IBM Gives AIX Some Of The Integration Spice Of IBM i
April 17, 2017 Timothy Prickett Morgan
Sometimes I just have to laugh. One of the best things about the IBM i platform, and the thing that truly separates it aside from its sophisticated single memory storage architecture is the fact that it is an integrated system that is easy to deploy and even easier to administer. So many functions of the system are automated that companies that don’t want to hire database experts can do a very good job of coding applications and running their business with far fewer techies than other platforms require.
The same has never been said of AIX, and it certainly cannot be said of Linux when it comes to running traditional transaction processing systems. (Although I definitely concede that new container-based application systems running with Docker containers on top of Linux go a long way toward automating – and securing – the entire application workflow from development to testing to deployment to tweaking to redeployment to eventual retirement.) Companies deploying on AIX and Linux rarely assemble an entire application stack for transactional systems from a single vendor, although it can be done from IBM with the AIX stack coupled with PowerVM and PowerVC and DB2 and from Oracle with its eponymous Linux and database. We know that the Red Hat Enterprise Linux distribution includes MySQL, MariaDB, and MongoDB, but that is not the same thing as getting enterprise-grade support for the databases that is comparable to the operating system and middleware stack that Red Hat has brilliantly and successfully assembled and turned into a multi-billion support business. Microsoft, of course, can sell you a complete stack with Windows Server, Hyper-V virtualization, SQL Server database, and Visual Studio development tools.
We got a chuckle out of an announcement that IBM made in conjunction with an AIX business partner called Vendita that essentially creates a Unix-based AS/400 style system on the four-socket Power Systems E850C system, which does not support IBM i just like its predecessor Power E850 system. The Power E850 was rolled out in May 2015 using Power8 processors and the Power E850C came out in October 2016 with some hardware and packaging enhancements and a focus on cloudy workloads but no Power8+ chip. (Technically, there has been no Power8+ chip, as we have discussed in the past.) In announcement letter 117-030, IBM is partnering up with Vendita, which is based in Toledo, Ohio, to make it easier to deploy and manage database servers running the combination of AIX and Oracle, which can be a might cranky – at least by the integration standard of the OS/400 and IBM i platform.
The offering being resold by IBM puts a layer of software called the Database Cloud Server on top of a four-socket Power E850 system with anywhere from 24 to 48 Power8 cores running at 3.65 GHz and equipped with 512 GB minimum of main memory. The software stack includes AIX Enterprise Edition, the top-end PowerVM Enterprise Edition logical partitioning hypervisor, and Cloud PowerVC Manager, which is IBM’s homegrown implementation of the OpenStack cloud controller for AIX, Linux, and sometimes IBM i environments. The key part of the Vendita software is called Master Automation Sequencer and it is used to provision and manage Oracle database management systems; the Vendita stack also includes add-ons to AIX that include the Git repository, the BASH shell scripting language, and the Python programming language that is popular these days for back end as well as front end stuff. The setup does not include licenses to Oracle databases themselves, so you have to buy them either through IBM or Oracle directly, and the flagship Oracle 12c Enterprise Edition is preferred.
This Vendita stack will be available from IBM starting April 21, and the sales pitch will be somewhat familiar to the IBM i faithful:
Yup. That’s an AS/400 approach and sales pitch if I ever saw one.
There are a few interesting things about this Vendita deal. First, it doesn’t support DB2 or Informix, the two databases sold by Big Blue itself. The latter not being supported by Vendita is not much of a surprise, considering IBM has not done much with Informix since it acquired it years ago and particularly since there are rumors that IBM will soon announce the end of life of Informix products. (We can’t vouch for these rumors.) If IBM was going to resell the Vendita stack, you would think it would wait until it had a DB2 variant out the door first, but perhaps it cannot wait and perhaps the market has told IBM that what it really wants is Oracle on the database.
The second peculiar thing relates to the cost and the value of such integration of the database and the automation. IBM has always been clear that this automation is worth something, and in fact worth a lot and therefore why IBM i platforms and their predecessors command a hefty premium over Windows and Linux stacks. (The gap is not always large, and sometimes it is absurdly huge, particularly with anything but the most modest Power Systems iron.) The funny bit here is that if you look at the list price for the Vendita tools on the Power E850C system, it is zero. Yup, IBM is giving it away, presumably with a reseller agreement. This, we think, sends precisely the wrong message. Clearly, the Vendita software has a cost and provides a value, and not outlining that makes it seem like it does not have a value at all. I was excited to actually see such pricing precisely because it would allow us to quantify the value of database integration and automation. But alas, no such luck.
What Vendita does say, and what we found particularly interesting, was that by using the management tools for Oracle databases that it has created, customers who might otherwise have to buy Oracle’s Real Application Clusters (RAC) database clustering can get by using logical partitions and its tools on PowerVM, and adds that if you take into account the cost of onsite startup and provisioning consulting and licensing of separate storage servers for Oracle database engines, then customers might shave as much as 25 percent off the cost of an Oracle deployment.
That sounds like a pretty good reason to try to do the same thing with DB2 on AIX and Linux to us. It also sounds like IBM can make the same case with the actually integrated IBM i platform, and as we have said time and again, we surely do wish IBM was pitching the Power E850 and then the Power E850C as an IBM i platform rather than making customers choose between a high-end two-socket Power S824 and a four-socket (and much more expensive) Power E870C. Such a box might not bring in a lot of new customers to the IBM i fold, but it sure might help keep a bunch of them there rather than being pushed to an Linux/Oracle or Windows/SQL Server platform by an upper management that probably doesn’t know how to quantify the differences between the platforms.
And so, we say once again. What IBM i needs to do is prove that integration has a value – one we all know is there – and quantify it and show it. Hell, even brag about it a little.