Public Cloud Dreaming For IBM i
January 23, 2019 Alex Woodie
Is the IBM i community suffering from a bad case of cloud envy? While we profess to love our servers, it’s difficult to sit by and watch as our Windows and Linux colleagues tap into unlimited storage and compute resources offered by public cloud vendors. Maybe that will all change in 2019, but it’s not looking likely.
Public cloud vendors have invested hundreds of billions of dollars to build massive data centers around to world to house scads of cheap X86 servers and storage resources. Tens of thousands of companies have moved some or all of their computing stacks into these public clouds – not to mention the untold number of startups that were born on the cloud and have never experienced the unbridled joy of running their own gear.
Each of the Big Three of public clouds – Amazon Web Services, Google Compute Platform, and Microsoft Azure – grew revenues around 50 percent in 2018. The next three biggest public clouds – IBM Cloud, Oracle Cloud, and Alibaba Cloud – are also growing quickly, but none of them can match the scale of AWS.
AWS owns 40 percent of the global infrastructure as a service (IaaS) and platform as a service (PaaS) markets, giving it a dominant position in a fast-growing industry. The Seattle, Washington, division of the ecommerce giant had $27 billion in revenues last year and is on pace to be a $100-billion company in 2021. While its parent company famously eschews recording of profits in favor of seemingly endless expansion, AWS remains an extremely profitable entity.
Clouds started to go mainstream prior to 2016, but they became “the new normal” in 2017, says Synergy Research Group‘s Chief Analyst and Research Director John Dinsdale. By last year, public cloud began dominating IT spending in some areas, “sucking up potential growth opportunities for non-cloud technologies and services.”
Because they don’t fit in public clouds, you’d have to count Power Systems servers in that “non-cloud technologies and services” bucket. While you’re at it, put the entirety of IBM System z business there as well. These critical midrange and mainframe platforms continue to be relied upon by tens of thousands of enterprises. But it just so happens that doesn’t fit nicely into the new cloud paradigm.
IBM i Chief Architect Steve Will teased COMMON PowerUP attendees last year that Google was on the cusp of announcing a public cloud offering for IBM i. IT Jungle has also heard there were murmurings of a similar offering at last year’s AWS re:Invent conference.
Alas, none of the public cloud vendors have made any public announcements of a pending IBM i cloud. While it could still happen, it probably won’t, according to Rich Waidmann, the CEO of private cloud vendor Connectria.
“What makes [IBM i] unique compared to a typical Amazon or Azure environment is when you get into different classes of the systems, P10 and P20 scenarios,” Waidmann tells IT Jungle. “There are multiple models and flavors of IBM i and it’s impractical to think that any of those providers are going to have all of those different systems out there.”
Connectria has been in the IBM i hosting business since the platform was called the AS/400, and it has a large collection of “vintage” IBM hardware. The St. Louis, Missouri, company keeps the old stuff around because one can’t run old operating systems on new hardware.
“There’s a whole bunch of people who, for whatever reason, can’t upgrade their operating system, so they’re still running i5/OS V5R4, IBM i 6.1, and 7.1,” Waidmann says. “I doubt there’s any way you’d ever be able to get that in a public cloud. We started doing it [hosting OS/400 workloads] in 2000. We’ve been doing it so long, we’ve got equipment that we’ve had for years.”
Another hurdle to having a public cloud offering for IBM i is the serial number issue. Operating systems and application software is licensed to specific hardware, and it’s tracked through specific serial numbers. When a customer moves to bigger machines, or different P-groups (such as a server hosted by a cloud provider), they must pay an upgrade fee – even if their overall workload hasn’t grown. It’s been a contentious issue for over a decade, but there’s no indication the problem is going away any time soon.
“You’d have to get with the thousands of application vendors out there that require you to have a serial numbers,” Waidmann says. “Your application is tied to serial number. But with Amazon and Azure, you never know what serial number your hardware is running. It moves around all the time. They’ll take a rack down, move your stuff over here or over there. It just doesn’t fit their model of how they’ve designed things.”
Connectria is attempting to offer the best of both worlds with its TRiA Multi-Cloud Management Platform. The company initially launched the offering over a year ago to give its IBM i private cloud customers a single dashboard where they can manage IBM i applications hosted on Connectria’s private IBM i cloud side by side with applications running on AWS.
This week, the company expanded that offering to include connections linking IBM i hosted apps with Azure resources, and also connections to AWS and Azure to its AIX cloud offering.
Waidmann says his private cloud customers enjoy fast network connection to Azure and AWS data centers, enabling them to either move IBM i or AIX data into the public cloud environments, or to query IBM i and AIX databases directly from the public cloud. This lets them keep their IBM i and AIX workloads running in a managed environment, while also benefiting from the flexible data processing capabilities offered on the public cloud.
“What we’ve created fits that model and we’ve married it with Amazon and Azure,” Waidmann says. “So customers can have their Intel workloads running in Amazon and Azure, and have IBM i environments on the IBM i cloud, and they get the best of both worlds.”
The smart folks say multi-cloud and hybrid cloud strategies are the key to surviving digital disruptions. There are plenty of private clouds around from Connectria and other managed service providers (MSPs) plying the IBM i market. With services like TRiA, it’s clear there’s not much stopping these private clouds from interacting with public cloud services in a hybrid manner.
IBM i may not get a public cloud to live on any time soon. But that may not matter much in the grand scheme of things.