IBM i Tries On a Red Hat
September 30, 2020 Alex Woodie
When IBM initiated its $34 billion acquisition of Red Hat in 2018, it was done to prepare Big Blue for the coming wave of innovation around things like containers, AI, clouds, and next-gen workloads. It was generally understood that most of the benefits would accrue in the X86 space. But apparently the plan called for sizable doses of IBM i, AIX, and mainframe, too.
Last week at COMMON’s virtual POWERUp conference, IBM’s Joe Cropper, who works in Power development and holds the title IBM Master Inventor, laid out how the Red Hat acquisition will benefit IBM i and AIX. An IBMer traditionally delivers a keynote address on the second full day of COMMON, and for 2020, this honor fell to Cropper.
In his keynote presentation, titled “IBM i Wears a Red Hat,” Cropper made a compelling argument for how and why Red Hat’s offerings could and should be part of IBM i shops’ modernization initiatives. IBM i shops are not unlike organizations in other industries, he says, and they’re broadly aware of three trends in the marketplace: the lure of technological innovation; the adoption of cloud architectures; and the need for greater automation.
What’s interesting is that most customers are not just considering adoption of one of these pillars, but often two or three of them, Cropper said.
“More importantly, they’re also looking to take advantage of this model, not just in their own data center, but also in the public cloud or both, and by virtue or by extension, that’s hybrid cloud,” Cropper said. “It’s really, really important to understand that broad category of what’s happening, especially for many of you, our Power clients. This is what we’re hearing time and time again, and come up in spades.”
Monolithic computing architecture served the industry well for the past 15 to 20 years, as it enabled users to build, test, and deploy applications as fully integrated units. “That’s worked out well for many years,” he said. “We’ve proven that things can perform well there. They’ve stood the test of time.”
The advent of microservices and DevOps, however, promise a new approach to getting innovation into the hands of end users in a faster timeframe. Instead of building and testing everything in unison, developers can work on individual components of the application, and deploy them into production.
“It’s this new way of building software that’s fundamentally changing how developers build stuff,” Cropper said. “The whole idea isn’t to do this because it’s cool technology and it’s fun to do. There’s actually a business driver behind this. It’s all about evolving the application landscape so I can create a set of technical collateral that can be updated more frequently than previously.”
Red Hat was at the forefront of innovating in this new DevOps world before the acquisition by IBM. It developed Open Shift, which is an enterprise, Linux-based Kubernetes platform for running containers and containerized applications. And now that the two companies are connected at the hip, IBM is bringing this new way of building and running software to the many enterprises running IBM i, AIX, and z/OS applications.
In fact, IBM has already brought Open Shift to Power. Any Power8 or Power9 system can run Open Shift, as long as there’s a Linux partition for it to run on. According to Cropper, the plan to is surround all the core RPG, COBOL, and Java applications running on IBM i or AIX with a host of next-gen open source applications and services that expect to run on Kubernetes.
Running the new stuff right next to the old stuff on a fast server brings business benefits to the customers, Cropper said.
“There’s also tremendous improvement in terms of lowered latency and really leveraging the gravity of the data,” he said. “So I can have one Power System now that has all of my data in an IBM i partition or AIX [partition] and right alongside that partition I can be running Open Shift-based workloads that can actually just talk without ever leaving the physical server.”
Much of this new software is open source, and as we’ve seen with the recent introduction of new databases such as MongoDB and PostgreSQL, as well as new distributed data management systems like Apache Kafka, IBM is adamant about helping its IBM i customers leverage more open source.
As Cropper noted, there is a wide array of very popular open source projects that are available. It’s IBM’s plan to give customers the tools to be successful with these open source projects, he said.
“Now you have this really great universal platform that can run on all these different compute architectures,” he said. “Now it’s time to actually start bringing in a really rich and robust software catalog on top of that. So there’s going to be software for artificial intelligence, IoT, analytics, machine learning, a huge, rich, robust set of enterprise middleware, open source software. All of this can actually run on the platform, and then at the very top of the stack, you pair that with a really great set of services and consulting capabilities.”
Hybrid and Multi-Cloud
It is clear there is diversity in the open source software ecosystem. But there is also diversity in the runtimes that IBM i and AIX shops choose to run this software.
“We have Power Systems, z, X86 — all these compute platform, and a number of different public cloud providers. You’ll see IBM Cloud and Google Cloud and Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure,” he said. “It’s a very broad technology stack and we really want [you] to have that choice and flexibility, because we recognize that it’s multi-vendor world and IBM and are very much committed to that, to allowing you, our clients, to give you that choice and flexibility about where to run your workload and for what purpose.”
Power is already in two of the three public clouds — AWS is the only one that hasn’t committed to offering a Power-based infrastructure as a service (IaaS) offering — as well as IBM Cloud. As popular as those environments have been, there invariably will be the Power Systems shops that will refuse to run in the cloud, and so on-premise is not going away. In fact, the default mode of operation going forward for IBM is hybrid cloud.
“IBM and Red Hat have recognized this. Red Hat has been working towards this. Hybrid cloud is the new normal,” Cropper said. “Both companies recognized this a few years back. And the data suggests it — when you look at some of the studies here on the slide, 98 percent of organization are going to be looking at hybrid cloud models and using them by as early as next year. And that’s really fundamental to under and, the way in which applications are built, how they’re deployment, where they’re deployed. That’s changing. It’s changing quickly.”
Last but not least, IBM is also helping customers move forward on the automation front. The core offering in that domain is Ansible, which IBM brought to IBM i earlier this year.
Ansible facilitates the running of playbooks that can automate core capabilities on IBM i. While the control server for Ansible runs on Linux, Ansible playbooks can impact endpoints, which can be IBM i or any other system that can be controlled.
At the end of the day, the combination of IBM’s enterprise heritage with Red Hat’s open source innovation delivers a powerful force for customers, Cropper said.
“I hope that you’re seeing how IBM i seamlessly fits into that,” he said. “So whether your running RPG or COBOL applications, all of that technology can seamlessly be integrated with the Red Hat Open Shift platform, for that modern wave of applications that’s on us now. Power is a great place to run those workloads.”