Skytap Says It’s Building a ‘True Cloud’ Offering for IBM i
December 5, 2018 Alex Woodie
IBM i shops have a multitude of managed service providers (MSPs) to choose from for private cloud capabilities, but those looking for a public, AWS-like cloud experience are out of luck. Now an outfit called Skytap is looking to change that by providing a “true cloud” experience that lets IBM i customers scale up and down capacity from a Web GUI.
Skytap was founded in Seattle, Washington, about 12 years ago to facilitate the development, testing, training, and modernization of enterprise applications destined to run in the public cloud. The venture-backed outfit used its expertise in virtualization to help customers with the sometimes complicated process of moving traditional n-tier systems and all their dependencies into a modern cloud infrastructure.
“Our customers will bring anchor applications — core applications that are running the business — but they struggle with being able to be more agile with the development of those applications,” says Skytap’s vice president of product Dan Jones. “And because those apps are running the core business, there’s obviously a barrage of requirements hitting the team and they can’t keep pace with it. They run into constraints around provisioning new environments or adopting DevOps models that require more flexibility in the infrastructure.”
A year ago, the company added support for IBM Power servers running AIX. That AIX business has been going better than expected, says Jones, who says questions about IBM i workloads began almost immediately after Skytap started hosting AIX workloads.
“As we started talking to customer and prospects about AIX, IBM i hit the radar pretty quickly,” Jones tells IT Jungle. “After a few months of constantly hearing about IBM i, we started doing research about what are those types of workload, what do customers want to do with those workloads, which are very parallel to AIX.”
Those discussions ultimately ended in the decision to broaden the business out to IBM i hosting, and last week, the company announced the start of a technical preview of an IBM i cloud. The preview barely, but some big companies in retail, financial service, and food preparation have already signed up, Jones says.
Skytap Cloud for IBM i isn’t a typical IBM i cloud offering, Jones says. Instead of signing up for a “rigid” three year to five year deals that they’re “locked into,” as he says is the case with most IBM i MSP offerings, Skytap customers will be able to add and remove IBM i processing capacity as they need, and on a more fine-grained basis than what a typical MSP can provide.
“What we’re providing is a true cloud offering,” Jones says. We don’t stand up specific gear for specific customers. It truly is a highly scalable, multi-tenant environment.”
Just as they get with X86 workloads on the three big public clouds – Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud Platform – Skytap customers get their own operating system image they can run via the infrastructure as a service (IaaS) delivery method.
“So it’s capacity on demand. It’s all self-service,” Jones says. “You want to spin up a new LPAR, you go do that through our UI or a set of APIs. Once the contract is signed or you’re a Skytap customer, you grow your footprint the way you need to grow your footprint. You don’t need to come back to us to revise a contract or provision a new contract for you.”
Skytap currently operates servers out of 11 data centers, including its own facility in the Pacific Northwest and IBM facilities in Dallas and London. It runs Power servers in its own Seattle-area data center, while in Dallas, the Power servers are in a co-location facility next-door to the IBM SoftLayer data centers. The company is also looking to have Power servers in its Toronto data center soon.
While it has a close partnership with IBM, Skytap requisitions its own storage. The company utilizes a pure SSD storage footprint for Power servers, although it does offer spinning disk for x86. For Power, all of the storage is done over an iSCSI network in a software defined manner, Jones says. It does not plan to offer direct access storage.
Skytap has hired expertise to ensure that IBM i customers have a good performance with application architecture , implementation experience, and storage. “But in terms of core administration of the operating system,” Jones says, “that’s really the customer’s responsibility.”
The company currently offers PowerHA for AIX customers, and plans to offer both PowerHA and logical replication for its IBM i customers. The company is in talks with Rocket Software and Syncsort to get their HA solutions certified for its environment, Jones says.
Customers can manage their Skytap environments through a Web-based GUI or via APIs. “We have a PowerShell plug-in. We have Ansible plug-ins. By the end of the year, we’ll release a Terraform plug-in,” Jones says. “If they’ve scripted their environment, they can certainly spin up an environment using Terraform or they can alter the configuration of their environment or LPARs through the API or the Web UI.”
Pricing is configured in two ways, including the amount of GB of storage they’re using and the GB of RAM. Each GB of RAM also comes with 100GB of storage, Jones says. Customers can get capacity on a per-hour or a per-month basis, Jones says. Customers can also get “reserved instances” that they can pay for on a monthly basis, he says.
While the company hasn’t yet stood up its IBM i environment, it’s evident Skytap means business. “We really see the next wave of the cloud here is going to be a focus on these anchor apps,” Jones says. “We’re all about pioneering the move of these applications to the cloud. IBM i makes that up, and there will probably be more to come.”