Is The ‘Golden Age’ of Computing Leaving IBM i Behind?
December 4, 2017 Alex Woodie
About 50,000 people descended upon Las Vegas last week for AWS re:Invent, the biggest cloud computing conference in the industry. And AWS didn’t disappoint, rolling out dozens of new services, including automated machine learning, a multi-master NoSQL database, and even a graph database for finding hidden connections among billions of data points. With all the innovation going on at AWS, it’s worth wondering whether cloud innovation is leaving IBM i customers behind.
AWS CEO Andy Jassy didn’t mince words in describing what he views as the current computing revolution. “We are going through the biggest transformation of technology in our lifetimes,” he said during his keynote address. “This is the time — the Golden Age of computing.”
As the top salesman for the world’s biggest cloud provider, Jassy obviously has a stake in the game. He’s neither afraid of, nor immune from, making big and possibly outlandish claims about how wonderful things are up in his giant cloud. AWS actually launched a new cloud-based IDE called Cloud9, which demonstrates just how comfy and welcoming the AWS product team wants things to be (or at least appear to be).
Suspicion is warranted anytime the hype needle starts to wiggle. Nobody wants the Golden Age of anything to pass them by. But give Jassy some credit. After all, he’s the head of the world’s biggest computer company, which runs millions of servers and stores zettabytes of data on behalf of tens of thousands around the world, including the US Government, for whom it built a private cloud. AWS has done more to shake up the macro economies of computing since Microsoft heralded the rise of the PC era 30 years ago, which was supposed to mark the end of the monolithic computing era begun by IBM some 30 years before that.
Except, of course, the monolithic computing era never really ended. Thousands of IBM mainframes still run critical business processes for most of the world’s top companies, while its EBCDIC partner in crime, the IBM i server, chugs along comfortably, providing secure and reliable processing power for tens of thousands of organizations globally (including the one you probably work for).
The System z mainframe and the IBM i midrange server have weathered all sorts of technological revolutions: client-server computing, object-oriented programming languages, the Internet, open source software, agile development, mobile computing, microservices, DevOps, etc. The IBM i community is still in the midst of adapting to some of these changes, as nothing ever seems to progress cleanly or at a predictable or constant pace – in IT, or in life, for that matter.
Now we’re facing a new revolution in IT, cloud computing, which encompasses a large swath of new technologies and new capabilities that the CIO and the CEO must wrap their heads around. And according to Jassy, the shift to cloud is a real doozy.
“I’ve had countless conversations over the last several years with lots of people asking, how long do you think this transformation is going to take?” he said during his keynote. “Some people think it’s going to take just a few years. Some people claim it’s going to take a few decades.”
“I’ve also had conversations with a number of people who know they need to think about and know they need to care about the cloud, but in reality they’re not that interested,” Jassy continued. “They kind of want to be doing things the same way they’ve been doing it for a long time. And they have a number of old guard technology companies who it behooves for this transition to go really slowly. ‘It’s okay, it’s going to take a few decades.’ They are not helping you. They are not helping build this!”
“The reality is, when you’re making a big transformation, like the cloud is, the longer you take to make it, the harder it is to execute, because you get you deeper and deeper into the hole of whatever you’re building, whatever you need crawl out of,” Jassy said. “This is not about skating to where the puck is, guys. The puck’s been dropped. It’s right in front of you. You’ve got to decide, are you going to play, or are you skate away and not play? For companies, there’s a huge penalty for not playing, because you’re going to have less capable technology than all of your competitors who are leveraging the cloud.”
Jassy then reminded his audience that AWS has put out 1,300 new services and features in 2017, an impressive number to be sure. “That’s on average three and a half new capabilities, new features per day for you to take advantage of, if you want,” he said. “You’re not going to find that if you’re not using the cloud. So for anybody in this room who believes that the next ten years will have less innovation than the last ten years – I don’t think so. And I think the last ten years had a lot of innovation.”
“So this is the time to be building,” Jassy concluded. “There is so much to invent, there is so much to change, there is so much you can do with your customers, that unless you’re a monopoly who doesn’t have competitors, then all of your competitors are going to be using the cloud.”
To see if this cloud-based view of a pending techno-alypse resonated on the street, IT Jungle sought out the views of Scott Azzolina, vice president of marketing for Connectria, a managed service provider (MSP) that provides cloud hosting for a variety of platforms, including IBM i.
In Azzolina’s view, the hype Jassy generated regarding AWS cloud capabilities is a tad overdone. “People just want to run their applications,” he said. “They want them secure and they want them to perform well.”
IBM i has always existed in a world where there are other computer platforms to choose from, and it has won some deals and has lost some deals. In that view, the cloud in general — and AWS’s cloud in particular — are merely additional platforms that IBM i customers may or may not choose to use.
“Our customers are not on one single platform, and they will not stay on one single platform,” Azzolina said. “They’re always going to have multiple technologies, multiple platforms. The cloud is really just an evolution of what they’ve had before in their own data centers. Now, they still want to have options and run multiple clouds, different platforms perhaps. Our challenge, and what we address, is how do you manage all that.”
The St Louis, Missouri, company used the AWS re:Invent tradeshow last week to announce TRIA Multi-Cloud, a new multi-cloud management solution that allows customers to manage AWS, Microsoft Azure, and on-premise VMware environments from a single dashboard. The MSP, which is an AWS partner, plans to add support for IBM i and AIX in 2018, Azzolina said.
As for Jassy’s declaration that customers who don’t move their workloads to the AWS cloud are going to left in the digital dust, Azzolina doesn’t buy it. IBM i shops are already using public clouds, including AWS and Azure, and they’re adopting digital transformation strategies and DevOps to keep pace with the accelerating pace of IT evolution.
But don’t expect wholesale shifts of computing workloads to go from IBM i to AWS any time soon, he said.
You’re not seeing people necessarily want to abandon the platforms and technology that they’ve used for many years based upon eye candy that Amazon puts out there,” Azzolina said. “It’s a pragmatic approach, but I think it’s a realistic approach, and what we see is that that’s still the way of the world, if you will.”
There’s value to what Amazon is doing, he added. “A lot of it is relevant. A lot of it is valid,” he said. “But we also see a diverse range of platforms still holding true for a lot of organizations.”