OpenShift Provides One Path To IBM i Modernization
March 29, 2021 Alex Woodie
The crown jewel in IBM’s $34 billion acquisition of Red Hat arguably is OpenShift, which is a Kubernetes-based container management system for running “cloud-native” applications. While it’s unlikely OpenShift will ever integrate directly with IBM i and its applications, IBM has high hopes the software will help usher in a new wave of application modernization and innovation among IBM i customers.
IBM Power engineer Joe Cropper laid out the case for IBM i shops to get going with OpenShift two weeks ago during the IBM i Futures conference, which was hosted by COMMON. Cropper, you will remember, made a pitch for Power shops to take a look at OpenShift during a session at last fall’s virtual POWERUp event. With his new session, titled IBM i Wears a Red Hat Volume 2, Cropper takes it one step further.
Cropper covered a lot of ground in his 45-minute session. The IBM Master Inventor clearly is well-versed in enterprise and open source technology, and displays a deep level of understanding in how it fits together, which is not an easy thing to do. It’s safe to say that things like containers and Kubernetes are about as foreign to most IBM i professionals as RPG and Db2 for i database calls are to “mainstream” IT professionals. If Cropper is right about how the future will take shape, that familiarity gap won’t exist for long.
The gist of Cropper’s case is that OpenShift is the virtual foundation upon which many of the new and exciting applications will run – whether in the cloud, on-prem, or a mix of both doesn’t matter – and furthermore, that IBM i shops are well-positioned to take advantage of these next-generation applications thanks to the work that IBM is doing to integrate OpenShift deeply into the Power platform and the surrounding ecosystem.
“Power Systems are the systems of record and your IBM i partitions have the crown jewels, if you will, of the organization. You have a tremendous amount of data,” Cropper says. The idea is to “surround that data with these new applications.
“Maybe you’re looking at building new digital or mobile front-ends to the data that exists on the IBM i platform,” he continues. “Maybe you’re looking at leveraging some new type of analytics. So all of those technologies can be deployed on top of OpenShift and then connect into seamlessly what’s on those database, on the IBM i partition.”
These next-generation applications, developed in languages like Node.js or Golang, will target Kubernetes as the runtime, since it dramatically reduces the dependencies on the underlying server, providing application portability as well as scalability. “For new cloud-native applications, people are inclined to look to containers. We’re seeing these things running on top of Red Hat OpenShift,” Cropper says.
These cloud-native applications can integrate with existing IBM i applications and databases using APIs. But more importantly, those new applications can also run right next to the IBM i (or AIX or Linux) business applications, since OpenShift is supported on the Power platform.
“There’s tremendous benefits in doing this,” Cropper says. “You get the lower latency or gravity of the data. The communication is all done in memory. You don’t even have to go out to the physical network. This is all happening through the Virtual I/O Server (VIOS) and you get extremely high bandwidth, low-latency communications.”
This doesn’t require any modifications to be made to the IBM i applications or the Db2 for i database, Cropper says. The databases and applications can stay as they are. Perhaps that isn’t the classic definition of “application modernization.” But it does provide a path to tapping into digital capabilities that are being developed in cloud-native applications.
“It’s ultimately to help you build that next generation set of applications and leveraging this wealth of containers that the open-source ecosystem [is] building, day in, day out,” Cropper says. “There’s a tremendous amount of technology that this allows you to tap into.”
In addition to OpenShift, there are several other infrastructure components that factor into this new hybrid-cloud equation. That includes IBM’s Cloud Pak for multi cloud management, WebSphere Hybrid Edition (formerly Cloud Pak for Applications), and Ansible, according to Cropper.
“These are all enabled to run on the Power Systems platform. It’s IBM certified. It’s Red Hat certified. It’s enterprise grade. It’s all those things you need to run a mission critical business on top of,” he says. “You truly have a rich and robust stack, everything from the chip all the way to the topmost layer with all of the applications and everything in between.”
It’s really a marriage of two worlds: The heritage world of IBM i applications (and AIX applications to a degree) and the newer world of cloud-native applications running atop Kubernetes, which runs atop a version of Linux. Linux is the big winner in the new IT paradigm from an operating system point of view, but that doesn’t mean that IBM i, AIX, or z/OS will be replaced.
It’s all about keeping the old stuff that works, but using the newer stuff to make the old stuff work better. It’s also about keeping the heritage platforms up-to-date and ensuring that younger folks who know the latest skills can still develop applications that tap into all the data and business logic that continues to exist on them (although there will always be a need for admins and operators who know their way around a 5250 command line until the platform is six feet under).
“Many of you who are using IBM i, you know the power of the platform,” Cropper says. “Now we’re marrying that with this new set of cloud native technologies that we’ve been talking about with OpenShift, and really connecting it into this whole other set of capabilities that are out there with the new world of containers, etc. and giving you the capability to bridge these worlds together and run these applications on the same platform. So you’re getting that time-tested, trusted security of the platform that you know and love and have for years. You can continue to get those benefit from the platform in this new cloud-native era.”