Skytap To Expand IBM i Cloud Offering
March 31, 2021 Alex Woodie
The Power Systems S922 is the go-to server for many cloud providers, including Skytap, which sells access to and manages IBM i, AIX, and Linux environments in Microsoft Azure and IBM Cloud. But as its cloud business grows, Skytap is finding that some of its customers are getting close to hitting their heads on the S922’s processing ceiling, which has precipitated a need for bigger boxes.
Skytap is currently scoping out the available Power Systems server lineup in anticipation of rolling out a second, larger Power offering, says Skytap Vice President Dan Jones.
“One of the key hurdles we want to get over is, on the 922, IBM limits IBM i to four cores,” Jones tells IT Jungle. “You can’t scale beyond four cores. I think that translates to 60,000 CPW. We certainly see IBM i workloads out there that requires greater than 60,000 CPW.”
It’s unclear exactly what server Skytap will be looking to utilize in the two public clouds that it operates in, or how the new offering will be different in terms of RAM, storage, etc. According to Jones, those details will become clear in a few months. But it’s safe to say that Skytap will be running on a larger machine, with more RAM and storage, and will be offering larger IBM i environments to run on too.
“We have one PowerVM type today. It supports IBM i, AIX, and Linux on Power with a certain spec. We’ll introduce a second and then we’ll gauge the market [to determine if] we need to introduce a third or fourth. Right now we’ll take the step to the second,” Jones says.
One thing is clear: There won’t be a hodgepodge of different virtual machine types available for IBM i customers coming from Skytap.
“We are trying to avoid going in the direction that AWS and Azure have gone, where you have this litany of different VM types and different sizes in each of those,” Jones says. “We want to keep it simple and allow customers a lot of flexibility within each of the base types, if you will, for their configuration.”
The fact that Skytap has at least one customer who wants to run a single application that requires in excess of 60,000 CPWs is a positive indicator for Skytap’s business, as well as the overall IBM i cloud market in general. It wasn’t long ago that IBM i shops would look to the cloud to host a secondary machine for high availability or disaster recovery, or to run development and test workloads, but would maintain the production ERP system on-prem.
Those days are over, according to Jones, who says customers are moving workloads “wholesale” up to the cloud.
“We’re seeing interest across financial services, manufacturing, retail — pretty much all sectors, [customers] are looking to do that type of migration and move their business critical and mission critical workloads to the cloud,” he says.
Skytap grew its customer count by 30 percent in 2020 across all hardware types, as customers decided they didn’t want to be in the business of owning and managing servers anymore, Jones says.
“The data center exits, I’m seeing those accelerate,” Jones says. “I did a [blog] piece at the end of 2019 where I was expecting to see sort of a pullback from the cloud, customers moving more stuff back on prem. It’s been the exact opposite. We’re seeing that acceleration of customers wanting to get out of the data center, whether it’s pandemic related and they don’t want to staff and manage those datacenters.”
The hardware refresh cycle is another factor driving people out of managing their own servers. “IBM is getting ready to announce Power10, so if you’re on Power8, you’ve got to start thinking about that” he says. “Do you want to do that capital expenditure or do you want to be in a more flexible model that the cloud gives you?”
Demand for IBM i is “off the charts,” Jones says. “I think that with the whole pandemic, customers seem to be accelerating their data center migrations,” he says. “We have a large customer in APAC that’s in the financial services sector. They have various subsidiary banks in a number of countries, both IBM i and AIX workloads and they’re going through a massive data center exit and so they’re moving their entire Power estate onto Skytap on Azure.”
Since rolling out its first AIX cloud offering in 2017, Skytap has been growing its public cloud footprint on the Power Systems platform. At the end of 2018, the Seattle, Washington-based company announced support for IBM i running in two of its leased data centers and a single IBM data center. In 2019, the company announced that it was expanding its Power cloud offering into Microsoft Azure data centers.
Skytap works closely with IBM Cloud and Microsoft Azure to manage the Power Systems servers that its cloud customers run on. The partnerships and offerings on the two clouds are somewhat different. On Microsoft Azure, Skytap manages the environment and sells access to the Power Systems servers that Microsoft owns; Microsoft does not offer a separate IBM i cloud.
On the IBM Cloud, the servers that Skytap customers run on are owned by IBM and Skytap provides management, metering, billing, etc. IBM also offers an IBM i cloud service on its own cloud, but Skytap’s offering is different, owing to the unique manner in which it virtualizes networking and storage resources. According to Jones, Skytap can be less expensive than IBM Cloud in some situations.
“We try to be Switzerland,” Jones says of having feet in the IBM Cloud and Microsoft Azure camps. “Generally, customers have already settled on what their cloud strategy is and who their primary hyperscale cloud provider is going to be. If they’ve settled on IBM, then we want to be there and capture whatever workloads they want to run on Skytap on IBM Cloud. If they’ve already decided that Azure [is going to be their primary cloud] or they’re running workloads in Azure, then we’re happy for them to run those workloads on Azure.”
You can also count Skytap among the companies wanting to get out of the data center business. The company has maintained its own data center space, but it’s moving away from that model.
“We are on a path where we’re decommissioning our own data centers in favor just running on IBM Cloud or Microsoft Azure,” Jones says.