Microsoft Wants to Migrate Your IBM i Code to Azure
November 13, 2019 Alex Woodie
Microsoft is executing a plan with its partner Skytap to bring IBM i into its Azure cloud, as we’ve previously told you about. But another group within the technology giant has plans of its own to migrate IBM i applications to languages that can run natively on X86 servers and integrate more easily with Azure services.
We caught wind of this group’s code migration plan a month ago when one of the technical specialists in the Microsoft Azure Global Customer Advisory Team (CAT) wrote a blog entry about the work they do. IT Jungle followed up with the IBM i migration specialist, Ricardo Galvan, and got on the phone with him and his boss, Cristina Potra, to get the lowdown on the high tech.
“We are a team engineers focused on helping customers migrate from legacy systems to Azure technology,” said Potra, a senior program manager lead with Microsoft’s Azure Global CAT Engineering team. “My team is working on helping customers migrate from AS/400 to Azure. We look at Skytap as a possible solution. We are now in the process of understanding more of what they offer and specifically what is the timeframe for offering Skytap technology running on Azure.”
To recap, Skytap is currently working with Microsoft to build a IBM i public cloud offering within Azure. Microsoft would provision the servers, storage, networking, and space in an Azure data center, while Skytap would provide the technical expertise in IBM i and Power Systems, as well as sell and support the offering. The two partners expect to start a private preview of the new service in early 2020, with GA ostensibly coming later in the year.
It’s one thing to run existing IBM i applications on Power Systems that are hooked into the Azure cloud. It’s another thing entirely to migrate those applications into new languages. In Microsoft’s case, it’s advocating for Windows to be used as a target operating system, as well as Linux, which is actually now the dominant OS in Azure.
The migration plan calls for business logic written in RPG, COBOL, and CL — as well as 4GLs like LANSA and CA 2E (Synon) — into languages that are more “native” for X86 systems, including C, C#, PHP, and Java. (The 4GLs get on this list, despite the fact that LANSA’s RDML and CA Plex, which is a relative of CA2E offered by CA Technologies new owner Broadcom, also compile to run on Windows and Linux.)
Microsoft realizes there’s not a “one size fits all” solution when it comes to migration, and so it’s open to supporting customers with the different approaches. Depending on the application, Microsoft might recommend one or more languages be used to reconstruct an application for the X86 platform.
It’s all about giving customers a choice, says Dan Jones, a vice president with Skytap. “If they want to stay on the platform, they can still bring that workload to Azure and they’d run it on Skytap,” he says. “If they want to re-platform or need to re-platform for whatever reason, then there are service providers, SIs, who are knowledgeable in doing that migration, and Microsoft can consult with them on what that process looks like.”
A skills shortage is one of the main drivers that’s pushing IBM i shops to re-platform their applications, says Galvan, who has more than seven years of experience migrating IBM i applications to other platforms.
“That’s a very clear concern about the shortage of skills sets in the marketplace,” he says. “RPG programmers have retired. COBOL programmer have retired. It’s very difficult to find the good programmers out there. That’s a very critical situation.”
While Microsoft employs a group of specialists who bid on and execute the migration contracts that originate through Microsoft Azure Global CAT Engineering team, the majority of migration engagements are handled through a group of third-party consultancies and specialists that Microsoft works with, Potra says.
“Microsoft has a department that is actually doing some of the migrations hands on,” she tells IT Jungle. “Microsoft can also offer these services if the customer wants that. But my team brings into discussion various partners, most of them outside partners.”
Different partners have different skillsets, and the selection of a partner is largely dependent on what new languages and frameworks a company is looking to use for their re-hosted business logic. Microsoft takes a methodical approach to assessing the existing business software architecture and how that will transform to a new architecture, Potra says.
“We send them a questionnaire to assess their inventory,” she says. “We do propose various architectures [about] how that would look in Azure. We do walk them through the roadmap [about] what would it mean to move to Azure.”
Microsoft goes over specific problems customers might encounter and the solutions that it offers to counter them, Potra says. “We do that mostly in the pre-sales phase. But once the customer decides, ‘OK Azure is the right platform for me, I want to move,’ then we bring various partners into the discussion, depending on their scenarios,” she says. “We have a good understanding of what partners can help with the migration.”
Ever since Microsoft started competing in the business software space with Windows NT over 20 years ago, the Redmond, Washington-based company has sought to attract AS/400, iSeries, and System i customers to use its technology. IBM has also done its part to move Windows application workloads to IBM i, or at least consolidate Windows servers under the cover of an IBM i system.
However, technology architectures are evolving quickly at the moment, and it’s no longer just a question of porting code to run on a different platform. Today, it’s more about completely re-architecting applications to take advantage of new modes of operation, such as containers and serverless computing.
Microsoft doesn’t just target “legacy” IBM i applications for migration. It also targets applications running on System z mainframe and old Unix operating systems. For more information about Microsoft’s migration offerings, contact the Microsoft Azure Global CAT Engineering team.