Google Has a Public Power Systems Cloud, Too
September 18, 2019 Alex Woodie
We have been telling you about a prospective Power Systems offering on the Google Cloud for the better part of two years. Well, it looks like Google and IBM went ahead and launched the infrastructure as a service (IaaS) offering earlier this year, even if the companies neglected to publicly announce it.
As part of its new “IBM Power Systems for Google Cloud” offering, Google has installed IBM Power Systems S922 servers in US-East 4, a Google Cloud data center in Northern Virginia, and is selling access to slices of IBM i, AIX, and Linux operating systems carved up by PowerVM, the companies said in April. Google Cloud customers can grow and shrink their IBM Power environments as needed through the comfort of a Web console, an API, or a command line interface, just as they can for X86 workloads.
IBM is responsible for maintaining all the hardware, firmware, and system software in the Google data center, while the customer is responsible for maintaining everything from the operating system on up, says Carl Burnett, a distinguished engineer in Power Systems software group, in a video recorded at Google Next 2019 in April.
“In the solution, IBM runs the infrastructure,” Burnett said. “So we’re managing the hardware, the system software stack. If you’re familiar with Power Systems, those different hardware elements like the HMC and so forth. So we’re taking care of that, maintaining it, patching it. Once the virtual machine is deployed with a running operating system, it’s the subscriber’s responsibility to manage and maintain the operating system from the stack up.”
Companies that subscribe to the new IBM Power Systems for Google Cloud can start with small, such as half a Power9 core and 4GB of RAM, and grow it up to a sizable system, such as 192 cores and 64TB of RAM, Burnett says. The partners have also worked to create pre-configured Power Systems environments that sort of coincide with T-shirt sizes, such as small, medium, and large, Burnett said.
“As your needs grow or as your journey here evolves, you can change plans,” he said. “Let’s say you start with a small T-shirt. You can upgrade to a medium or large t-shit. Maybe you only need that for a temporary basis. Then you can go back from a medium t-shirt to a small t-shirt.”
Once you’re a Google Cloud customer, getting access to the Power environments is simple, said Andy Waddell, a technical program manager with Google Cloud.
“We’ve integrated the billing such that you purchase the software from IBM through the Google Cloud Marketplace,” Waddell says. “The billing is done through Google and it will show up on your cloud bill as a line item, along with all the Google services you consume. It’s going to be offered on a monthly subscription basis based on the amount of infrastructure you wish to subscribe to.”
According to the IBM Power Systems for Google Cloud web page, the services start at $7,500 per month.
During a demo, the IBM and Google representatives spent quite a bit of time talking about the command line interface (CLI) for the IBM Power Systems for Google Cloud. While some users may gravitate to the Web console and the API, the CLI may be more intuitive and familiar to experienced IBM i administrators who feel more comfortable with the 5250 greenscreen.
“Normally for me, I use the [Web] UI to test the features and see what’s available to me,” Kyle Johnson, a senior software engineer with IBM Austin, said during the demo. “But when I really want to get real work done, I usually switch over and use the CLI.”
Burnett attempted to allay any fears that the IBM Power Systems for Google Cloud offering is any different than what an enterprise can get by running the infrastructure themselves.
“From system software perspective, it’s the same Power VM stack that you’re deploying in your own data center, or if you’re a partner, what you’ve been building and servicing for your clients,” he said. “My key point here is this is the same type of infrastructure that you deploy and use in your own data centers. It’s fully compatible. That’s by design. It’s the same infrastructure we’ve done all our ISV certifications with and so forth.”
If there’s any difference to other Power Systems public cloud offerings (besides the CLI), it’s in the networking layer. Beyond the standard cabling – 16 gigabit Fibre Channel connections to IBM V7000 disk arrays; 25 gigabit Ethernet within a given server rack, or “pod”; 100 GbE lines across the top of the pod racks; and a superfast, low-latency interconnect into GCP itself – what stands out is that Google is offering IBM Power Systems access to its Virtual Private Cloud (VPC) private IP address space service.
“For the first time ever, we made this technology available to a partner, IBM in this case,” Google’s Waddell said. “If you were to subscribe to this offer, you would first initiate the purchase in the marketplace, then you would specify a private IP range that you wish to use. You’d reserve that instance in your Google VPC, in your project. Then we’d give you a peering command that you need to run, because we can’t control your project.”
That peering command peers your Power Systems environment to another VPC inside of Google owned by IBM, the Google manager said. “That’s the end of it,” Waddell said. “The rest of the plumbing network-wise is handled by IBM. They have real hardware behind this, so they handle the hybrid network connectivity, attaching VLANs and all that. That’s all transparent. All you see is advertised routes for the IBM LPARs. We think that you’ll find it very simple to use.”
This approach bolsters security because it prevents Power Systems servers in the Google data center from being accessed from the public Internet, unless you specify it, IBM’s Burnett said.
“We wanted to make sure that when your VM is created, it comes out secure,” he said. “So it’s protected inside your GCP project as a private IP. And its’ really up to you to decide whether you want to make it accessible, whether you want to open it up to the Interne through a VPN solution or a jump server solution or maybe behind an application server. Or maybe your intention is to run a direct connect all the way to your on-prem data center and have connectivity all the way from your DC all to the backend Power virtual machines. We wanted to give you the ability to fully control that. But we also wanted to allow you to leverage the rich diversity of services that GCP has and their expertise around networking capabilities.”
The joint IBM-Google Cloud offering resembles the new Power Systems IaaS cloud offering that Skytap and Microsoft Azure have put together. That offering, which we told you about last week, has Microsoft managing two-socket Power Systems S922 servers in an Azure data center on the East Coast, while Skytap manages the firmware and system software stack.
Skytap helped to introduce Power Systems into the Microsoft Azure environment at the behest of a sizable Power Systems client who had selected Azure as its public cloud of choice, the company told IT Jungle. Azure is the second biggest public cloud, after Amazon Web Services, and is positioning itself as a strategic alternative to AWS for enterprises who are seeking a hybrid cloud strategy.
While Google Cloud is well behind both Azure and AWS in size, it is also growing quickly. And like Azure, it is also looking to position itself as an ally of enterprises who are looking to grow their hybrid cloud strategies.
Offering a Power Systems IaaS option will also attract enterprises that are looking for alternatives to host their on-prem IBM i, Linux, and AIX workloads. These enterprises typically also have lots of X86 workloads that surround core Power-based applications, and Google is clearly hoping that its public cloud will win the hosting contracts for these X86 workloads too. The move to Power also goes far in battling Google’s reputation that it is not as friendly to enterprises as AWS or Azure.
It’s hard to get more enterprise-y than Power Systems running IBM i (perhaps the System z mainframe has something to say here). In any case, AWS – the last remaining public cloud provider without an IBM i and Power Systems option — should probably be concerned.