You and i – IBM i AND Cloud
I had big plans for this blog this year, and one of the biggest was to write about the strategy of IBM i in the context of “The Cloud.” We’ve done a lot to make IBM i a cloud-ready operating system, there are many “clouds” which contain IBM i instances, and the future of IBM i will undoubtedly continue to integrate with cloud technology. All of this needs to be explained to our IBM i community, and I’m in a unique position to provide that explanation.
However, there are almost as many ways to approach the topic as there are entities who have IT needs. I receive questions daily which are related to IBM i’s place in a world where “The Cloud” is becoming the center of so many IT conversations. So, I’ve had to re-think how I’m going to write about it. It’s clear to me that writing one blog post which will address every question is impossible.
But I need to start somewhere. Where should I start? After so many inquiries, I’m going to start with clarifying the biggest confusion factor:
It’s “IBM i AND the Cloud,” not “IBM i OR the Cloud”
From the questions I’m getting, one of the clear problems is that the IT industry seems to be forcing a false choice upon the market – and upon clients of established servers in particular. The industry – and some cloud providers in particular – want you to think you have to choose between clouds and your existing servers. According to this way of thinking, it’s “One or the Other – you can’t have both.”
That’s simply wrong.
For IBM i clients, the best answer is “IBM i and Cloud.”
Sometimes, the “cloud” we’re talking about is the cloud others are trying to sell you, and sometimes it’s “cloud technology” that IBM i uses itself, and sometimes it’s both. But there are two facts you need to take into account as you decide how your IBM i-based workloads ought to react to this “Cloud” focus.
- Fact number 1 - the value and satisfaction your business currently enjoy from your IBM i-based solutions are going to be greater if the solution continues to include IBM i.
- Fact number 2 - there is amazing value being produced using cloud technology, and your business ought to figure out how to apply that value into its IT environment, too.
The IBM i Strategy integrates both of those facts. But before we get to that part of the strategy, let me back up Fact number 1 with some data.
Modernization Beats Re-Platforming
A recent study by IDC (https://idcdocserv.com/US46775720) looks at “modernizing” from several angles. The one I’m selecting here was also highlighted in an IT Jungle article written by Alex Woodie in October 2020.
There’s a good reason we both chose it: its message is very powerful, very accurate, and highly relevant to the IBM i community. What is that message?
Modernization is demonstrably better than re-platforming.
“Re-platforming,” to be clear, means moving off of IBM i to a different operating system. It’s not just running your IBM i instance on a system owned by someone else. We’ll talk about that later. “Re-platforming” will require changes to your software, and typically involves re-writing and re-implementing, as well as moving all your data out of Db2 for i. It’s a lot of work, and it’s risky.
“Modernization” on the other hand is updating an existing application to use modern technology, incrementally providing value with new technology while keeping a core of the business processing on the existing platform.
Here’s the key chart from the IDC study. It compares user satisfaction with their projects – either to modernize (remaining on IBM i / z) or to re-platform.
Notice that every measured aspect of a modernized business solution is better than the same aspect of a solution which has been re-platformed. This makes perfect sense for several easily understood reasons.
- Every application user customizes how they use their application. On IBM i, in particular, they customize how they use Db2. That customization is nearly impossible to replicate in a re-platform. But the customization exists because it's better for the business. If you lose that customization, you lose business value.
- IBM i provides unique capabilities that didn't have to be written into the app, and so those capabilities are missing when a port/re-platform happens. It might be security, or backup, or referential integrity (which prevents data corruption) or many other things built into IBM i.
- The stability & reliability of the target platform is inferior. No other platform, and certainly no cookie-cutter cloud operating system, is as reliable as IBM i + Power. IBM i workloads which are running businesses can’t tolerate a “well, the instance failed so let’s just restart it” approach.
- The number of people it takes to manage the new platform is greater -- it has to be -- because IBM i does so much autonomic and automatic processing. The costs associated with that increase in required staff will show up somewhere.
- The additional software you have to install to make up for the loss of the integrated IBM i componentry will add to costs and to complexity.
Now, why do I bring this up? The IDC paper was not specifically about Cloud, but if a cloud vendor tells you that their cloud can do a better job than your IBM i solution, they are telling you that you need to re-platform. Who benefits from that? Based on the data, you do not.
But let’s be clear: “Cloud” still has potential value for you – just not as a wholesale replacement of your business applications and infrastructure. The value comes from what it can do for you if you integrate cloud technology to solve modern business problems. And that’s where the strategy comes in.
The IBM i Cloud Strategy
For well over a decade, the IBM i strategy has been built off of three guiding principles. I intend to write a series of posts about it, but for now, let’s list those three principles:
- Power Solutions Platform
- Open for Choice
- The Integrated Promise of IBM i
In a few words, IBM i is focused on providing our solutions developers and users everything they need to make their solutions provide value, taking advantage of the state-of-the-art technology Power Systems provide. IBM i will give our clients multiple options when they consider how to get from where they are today to where they want to go. And IBM i will integrate the underlying technology to continue to provide the inherent value which comes from a securable, reliable platform which is built on its modern relational database, Db2 for i.
In the past few years, each of those priorities has been put to use when deciding how to invest in IBM i where “Cloud” is concerned.
Solutions – the Cloud perspective
If a software solution is valuable, it is almost certain to undergo “modernization.” Certainly, it will undergo enhancements over time, as new business problems need to be solved. As those enhancements happen, people will want to incorporate value from modern software – new language capabilities in RPG, or capabilities easily provided by open-source languages, or the use of a more modern user interface. Whatever the “modern” technology is, people will want to add the value from that technology to the existing software. It’s a continuous process.
