Cloud IBM i Modernization

New Alternatives for IBM i on Cloud Computing Platforms

Larry Dube

Cloud computing platforms can offer unprecedented scalability compared to traditional onsite or hosted servers, but adapting IBM i applications to x86-based cloud platforms has historically been a prohibitive challenge. But today, new solutions like Skytap and Infinite i make cloud platforms a viable option for organizations that depend on IBM i applications. We explain how in this blog.

Cloud Computing Platforms and IBM i

In short, cloud computing platforms like Microsoft Azure, Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google Cloud, and IBM Cloud provide highly scalable solutions for supporting organizational storage and computing needs. 

For a broader look at the benefits of cloud-hosted solutions, please see our blog here.

Compared to a traditional hosted solution, where a service provider runs a dedicated piece of hardware, cloud computing platforms allow organizations to simply purchase the amount of computing and storage capacity they need as a service. Hardware needs are handled by cloud platform data centers “behind the scenes,” with specific servers abstracted from the perspective of customer organizations. Computing and storage resources can be managed from dashboards, with additional capacity generally readily available for purchase.

Until recently, these cloud computing platforms have not been widely accepted for IBM i systems by the customer base. Resource allocation for x86 workloads within cloud platforms is much more dynamic compared to the Power i architecture, and a specific solution was required to integrate these different systems.

New partners have opened up new possibilities for the relatively seamless migration of IBM i applications to the cloud. We cover two of the most important below.

How Organizations Can Bring IBM i to the Public Cloud with Skytap

Skytap provides a valuable option for organizations that run on IBM i but would benefit from the highly scalable capabilities afforded by the public cloud or IBM Cloud. Skytap runs Power i hardware behind the scenes at cloud data centers, using them to power a virtualized layer that allows IBM i applications to run seamlessly, just as they would if they were being run on traditional hardware. This virtualized layer can share resources from multiple pieces of Power i hardware, allowing IBM i applications to dynamically pull resources just like x86 applications running on a public cloud platform. For organizations that run both x86 and Power i workloads, both can be managed using the same dashboards.

Critically, the underlying data center infrastructure needed to support Skytap is still being developed, and not yet rolled out to every public cloud data center. For example, two Azure data centers are currently up and running with Power i hardware, providing the minimum threshold needed for redundant production and disaster recovery systems in geographically separated sites. However, only two sites to choose from means limited options for selecting closer data centers to minimize latency.

Pros and Cons of Using Skytap for IBM i Workloads

Skytap means that cloud platforms like Azure are an option for IBM i organizations for the first time. These options do offer distinct benefits compared to traditional hosted infrastructure, but it is still important for organizations to think through the pros and cons of this approach.

Benefits of Using Skytap for IBM i Applications

  1. Applications will look and feel the same running on the cloud, with few to zero modifications or re-training required. Existing applications should not require any modifications to be successfully migrated to the cloud. 
  2. Additional storage and computing capacity can readily be purchased on demand, allowing organizations to avoid purchasing more capabilities than really needed while retaining the ability to scale up rapidly to meet irregular workload requirements or accommodate new acquisitions
  3. Conversion to Skytap is a highly streamlined process, similar to a “lift and shift” approach when migrating from hosted hardware to the cloud.

Limitations of Using Skytap for IBM i Applications

  1. Data center locations could cause latency issues, particularly if DR scenarios require x86 and IBM i workloads to be migrated to different sites
  2. Skytap cloud platform fees are likely to be higher compared to a traditional hosted solution over the long term.
  3. Because IBM i applications are still being run on their native hardware, Skytap will require the organization to retain IBM i expertise or contract with a third party for this skillset. Other options (see below) offer the potential to tap into your x86 resources.

An Alternative Approach to Bringing IBM i Applications to the Cloud: Infinite i

Another technology provider, Infinite i, offers an alternative option for moving IBM i applications to the cloud. Rather than virtualize Power i hardware, Infinite i actually converts the source code of IBM i applications into x86 applications, translating RPG or COBOL into C#. Once this conversion process is complete, these applications can be run on major cloud computing platforms with no additional layer required, allowing access to the hundreds of different Azure, AWS, or Google Cloud data centers across the country.

Infinite i will even replicate IBM i interfaces in the new x86 applications: new green screens will look like old green screens. Old AS/400 commands even function just as they used to. Infinite i even provides a translation tool that allows future RPG/COBOL modifications to be incorporated into the x86 software, allowing organizations to retain their existing development resources. This gives organizations the flexibility to leverage both x86 and/or IBM i resources.

The key limitation of this approach is that an organization must fully own its source code. In our experience, the vast majority of organizations employ at least some third-party software that may complicate this approach. There is risk in churning through all of that source code and creating a new product. There will potentially be much more testing needed compared to a more “lift and shift” solution.

Need Help Identifying the Right Cloud Strategy for Your Organization?

While a “traditional” on-premises server is certainly more rigid than the Skytap model, our experience suggests that this is still the best option for many different organizations. But solutions like Skytap and Infinite i mean that organizations that depend on IBM i have more options than ever for getting out of the hardware management business. Ultimately, the right path will depend on your business’s unique needs–both today and years into the future.

Please reach out to our team if you need assistance identifying the right strategy for your IBM i / Power i infrastructure.

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