IBM i DevOps Gets Simpler On Skytap Cloud
February 25, 2019 Alex Woodie
IBM i professionals who yearn for the administrative simplicity of Amazon Web Services will soon be rewarded when Skytap’s IBM i cloud becomes generally available next quarter. Among the IBM partners Skytap is tapping for the roll-out is Rocket Software, which is integrating the Aldon suite of lifecycle management tools to simplify DevOps in a potentially ground-breaking new way.
Rocket Software is in the process of certifying its Aldon Lifecyle Manager for IBM i (LMi) software to run on Skytap‘s public cloud offering for IBM i. Late last year, Skytap, which has Amazon’s Jeff Bezos as a major investor and which is also based in Seattle like Amazon, unveiled plans for Skytap Cloud for IBM i, which will allow customers to spin IBM i environments up and down from the comfort of a Web interface.
David Romo, the director of software engineering for Rocket Software, which is based on Waltham, Massachusetts, says the combination of Aldon LMi and Skytap’s flexible cloud environment has the potential to change the DevOps experience for IBM i professionals.
“The first use case would be for quality assurance,” Romo tells IT Jungle. “So you just spin up a machine. Aldon would deploy the code to that machine. You would test it, and then get rid of the machine – delete it – once you are done testing.”
Skytap made a name for itself by helping enterprises to manage complex cloud-based applications that span multiple operating platforms, including AIX on Power and Linux and Windows on X86. With the introduction of IBM i on Power, Skytap will let customers add another operating system to their virtualized assets.
Romo is particularly enamored of Skytap “environments,” which are collections of virtualized IBM Power and Intel X86 machines running in Skytap’s cloud. The virtual machines are linked through Skytap’s software defined network, and customers can scale these diverse environments up and down as a cohesive unit. Once customers have configured an environment to their liking, they can save it as a read-only template that they can call whenever they like.
“You can instantiate these templates and then you have a whole system,” Romo says. “If you had an environment that included a development machine, a QA machine, and a production machine, you can spin up as many of these as you want, and they’re all going to be running within the amount of time it takes for them to IPL.”
This will greatly diminish the friction that development teams normally face when tasked with spinning up development and QA systems for testing new code. In an on-premise environment, getting development and QA systems normally entails filling out a ticket for the IT admins to fill. In a private cloud environment, getting these hardware resources can involve sending an email request, and waiting days for the new environments to go online.
“That’s something that we can do internally now with our Intel systems,” Romo says. “We can spin those up and spin those down on an as-needed basis. But with the IBM i partitions, we’re not really able to do that yet. We can’t get a fresh, brand-new partition to do testing on, whereas with the VMware, that’s how we’re doing it.”
Skytap uses IBM PowerVM under the covers to spin IBM i and AIX images up and down. But instead of exposing to customers the complexity of PowerVM – not to mention the Hardware Management Console (HMC) – it gives them a Web UI or a RESTful API for managing IBM i and AIX resources.
“Some of our secret sauce is the way that we capture VM images, the way we capture the storage, and then our whole software-defined networking, which supports Layer 2 and above,” says Dan Jones, Skytap’s vice president of product. “Aldon users will have a mixture of interacting with the Aldon UI as well as interacting with the Skytap UI. Then under the covers, the Aldon UI can provision an environment from a template, spin it up, deploy software to it, and then save it off as [another] template.”
The capability to spin IBM i QA and development environments up and down as needed will save customers substantial amounts of money and pain on the DevOps front, Jones predicts.
“If you think about how most customers run IBM i today, because of the capital outlay on the hardware, they’re not really in a position where they can spin up and spin down non-production workloads at will,” he says. “They have their hardware purchase, where they just sort of leave everything running. And if they’re at capacity and want to start up another project, well ware we going to shut down to startup this other project? Are we going to have to go spend tens of thousands of dollars on another server and tens of thousands of dollars on licensing to get a whole other environment up and running?”
Rocket is also working with Skytap to certify two other products on its cloud, including the iCluster HA/DR software and the Cloud Connector for IBM i, which lets customers use BRMS to save backups to the cloud. Skytap won’t support tape connectivity for backups (it uses a proprietary SSD-based storage layer), so the Cloud Connector will be attractive, Romo says.
Skytap is also working with two other IBM i high availability software providers, HelpSystems and Syncsort, to get their solutions certified on its IBM i cloud before it goes GA. Its working with HelpSystems to get the network-based (i.e. non storage-based) PowerHA replication offerings running on its cloud, while it’s working with Syncsort to get MIMIX running. There could be additional HelpSystems products certified by the time Skytap Cloud for IBM i goes live, which is slated to occur before June 30.
IBM also has an interest in Skytap, for several reasons. First, Skytap is an IBM Cloud client, and all of its Power Systems offerings will run in IBM Cloud datacenters. Secondly, IBM will resell the IBM i and AIX cloud offerings as a solution called IBM Cloud for Skytap Solutions, or ICSS.
Thirdly, IBM has been working with Skytap to come up with a better licensing model for running software in a public cloud environments. The details aren’t public yet, but Jones says the early feedback from customers has been quite positive.
“We’ve been doing a lot of analysis, modeling, and engineering work to figure out how do we do that translation between a licensing model that’s tied to the physical world, how do we translate that to customers who are operating in the virtual world,” Jones tells IT Jungle. “We’re pretty close to finalizing that. Thus far, the feedback has been excellent, and I think we’ve been able to get it transcribed into a cloud-friendly model. We think we have that model in place. We need to run a few more simulations just to make sure that we don’t end up underwater each month with large IBM i licensing bills.”