IBM i Headed To Azure By Way Of Skytap
September 11, 2019 Alex Woodie
IBM i shops that want to run their IBM i workloads on the Azure cloud will soon be able to, thanks to a new partnership that Skytap and Microsoft unveiled today. As part of the new offering, Microsoft will install Power9 servers in an Azure data center and Skytap will manage the IBM i, AIX, and Linux environments on behalf of clients.
Skytap turned heads in the IBM i community earlier this year with the introduction of a public cloud service that’s unlike anything that came before it. The Seattle, Washington, company unveiled an infrastructure as a service (IaaS) offering that allows customers to scale their IBM i environments up and down from a Web-based console and pay for what they’ve consumed on an hourly basis, just as X86 customers have been able to do on the public clouds for some time.
The IBM i cloud service, which became generally available earlier this year, is hosted in three data centers, including the Skytap data center in Seattle and IBM Cloud facilities in Dallas, Texas, and London. IBM, which recently launched its own IBM i cloud offering earlier this year, is also reselling the Skytap service.
Conversations with IBM executives indicated that Google Cloud would likely be the first of the big public cloud providers to offer a Power service. After all, the company has been running Power processors through the OpenPower program since 2014. But it appears that Microsoft Azure – the second biggest public cloud, behind industry giant Amazon Web Services — will beat them to the IBM i IaaS game.
“Microsoft is procuring the hardware footprint to run Skytap. That includes Power, X86, storage, and networking,” says Skytap vice president of product Dan Jones. “They’ll deploy all that gear into an Azure data center.”
Specifically, Microsoft is buying IBM Power Systems Model 922, and will deploy them in its US-East data center, Skytap told IT Jungle. The program is currently being ramped up, with limited availability slated to begin in early January. There’s currently no timetable for general availability.
The new joint Skytap-Azure offering will deliver “feature parity” with the current IBM Cloud offering in terms of supporting complex production applications that span Power and X86 environments, Jones says. “They’ll be able to deploy X86, Windows, Linux, and Power workloads side by side in a software-defined manner, and then connect those workloads into whatever Azure native services they have running,” he says.
Skytap initiated the partnership with Microsoft at the behest of one of its larger Power customers. The customer, which has selected Azure as its strategic cloud platform, brought enough weight to the conversation with Microsoft to convince the tech giant to entertain the idea of bringing IBM Power Systems gear into its Azure data centers.
Microsoft has a long history with the IBM midrange server, both as a customer and competitor. The tech giant, which is in the midst of a renaissance and currently is the most valuable company in the world with a market capitalization approaching $1 trillion, obviously isn’t interested in entering the IBM i business any more than it’s interested in catering to the System z needs of mainframe shops.
But by bringing Power into Azure, Microsoft opens the door to winning sizable X86 workloads for Azure. That’s the real motivating factor here for Microsoft, Jones says.
“What we’re seeing the Power space is there’s a fair amount of X86 that comes along with Power. It’s sort of lock-step together,” Jones says. “Not being able to get those Power workloads today up into Azure, those X86 platform are staying on premise. This unlocks a huge potential for Microsoft and enterprise customers in evacuating the data center or for doing disaster recovery up in the cloud, for workload stacks that include Power and X86.”
Skytap is participating in a new Microsoft program designed to help specific enterprise environments feel more at home in the Azure cloud. Other entities participating in the program include Cray, VMware, and SAP, all of which support operating environments or hardware environments that could be considered “non-standard,” at least from the default X86 view of the world. Now Skytap is helping to bring IBM i and its long tail of heritage AS/400, iSeries, and System applications into the Microsoft data center.
Automating the execution of complex, non-standard environments in a public cloud manner is Skytap’s specialty. That business focus will continue with the Azure partnership, says Skytap CEO Brad Schick.
“We have invested quite heavily in our software-defined networking stack that allows us to run on-premise like networks in Skytap,” Schick says. “We have focused on building a cloud service that can migrate and run legacy applications. Power is a big part of that. But so are very old versions of Windows, and so are traditional on-prem style hard-coded networks and IP address spaces. Skytap encapsulates all those ideas together.”
Microsoft is opening its arms to welcome non-standard workloads into Azure, says Eric Lockard, Microsoft’s corporate vice president for Azure Dedicated.
“We recognize that enterprises have many critical systems that were not designed with the cloud in mind,” Lockard stated in a press release. “Skytap’s ability to migrate and run these applications natively in Microsoft Azure with minimal changes accelerates cloud adoption.”
Since announcing the GA of the IBM i IaaS offering in June, the IBM i community has reacted very strongly in support of the offering, Jones says. That includes end-user companies as well as vendor organizations that have expressed an interest in working with Skytap. Currently, it’s working with Syncsort, HelpSystems, Rocket Software, and ARCAD Software.
“I would say there’s huge opportunity here,” Jones says. “We’ve seen tremendous interest in people wanting to either move everything up to the cloud or at least offer DR in the cloud. Also we’ve seen a number of software vendors in the [IBM] i ecosystem reach out to us. The interest in running [IBM] i workloads in the cloud is off the charts.”