Skytap Bullish On Its Hourly Billing In New IBM i Cloud
July 8, 2019 Alex Woodie
After a successful tech preview, Skytap last month announced that its public cloud for IBM i is now open for business. Customers can rent time on Skytap’s IBM i cloud, starting at $200 per month per vCPU or $.50 per hour per vCPU. While the monthly option will work well for production workloads, it’s the hourly billing option that’s turning heads, especially among IBM i developers looking to adopt agile and DevOps practices.
Skytap isn’t the only cloud option for IBM i customers. There are numerous private cloud offerings launched over the past few years, largely as IBM business partners, resellers, and distributed transitioned their business models. Then there is the new public cloud offering from IBM, and possibly another coming from Google Cloud at some point in the future.
But according to Skytap executives, the Seattle, Washington, company has an ace card that most other IBM i clouds can’t touch at this time: hourly pricing. Big Blue itself has offered hourly pricing on its IBM Cloud running IBM i and AIX instances, as we have recently reported. The other cloud providers will no doubt have to follow suit.
“The monthly pricing works well for those static production workloads, while the hourly pricing model works well for development and test and moving to a more agile methodology,” Dan Jones, Skytap’s vice president of product, told IT Jungle recently. “We’re really excited about this. We’re not aware of anybody else offering IBM i in hourly model. That’s big news from us on that front.”
Jones shared some details around the infrastructure and billing options available to customers. The company is selling access to slices of Power S822 and Power S922 servers running IBM i versions 7.2, 7.3, and 7.4. Customer logical partitions (LPARs, which is what IBM calls virtual machines) are connected to processing units called virtual CPUs, or vCPUs. There are eight vCPUs available per physical core, and each vCPU has roughly 1,875 CPWs of workload capacity. The LPARs are deployed uncapped, which means customers have a guaranteed minimum of capacity, but can use any additional idle CPU cycles available on the processor.
Customers can configure the amount of RAM they want connected to those vCPUs, up to a maximum of 512 GB per LPAR. On the storage front, the Skytap cloud uses 2 TB solid state drives, although customers can have those drives configured for different sizes if they want. Customer LPARs can support up to 32 drives, for a maximum of 64 TB of storage per LPAR. Pricing for storage is $0.10 per GB per month; there is an equivalent hourly storage option available, too.
On the software front, Skytap customers get a standard mix of licensed program products (LPP) from IBM, including BRMS, IBM i Access Client Solutions, IBM i Navigator, and Web and Java libraries, in addition to the IBM i operating system and its integrated relational database management system. Skytap manages the firmware associated with the Power Systems infrastructure via HMCs located in the three data centers where Skytap is offering IBM i (Seattle, Dallas, and London), but everything from the operating system up – including applying patches and PTFs – is the customer’s responsibility.
Customers can access their IBM i environments using the same tools that they currently use. They can manage their Skytap IBM i cloud environment – including the capability to spin LPARs up and down – by using the Skytap GUI, or alternatively, they can programmatically control LPARs using the company’s API.
While the speeds and feeds of the Skytap cloud may appear similar to other cloud offerings, they don’t tell the whole Skytap story, said Karri Alexion-Tiernan, SVP of product marketing and digital.
“This is not just raw infrastructure,” Alexion-Tiernan told IT Jungle. “There are absolutely LPARs and storage and all those things that Dan talked about. But Skytap has additional functionality in its software-defined networking, in its software layer and capabilities, that go beyond just spinning up raw infrastructure in the cloud. There’s additional value that’s coming in with Skytap’s software itself.”
Specifically, the Skytap execs say, the Skytap cloud can replicate to a very fine degree what an actual full-stack (i.e. multi-platform) application looks like in the customer’s own data center, right down to the nitty-gritty, inter-platform integration details that are common sources of havoc in real-world systems spanning multiple OSes.
“For DevOps or agile-type use cases, having your application encapsulated in an environment allow you to do some interesting and unique things,” Jones said. “One is you can make a real time copy of that environment. Everything is identical down to the IP address of the LPARs, and in the case of X86 workloads, even MAC addresses are identical. So we have a way of logically separating or partitioning out environments so they don’t collide with one another.
“So if I’m a developer,” he continued, “and I get to a point in my code where I want to hand it off to a tester, I can hit ‘copy’ on my environment. I can give a tester their own environment, and they can go do what they need to do, and I can continue on with my development.”
Skytap’s cloud can also “templatize” the LPARs and other supported environments, which provides other benefits. “That effectively saves off a read-only copy of the environment, and it’s from that template I can deploy new environments,” Jones added. “I can snap the version of the application in development. It’s known as a ‘gold master,’ if you will, and then I can let others create their own environments from that gold master.”
These cloudy DevOps capabilities have attracted the attention of several IBM i software vendors. We already told you about the work that Rocket Software is doing to integrate its Aldon Lifecyle Manager for IBM i (LMi) software with Skytap’s cloud. This integration is designed to simplify life for developers and administrators who may be working with a multitude of development, test, and production IBM i and X86 environments, and need to ensure the handoffs and code promotions are handled appropriately.
With the June 25 launch of Skytap’s IBM i cloud, we also learned that ARCAD Software is working with Skytap to integrate its own application lifecycle management (ALM) products into the new cloud offering. In ARCAD’s case, the company is looking to make standard DevOps tools such as Git and Jenkins integrate smoothly with work taking place on the Skytap Cloud.
While Skytap hopes to capture emerging demand for DevOps capabilities in the IBM i developer community, that doesn’t mean it’s giving up on hosting actual production workloads. In fact, the company is targeting production hosting for Global 2000 businesses, Alexion-Tiernan said.
“If they decide they want to start out with dev and test because that’s what makes most sense for their business, we’ll do that,” Alexion-Tiernan said. “But the platform itself is production-ready. And we built and worked with the ecosystem to ensure that, so the tools that they’re using with their existing applications are going to be fully functional in the cloud as well.”
With that said, the company is consciously not targeting the biggest IBM i workloads at the moment. That is evident in the maximum size of the IBM i environments (four vCPUs) that are supported on Skytap at the moment. The company will likely expand that cap at some point in the future.
Skytap is also working with Syncsort and HelpSystems to ensure their respective high availability offerings, MIMIX and RobotHA, are compatible with Skytap’s cloud. The company is also offering PowerHA, which is an IBM product but largely developed by HelpSystems. The new Db2 Mirror offering, which debuted with IBM i 7.4 last month, is currently not supported on the Skytap cloud.