AWS Inks Deal With Connectria To Have a Power Play
November 15, 2023 Timothy Prickett Morgan
The long road of history has not been made impassible by the charred marketing tanks and flaming sales assault vehicles of those who have tried to breach Fortress Rochester, but there are a whole lot of rusting machines off on the horizon cluttering the road and more than a few smoking machines nearby as well as some sizable holes in the ramparts out on that cornfield in Minnesota.
While the proprietary minicomputer businesses and the Unix server businesses of the competition of the AS/400 and IBM i platform have all been destroyed and that IBM is indeed the last bastion of these forms of datacenter compute standing, over the past two and a half decades, the assaults by Digital Equipment, Hewlett Packard, Sun Microsystems, Oracle, Microsoft, and a handful of others – not to mention a massive amount of consolidation across the core manufacturing, distribution, healthcare, and financial services industries in the United States and Europe – have combined to reduce the IBM i installed base to 120,000 unique customers, compared to a peak of 275,000 in 1998.
Those remaining 120,000 customers are the hard-core, die-hard IBM i shops, the ones who either can’t or won’t change platforms. And yet, the competition still has to try to get IBM i customers to think about moving to an alternative platform, and the same exact thing happens to IBM’s System z platform, which apparently is now called IBM Z.
(Brace for short rant: What we call Power Systems is apparently now called IBM Power. It’s like the modern Big Blue is the exact opposite of The Ohio State University and the International Business Machines of days gone by, which referred to the System/360 and the AS/400 with definite articles connoting not only precision, but respect. And no matter what anyone says, putting the company name in a brand is stupid. You can’t make it possessive then. You can’t say IBM’s IBM Power or IBM’s IBM i operating system. It sounds stupid.)
Amazon Web Services, the largest cloud in the world and comprising about a third of planet Earth’s revenues for infrastructure, platform, and hosted cloud services, has been jonesing after the IBM mainframe and midrange systems business for years, and as you might expect, AWS took a very aggressive approach to completely refactor applications and databases running on these IBM machines so they could run using different languages, databases, and storage that is native to its very different AWS platform.
The AWS Mainframe Modernization suite of tools and services was introduced in November 2021 at the annual re:Invent conference, and became generally available in June 2022. And in the AWS lingo, the AS/400 and the IBM i platforms are all mainframes. So don’t think this service is restricted to just Z platforms. The Mainframe Modernization suite includes a set of automated transformation tools called Blu Age (e not included) that converts existing COBOL, PL/1, NATURAL, RPG/400, COBOL/400 code and their respective underlying databases and data files – that includes DB2, DB2/400, VSAM, IMS, IDMS – to modern, distributed applications that run using Java against the Angular and Spring frameworks and that access PostgreSQL, Oracle, or DB2 databases or database services such as Aurora or RDS for PostgreSQL. For IBM mainframe applications written in COBOL and PL/I, AWS has licensed the Micro Focus toolchain and can replatform those applications to run as services on its cloud, and it has additional data replication and file transfer services to get information off IBM platforms and into its cloud. There is not a replatforming service for the IBM i platform as far as we can tell, and this is important.
Pricing for the Mainframe Modernization service is here, and like a lot of AWS services, you are going to have to do a lot of workload capacity planning and spreadsheet math to try to figure out what it might cost you.
As these things go, the AWS Mainframe Modernization service is coherent, but refactoring and replatforming applications is always risky and is often disruptive to the business and more expensive than planned. And as you might imagine, and lot of IBM i customers are not quite ready to either refactor or replatform their IBM i applications just yet, but they do want to move their IBM i applications to the cloud and in many cases they also want to move their Windows and Linux applications. AWS can do Windows, and it can do Linux, but it can’t do IBM i or AIX because neither of those run on the X86 or Arm CPUs in its server fleet.
Oddly enough, that’s where a new strategic collaboration between sometime cloud rival and sometimes partner Connectria comes in.
Connectria, based on St Louis, Missouri, has been a premier consulting partner of AWS since April 2022 and now has a broader and deeper alignment with AWS because the world’s biggest cloud has figured out that it doesn’t really have a Power Systems strategy like Microsoft/Skytap or IBM Cloud – and like Google Cloud sometimes seemed to have but doesn’t really seem all that interested in anymore. Connectria has four of its own datacenters in the United States – one in its hometown, and others in Dallas, San Jose, and Ashburn. The latter is the suburb of Washington DC that has the biggest datacenter footprint in the world, and importantly, the San Jose and Ashburn datacenters operated by Connectria are in close proximity to AWS facilities, so latency between Power Systems iron and AWS X86 and Arm machinery is relatively low. Connectria also has a datacenter in Amsterdam, and is a reseller of IBM Power Virtual Server slices from Big Blue where it needs low latency access to cloudy Power capacity.
“And if you step back, what has been the AWS sales motion?” asks Troy Mitchell, vice president of channel and alliances at Connectria, rhetorically when we talked with him about the AWS alliance. “It’s refactor, refactor, refactor because they want to get it all on AWS. That’s how they’ve been leading for the last three years. And it doesn’t sit well with a lot of customers, because these are mission critical ERP systems – business applications that the customer may want to modernize and take advantage of AWS services to extend the capabilities of the platform. But that doesn’t mean that they are anxious to refactor and get off the IBM i platform and take on that complex of a project.”
You won’t often hear AWS admit to a hybrid world, and even its Outpost effort, where it places its own systems within customer datacenters, has its limitations and has not been a big revenue generator. Just like Google and Microsoft need some way of hosting Power iron in their cloud datacenters or adjacent to them in co-location facilities, AWS has to find some partner with Power Systems experience that can handle this part of the lift and shift to the cloud. Connectria can clearly do that, and has over 1,000 customers to prove it. According to Mitchell, around 80 percent of those customers are running IBM i and the other 20 percent are running AIX, and there is some overlap in the middle where customers have both.
AWS needs to partner with Connectria for another good reason: IBM has been getting its Power act together on the cloud with Power VS, which co-locates virtualized and cloud-priced Power Systems capacity for customers within its X86-based IBM Cloud. Before, IBM itself didn’t have a Power story to tell on the cloud, but now it does, and as the maker of Power Systems and the creator of IBM i and AIX, IBM is now another cloud choice for a lot of customers.
We think Connectria has more customers than IBM or Microsoft/Skytap do on the cloud, and Fresche Solutions, Focal Point Solutions Group, Meridian IT, and others are growing their Power-on-cloud businesses fast, too. The cloud journey has only begun for a small portion of the IBM i shops in the world, so the market is wide open and so AWS has to do something without having to admit that maybe everything doesn’t end up on the AWS cloud after all.