Public Cloud Dreams Becoming A Reality for IBM i Users
August 23, 2021 Alex Woodie
For years, IBM i professionals have looked on as their X86 colleagues moved data and applications to the cloud, where they take advantage of sophisticated analytics and AI offerings, while they dutifully tend to their Power Systems boxes, as they have for years. But with IBM i runtimes in at least two public clouds (and possibly more in the works), IBM i shops are finally starting to realize their public cloud dreams.
The nature of the IBM i cloud solution that Meridian Group International is offering has changed over the years. Like many other IBM business partners, the Deerfield, Illinois, company shifted its business model from focusing on the sale of Power Systems machines to running them on behalf of their IBM i, AIX, and Linux customers. All told, the company has about 250 IBM i shops in its private cloud, says Tim DeLisle, president of Meridian IT North America and its Global Programs leader.
But as a result of the partnership that it announced with Skytap last month, Meridian’s IBM i customers can now consider moving their IBM i workloads into a public cloud environment, including Microsoft Azure and IBM Cloud. This will benefit Meridian customers by giving them more flexibility and more choice, DeLisle says.
“When we started off selling cloud services, there weren’t a lot of choices,” DeLisle tells IT Jungle. “There was IBM’s private cloud, which we’ve done a lot of. But Skytap in their current form really didn’t exit. Power on Azure didn’t exist. And now we’re finding that that’s a very prevalent choice. Had that existed five years ago, our business probably would look a little different today.”
Skytap runs Power Systems servers that are physically located in Microsoft Azure data centers, and manages those machines on behalf of clients. It installs software on the Power boxes that enable IBM i, AIX, and Linux usage to be monitored and billed through the Azure billing mechanism.
According to Skytap chief revenue officer John Wrobel, Skytap will be in 10 physical Azure data centers by the end of Q1 2022.
“Skytap IP sits on top of those physical deployments to make them look and feel like a true cloud service,” Wrobel says. “Consumers can consume 10 minutes, 10 hours 10 months, or 10 years – we don’t care. And we enable multi tenancy, APIs – all the things you would expect from a cloud service is what we effectively do with our IP on top of the physical Power stack that’s resident physically inside of the Azure data centers.”
Partly To Mostly Cloudy
The July partnership between Skytap and Meridian ostensibly includes IBM Cloud and Microsoft Azure as runtime targets for IBM i, AIX, and Linux workloads. But it would appear that Microsoft Azure is getting the lion’s share of the attention at the moment.
That’s not surprising. While Amazon Web Services still accounts for the biggest share of the public cloud market, Microsoft Azure is gaining ground.
According to Flexera’s recent 2021 State of the Cloud Report, which included a survey of 750 IT decision makers around the world, 77 percent of respondents reported using AWS in 2021, an increase of one percent from 2020. But 73 percent reported using Azure, a 10 percent jump from the previous year. Google Cloud is a solid number three, with 47 percent of respondents as customers (up from 35 percent), while VMware Cloud (hosted on AWS), Oracle Cloud Infrastructure, IBM Cloud, and Alibaba Cloud round out the top seven.
Public cloud usage (and spending) is at an all-time high, and the events of the last year and a half have accelerated that trend. “COVID-19 had a significant impact on cloud adoption in 2020,” Flexera says in the report. Nearly every enterprise Flexera survived is adopting a multi-cloud strategy, the company says, and companies are growing more comfortable with putting sensitive data in the cloud.
Data warehousing is the most popular cloud service among enterprises and small and midsized businesses (SMBs), with 54 percent of all users using cloud data warehouses, Flexera reports. The ability to load operational data from multiple systems into sophisticated columnar databases, such as Microsoft Azure Synapse Analytics, Amazon RedShift and Athena, Google Cloud BigQuery, and Snowflake (which runs on all three major public clouds), are commonly cited as a major reason for running in the cloud. A large number of users (28 percent) are also availing themselves of machine learning and AI services in the cloud, Flexera says.
The potential to easily tap into these capabilities resonates with IBM i shops, Wrobel says.
“Once you’re in a public cloud, you have all the surrounding services that the public cloud offers,” he says. “If you think about unlocking insights into the data, you could now spin up a data lake that involves your X86, your Power, and all your subsequent applications, extract the data, and run BI against that. So it’s more than just lift and shift. It’s lift, shift, and now you have a modernization play to extract the value of your legacy ERP systems and other elements that you couldn’t do if you were just locked on prem.”
Skytap currently has 150 Power customers on Azure, including IBM i, AIX, and Linux customers, according to Wrobel. That number includes dozens of Meridian customers, and that number should grow as the Meridian partnership expands.
“We’re showing month over month growth that is just fantastic and in terms of net new logos and then growth from the existing customer base,” Wrobel says. “We don’t suffer from a demand problem.”
Wrobel and DeLisle shared several stories of Power customers, including a Lawson on AIX customer that moved to Skytap’s Power servers in the Azure cloud with the help of Meridian (Meridian’s role is to provide the professional services and consultants to help the client prepare for the move to the cloud and to actually execute it).
One of their joint customers is a South African retail chain that called late one Friday afternoon and inquired into the possibility of moving into Skytap-managed Power servers running in Microsoft’s Azure data center in Amsterdam. The executive was in a bit of a hurry, as civil unrest had recently overtaken the country, and he or she was concerned that protesters may take over the data center or burn it to the ground.
“We actually signed contracts by 9:30 that night and kicked off the project at 6 a.m. the next morning, and we moved all those Power i LPARs over the course of about 11 days,” DeLisle says.
Asked if all Power customers can expect to complete a cloud migration into the Azure bubble within two weeks, DeLisle demurred. “I would say two weeks is a long time,” he says. “I would expect to be able to do that in two days. . . . The first one was a little rocky. After the 20th time, we’re getting the hang of it.”
As word gets out that the public cloud is ready for prime time, IBM i shops will be expected to test the waters. This will not be an option for everybody. IBM i shops that have failed to keep their systems current will not find a home in the cloud. But for many who have kept up, the temptation of the cloud will be hard to resist.
DeLisle recalls a conversation he had several years ago with a North American provider of insurance software. It has moved most of its server into the cloud, but it still had six IBM i servers running in its data centers.
“The CIO says, if you can help me move that to the public domain, that would that would help me a lot,” DeLisle says. “I didn’t have an answer for him a couple years ago. We’ve got an answer for him now. Is this going to be for everybody? No. Is it going to be for a decent percentage? Hell yeah, I think it is.”