object store. But don’t expect to access your IBM i data via S3 or Swift APIs anytime soon. IBM is keeping the IBM i data in lockdown on the SoftLayer cloud. (The EBCDIC-to-ASCI conversion that must be performed before data is stored in the X86-based Cleversafe object storage system may also complicate compatibility with S3 or Swift APIs, but these are questions that can be answered at a later time, possibly by the mysterious IBMer named Steve Finnes.)
IBM has a two-pronged pricing strategy for the new cloud offering. According to the price sheet, product number 5733-ICC, which will allow customers to back up data from an unlimited number of partitions, will cost $5,000. Customers who want to use the software on a single partition can get the softer for just $2,400. For more information, see IBM U.S. Software Announcement 216-419.