When Cloud Meets DevOps on IBM i
April 7, 2021 Alex Woodie
We’re witnessing multiple macro trends play out in the IT industry, with the rise of cloud computing and managed services being one of the most compelling storylines in 2021. How software is developed is changing too, with DevOps tools and agile methodologies rapidly becoming the norm. When these two trends converge in our little neck of the woods, it can leave IBM i customers wondering where to go. With their recently formed partnership, ARCAD Software and Connectria have mapped out one path.
A decade ago, companies were still unsure of the cloud. They would dabble with adding development, test, and maybe DR in the cloud, but they kept production systems on premise. That resistance is quickly melting away, as many companies now look to the public cloud platforms as their first choice for production runtimes, especially for new Web and mobile applications, and analytics and AI.
COVID-19 magnified that long-term trend. The three biggest public clouds, Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud, saw fourth-quarter revenue increase 28 percent, 50 percent, and 58 percent respectively. The rush to the cloud in 2020 bolstered the value of these companies, which are today are worth close to $5 trillion. That represents about a 35 percent increase over the past 12 months.
Cloud options are a little bit slimmer for IBM i shops, owing to the proprietary nature of the hardware and the operating system upon which they run. But interest perked up among IBM i shops too, according to Jeff Swartz, the director of channel sales for Connectria, which is considered by IBM to be the largest IBM i cloud hosting provider in North America, and the second or third largest globally.
“We’re seeing an uptick in customers that are looking for not only for a cloud migration, but also for managed services,” Swartz says. “[COVID-19] impacted everyone’s business. But I also think it’s making customers refocus on how they do business, where they’re doing busines. And I think being able to backfill customer requirements with managed services has become a higher focus point for a lot of customers.”
As IBM i customers start to ponder moving their applications to a cloud or having a company like Connectria manage their on-premise servers from afar, they’re also looking taking the time to evaluate their entire IT estate. In some of those cases, the evaluations lead IBM i shops to embark upon new software development and application modernization projects.
“We’re trying to be more involved in the entire roadmap for customers,” Swartz said. “Essentially we’re helping those customers make a decision on where they’re going to land, how they’re going to land, and effectively the tools that they’re going to need.”
That’s why Connectria established the partnership with ARCAD Software. In March, the two IBM i vendors announced a new alliance that would see Connectria offering ARCAD’s suite of DevOps and change management tools to its customer base. Likewise, ARCAD will be promoting Connectria as a cloud offering to its IBM i customers.
It’s about making life easier for IBM i customers, and proving them with more value, says Andrew Ireland, the global alliances manager and DevSecOps business manager for ARCAD Software.
“What we’re finding is cloud is fundamental to DevOps these days, because half of our customers, at least, are deploying something to a cloud platform somewhere,” Ireland said. “When customers are looking at what do they do as their next step, quite often there’s a need for both of our solutions.”
While ARCAD is focused on helping to solve DevOps challenges for IBM i customers, that doesn’t always mean that everything revolves around IBM i. In many cases, the other side of the IT department in IBM i shops have already made solid steps to adopting DevOps and cloud solutions. In these situations, ARCAD helps make the whole DevOps process smoother, Ireland said.
“DevOps is fundamental to people moving to the cloud,” Ireland said. “As they start to consume and use a lot of the open source tools that are quite often deployed in the cloud, doing development across cloud platforms etc., what we’re trying to do at ARCAD is open up the IBM i to the rest of the DevOps cycle, to the non-i, if you like.”
What the user ends up with is a single environment that works across platforms. “So if they’re using a flavor Git with Jenkins for their Java code running on Linux, say, ARCAD enables the RPG and COBOL developers to plug into that environment, so that we have a common pipeline across all of our platforms, a lot of which will increasingly be deployed to the cloud,” Ireland added.
In late 2020, ARCAD rolled out support for Microsoft Azure pipelines, which allows ARCAD’s tools to plug into the Azure cloud. Microsoft is the only one of the Big Three cloud providers to support an IBM i runtime on Power Systems servers, thanks to its partnership with Skytap.
“If you want to deploy your non i stuff to an Azure environment, but deploy your RPG to a Connectria environment, we can now support that in the cloud,” Ireland said. “The RPG or COBOL goes to Connectria box, the Java, .NET, C# goes to a Windows box in Azure. The great thing about it is, because it’s a single deployment, if I have a problem anywhere in the process, I can roll the whole thing back as a single process as well.”
The multi-platform nature of modern IT systems necessitates a multi-pronged approach to supporting these environments, Swartz said. Connectria and ARCAD are merely responding to that need, he said.
“You don’t see typically a lot of customers that are just a standalone i environment anymore,” Swartz said. “We’re looking at the bigger picture with a customer moving from an on-prem solution to a hosted model, which includes manage services…Essentially it’s just making it easier for the customer to have the experience that they want to have, where effectively it’s a managed solution.”
The partnership with ARCAD comes on the heels of a similar partnership that Connectria formed with Profound Logic last year. That partnership was aimed at giving Connectria customers easier access to Profound’s application modernization tools for IBM i, and on the flip side, giving Profound customers easier access to a hosted environment to run modernized IBM i applications (or even applications that haven’t been modernized, for that matter).
Ireland points out that ARCAD also has a partnership with Profound. “The modernization tools from ARCAD and Profound are quite complementary to each other,” he said.
ARCAD also provides tools for companies that are modernizing code, Ireland points out. Transformer RPG, for example, can help IBM i shops move their code from fixed-format RPG to free-format RPG. The software was developed in conjunction with IBM’s Toronto Lab, he points out, and IBM has been selling it since 2013. There is also Observer, ARCAD’s application discovery tool that plays a role in DevOps and modernization.
If you’re not moving forward, you’re probably falling behind. The good news is that IBM i shops increasingly are becoming aware of this fact, and are taking steps to address the challenge of what to do with aging IBM i assets. That’s good news for companies that rely on IBM i servers.