Big Blue Finally Brings IBM i To Its Own Public Cloud
February 18, 2019 Timothy Prickett Morgan
Well, that took quite a long time. After what seems like eons of nudging and cajoling and pushing, IBM is making the IBM i operating system and its integrated database management system, as well as the application development tools and other systems software, available on its self-branded IBM Cloud public cloud.
Big Blue previewed its plans to bring both IBM i and AIX to the IBM Cloud at its annual Think conference in Las Vegas, on scale out machines aimed at small and medium businesses as well as to customers who want to run clusters of machines, and on scale up systems that have NUMA electronics that more tightly cluster them into shared memory systems.
There are a lot of questions about how this will be all be packaged up and sold under the unwieldy name of the IBM Power Systems Virtual Server on IBM Cloud. But we will tell you all that we know and fill you in as we learn more.
The Power Systems slices served up on the IBM Cloud running IBM i and AIX were first rolled out for early access to selected customers to test the APIs for the control plane, which we presume is based on the PowerVC implementation of OpenStack. The initial customers who are kicking the tires were supposed to only deploy development and test environments or protype code, certainly not anything running in production. This was totally meant to be a proof of concept setup at this point, as you can see from the rollout roadmap:
The alpha and beta testing for the Power Systems slices on the IBM Cloud is on a pretty fast track, running from February into March, as you can see, and general availability is slated for some time in March. Probably somewhere towards the end, we would guess. IBM is initially making the Power puffs – what else can you call them as shorthand? – available in the early access tests in its US East datacenter in the Washington DC metro area; it is not clear what iron was used. The alpha and beta testing is being done on a collection of Power S922 scale out machines, which are based on a pair of Power9 processors and which frankly is a big box for most IBM i shops all by itself, as well as on Power E880 scale up systems, which are being scaled up to sixteen sockets and which use the older Power8 processors. All of the machines use ten-core processors, which are the sweet spot between performance, chip yield, and cost in the Power Systems line. The Power9 chips in the Power S922 servers run at 2.9 GHz and can turbo up to 3.8 GHz if there is enough thermal headroom; these chips look like they may have four threads per core (also known as SMT4), which is not as much threading as the normal Power8 chip offers in scale out machines with SMT8 threading (eight threads per core) and twice as many cores per die (24 cores versus 12 cores). Anyway, it looks like the Power S922 is being equipped with the heavy cores, not the light ones. The Power8 chips in the Power E880 are running at 4.19 GHz and also support SMT8 threading (there was only a heavy core here); all sixteen sockets are populated with ten-core Power8 chips, with a maximum scalability of 160 cores in a single logical partition on the IBM Cloud.
Both of the machines are being configured with 32 GB memory sticks, which are again at the sweet spot between capacity, bandwidth, and cost per bit, and IBM is allowing customers to configure the machines with anywhere from 8 GB to 64 GB of main memory per core. If you want denser memory to bolster the capacity, you can double it up using 64 GB memory sticks, and then double it up again to 128 GB sticks, but this will be a custom order and it will cost considerably more, we think. IBM is offering disk and flash storage up to 2 TB for local storage on the instances and growing at 10 GB increments. External storage for applications and databases is on Storwize V7000 disk arrays in the racks near this Power iron, and are linked to the servers by Fibre Channel switches. Customers can share machines or rent dedicated iron, depending on their proclivities for absolute security and dealing with noisy neighbors on the virtual infrastructure.
Steve Sibley vice president and offering manager for the Cognitive Systems division at IBM, gave me a sneak peek at the future Power cloud slices on a visit to the Austin, Texas labs last week, ahead of the Think conference. Here is how the features and functions of the logical partitions on the IBM Cloud are shaping up:
Sibley told us that the pricing was not yet set in stone for the virtual Power capacity on the IBM Cloud, but when pressed about comparing the cost between buying gear and renting it on the cloud, Sibley estimated that for a given IBM i or AIX workload running on similarly configured hardware and logical partitions, running the cloud instance would cost about 30 percent to 40 percent more on the instance running full out over three years compared to buying the iron and using it for three years. The difference, of course, is that IBM is managing the Power Systems and paying for the datacenter, the electricity, the cooling, the security, patch updates on firmware, the installation of the PowerVM hypervisor and its update, and the installation of the IBM i or AIX operating system. When companies buy their own Power Systems machines, unless they get augmented services from IBM or a business partner, it’s all on them. Pricing for the virtual machines, the memory, the storage, and the operating system and databases are all set per hour.
By the way, it is not clear what IBM i and AIX releases are supported on the machines, but presumably the current IBM i 7.2 and IBM i 7.3 releases are supported on the IBM Cloud as well as AIX 7.1 and AIX 7.2, which are also current. Linux is not mentioned as a supported platform, but SAP HANA workloads are and that implies that there is a Linux – and specifically Red Hat Enterprise Linux – underneath it since HANA in-memory databases are not supported on any Unix variant, or IBM i for that matter.
By March, IBM plans to have the IBM i and AIX instances available in production in its US East (Washington DC) and US South (Dallas) regions, and in the second quarter IBM plans to roll it in its European datacenter in its EU Central (Frankfurt) region, with other datacenters coming out as demand pulls and IBM pushes.
We will take a look at the pricing as soon as it becomes available and see how it all stacks up, and get the thoughts of other IBM i cloud players about what Big Blue is doing.