These days, the days of “cloud,” part of modernizing an application is considering how the application might get value from, or provide value to, a cloud.
One of the key attributes of cloud technology is its dependence on “services” – pieces of software that can be thought of as being separate and remote (even if they are on the same piece of hardware), but which can be invoked using standard technologies – many people think of them as remote APIs. Over the past decade, we’ve made it easier for applications written in RPG to consume services (first with XML, later with JSON), and we’ve also made it simple to expose business logic written in RPG or any other ILE language as a service.
At the same time, we’ve added many open-source languages to the catalog of solution development tools available on IBM i, and many of those are the same languages being used in cloud-based applications today.
The point is, if you’re an IBM i client and you want to get value from a cloud, or expose your business logic through services to a cloud, you do not have to rewrite your application on some other operating system. You can use the tools that are available on IBM i to do this.
And if you want to call a service that’s available on someone’s cloud, you can do that! It’s the best of both worlds.
One of the biggest trends in large IBM i shops, in fact, is modernizing existing IBM i applications with this very concept in mind. Solutions which were once monolithic monstrosities can be analyzed, modularized, and surrounded with “services wrappers.” Those services can be called from the internal clouds used by big clients, keeping key IBM i data and processes on IBM i. And, when a business also has services available on, for example, a Linux partition in their internal cloud, the IBM i application can integrate that function via a service call.
You’ll hear us talk more and more about this as the strategy unfolds. For example, IBM is making software available in “Cloud Paks” built on Red Hat OpenShift. Some of our clients are integrating the value provided by those Cloud Paks (Artificial Intelligence being a prime use case). How can your IBM i solution take advantage of these? Through web services. Where might the data come from which will get analyzed by the AI component? Perhaps your data stored in Db2 for i.
Choices – the Cloud perspective
In my discussion of how this guiding principle relates to Cloud, I want to point out that IBM i can be run in clouds today, and sometimes that’s your best option.
Now, the “cloud” you run in might be one entirely controlled by your organization. Recent Power Systems offerings make it easier than ever to consume resources on your own system in a scale-on-demand mode which is very much like a cloud. Capabilities like Live Partition Mobility and Virtual Serial Number are making it easier to move workloads from one part of a cloud to another. Most IT shops of any significant size are now treating their infrastructure as a “cloud.” And that will only get easier over time.
Alternatively, you might transfer some or all of your IBM i processing to “cloud” providers who run IBM i in their clouds. IBM has such an offering, available around the world now, IBM Power Systems Virtual Server. There are other hosting/cloud providers in the IBM i community, as well. Many, many clients are using these options.
The key here is that you have a choice in how you want to run your IBM i infrastructure: all on your own, all running on Power Systems owned by someone else, or in a hybrid model, where some of your workload runs on your systems, and some on systems owned by others. No “re-platform” work is required. This all fits into IBM’s Hybrid Cloud strategy, which is great – because it also fits what many IBM i clients want to do.
Integration – the Cloud perspective
Remember above when I wrote about IBM i applications consuming services and making services available? It’s all possible now, and there are plenty of organizations taking steps in that direction.
The IBM i strategy is based on “integration.” That is, when a new technology becomes a clear requirement for users – either for writing software or for managing the system – or when the technology becomes a standard (even a de facto standard) we try to find a way to integrated it. Most of the time, we add it to IBM i itself, but other times we find a way to make things easier for our users to adopt, even if it is outside IBM i.
For example, in the list of technologies used by Clouds, Ansible has emerged as an architecture for managing platforms and for implementing Continuous Integration/Continuous Delivery (CI/CD). Seeing how important Ansible was becoming, we’ve shipped Ansible modules which perform IBM i functions, and also provided IBM i Playbooks for use in Ansible environments. (If you don’t know Ansible, think “automated scripts.”)
So, some “Cloud” technology gets integrated directly into IBM i (the ability to virtualize resources, such as storage, I/O and even serial numbers now). Other technology gets the “IBM i treatment” by making it easy to consume without having to understand the details at the level required for other platforms.
In Summary – Remember – it’s IBM i and Cloud
As I mentioned at the beginning of this (very long) post, I know I cannot address every cloud-related question our IBM i community has in a single post. But I hope this post gives you a good starting point for understanding where IBM i fits into this “cloudy” world.
Clouds exist for a reason. They grew out of service bureaus and hosting centers and truly took off when cell phones got smart enough to run apps. (OK, that’s my opinion there – not a truly historian-certified view).
The point is, Clouds are part of the IT landscape now. And they are the gateway into innovative value.
But they are not the answer to every question. I firmly believe that there are very good reasons which justify why many companies will own their own IT infrastructures, even as they figure out how to get value from clouds owned by others. I think the truly successful strategy for clouds is hybrid.
The IBM i strategy embraces that belief. IBM i might be your cloud, it might be in a cloud you connect to, or it might work with one or more clouds. But the clear answer is "IBM i and Cloud."
 Just beware: some cloud providers will try to get you to move your workloads to a non-Power, non-IBM i, environment. They might be up front and explain they are really talking you into a re-platforming project. Or they might claim they can run your IBM i software on something other than IBM i. (Well, they’ll use an older name, probably.) Ask questions. If it’s not running IBM i on Power Systems, it’s not part of the IBM i strategy.