It’s Getting Cloud-i In Here
June 10, 2019 Alex Woodie
For many years, the only cloud option that IBM i customers had available to them were private clouds delivered by managed service providers (MSPs) or IBM business partners. But the IBM i community is now on the cusp of gaining not one but three public cloud options, delivered by Skytap, Google, and IBM itself – and more IBM i public clouds could be on the way.
It’s no secret that IBM has been seeking to place IBM i servers in the big three public clouds managed by Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud. And in fact, Google has been running Power Systems servers in its cloud for some time as a member of the OpenPower Foundation, while the other two clouds have been cooler to Power.
But it appears that 2019 will be the year that IBM i finally breaks through and gets seated at the big kids’ table for public clouds. We have already told you about all three of these new cloud options, in varying degree.
Here’s a quick recap of the pertinent players and events, and the latest on the three public cloud options that IBM i customers will soon have available to them.
Skytap emerged in late 2018 with a “true cloud” offering that allows customers to scale their IBM i instances up and down from a Web-based GUI. The Seattle, Washington-based company has been running AIX on Power Systems for a while, and is currently in beta with its IBM i cloud offering, with a GA announcement imminent.
The capability to scale IBM i processing capacity up and scale down dynamically is what separates Skytap’s infrastructure as a service (IaaS) offering from most MSP cloud engagements, which typically require customers to multi-year contracts and lengthy change orders to adjust capacity, Skytap vice president of product Dan Jones told IT Jungle in December.
“It’s all self-service,” Jones said of Skytap’s IBM i cloud. “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 is on the verge of announcing the general availability of its offering, which will run in two data centers: one in the Seattle area and other in Dallas, Texas. Stay tuned to IT Jungle for news of when it’s available.
Google Cloud Platform
We have been hearing rumblings of an IBM i cloud from Google since the May 2018 POWERUp conference in San Antonio, Texas, when IBM i chief architect Steve Will said the company was on the verge of launching a public cloud.
“As a cloud business, they [Google] are looking to get mid-size and big businesses to turn over some of their computing,” Will said during a panel conversation at the COMMON event last year. “In order to do that, they’re going to have to do that with i, AIX, and z. What you should be looking for in the news is when does that start to happen.”
Well, after a year of radio silence from Big Blue (and not a word on the matter from the Alphabet subsidiary) it looks like IBM i on the Google Cloud is finally starting to happen. At the most recent POWERUp conference at Disneyland last month, we heard from none other than Steve Sibley, IBM’s vice president for Power Systems offering management, that Google is, indeed, moving forward with IBM i public cloud offering.
“We’re working with Google to deploy the capability around AIX and IBM i in the future in the Google Cloud Platform,” Sibley said during his POWERUp keynote.
We’re still not sure on the exact timing, but it appears that an IBM i option for Google Cloud Platform could be announced soon.
Last but certainly not least, we have an update on the IBM i cloud offering on the IBM Cloud, which we first told you about in February. IBM talked about the IBM i cloud offering at its Think conference in San Francisco that month, and alpha tests for the service began about the same time.
At POWERUp19, we also learned more about IBM’s IBM i cloud offering from Kris Whitney, a senior technical staff member at IBM’s Rochester lab who leads development for the Db2 Mirror for i and IBM i Public Cloud enablement.
Whitney said the beta test for IBM’s IBM i cloud offering for IBM i versions 7.2 and 7.3 started on May 17, and was expected to last about three to four weeks. That puts the GA for this service this week or next week, when IBM i 7.4 becomes generally available. (Odds are, if everything goes well, IBM should announce GA next week.)
Customers will have a choice of deploying their IBM i virtual machine on a Power S922 or an E880. The servers will run either in IBM’s data center in Dallas or a data center near Washington D.C.
IBM will allow customers to purchase Power processing capacity in increments of one-quarter cores, Whitney said. They will be able to order up to 143 cores on the massive Power8-based Power E880 or up to four cores on the smaller Power9-based Power S922. (Support for the Power9-based Power E980 big iron is coming). On the memory front, customers will be able to order anywhere from 8 GB to 64 GB of RAM per core – they can go higher, but it’s a special order, which will cost you). Customers will be able to order storage in 10 GB increments up to 2 TB on either hard disks or SSDs.
Customers will be charged by the hour for their IBM i VMs, and will be billed monthly. “This is really infrastructure as a service,” Whitney said. “There’s going to be a portal. You go into the portal and you’re going to order your IBM i instance.”
But don’t expect the white-glove treatment on the IBM cloud. “You’re not going to be able to specify everything, like exact hardware configurations and those types of things, because the cloud model is fairly generic,” he said.
How They Compare
IBM has worked closely with Skytap on its offering. According to Whitney, IBM and Skytap are leading the way in creating public cloud options for IBM i workloads.
“Right now, you have two primary cloud offerings,” Whitney said during his POWERUp session on IBM’s IBM i public cloud. “I’m going to define cloud in very specific terms. We’ve had lots of [cloud] offerings . . . but my definition of cloud is being able to have a self-service portal and be able to be billed dynamically for what I use.”
There are some differences between the IBM and Skytap clouds. For starters, Skytap is using Power S922s, so it will not be able to scale up to 143 cores like IBM can with the Power E880. Also, while IBM lets customers order cores in increments of one-quarter core, Skytap will let customers order in one-eighth increments, Whitney said.
Skytap is also expected to offer “uncapped” capacity, which allows customers to utilize more processing capacity than they paid for if no other customers are using it, according to Whitney. “IBM cloud does a similar thing, but it’s not quite as aggressive on the sharing,” he said.
Exact pricing for both Skytap and IBM Cloud offerings have yet to be announced. Whitney said the IBM Cloud shouldn’t be much different than what customers get with on-premise IBM i capacity.
Whitney shared a little bit of additional information about Google. “We are working with other clouds that want to put Power Systems in, that want to put IBM i into their cloud,” Whitney said. “We have been working with Google. IBM i, it’s in the works. AIX will probably go first, and IBM i will trail a little bit behind it.”
While Skytap and IBM will charge based on IBM i VMs, it would appear that Google will take a different approach, Whitney said. “You have more of a set of resources and within that set of resources, you can create VMs,” he said. “It’s just a different way of looking at how you want to manage your virtual environment, whether you want to buy this big chunk of resources, or if you really want to pay as you go and add the virtual machine layer.”