Informing the IBM Community

To Cloud or Not to Cloud for IBM i


At a recent IBM i event, a discussion on cloud for IBM i was a divisive topic.  Whilst we have a great platform with IBM i, to ensure it’s longevity and avoid the ‘legacy’ tag, it’s important to understand how IBM i can offer cloud and cloud-like capability and economics.  In our latest blog, we look at how IBM i can offer cloud without necessarily losing control or ownership of your system and how we have recently helped a leading clearing Bank do just that.

At the recent IBM i User Group, the i-UG in June 2022 there was a session entitled “To Cloud or Not to Cloud” in which a straw poll was held in the room for clients that have currently moved to the cloud for their IBM i environment.  The affirmative response was very limited in the room with discussion continuing around many clients’ unwillingness to adopt the cloud hinging around a loss of control and ownership of the environment. 

Being part of that discussion gave me the genesis for this blog as I believe that whilst many IBM i environments will stay on-premises for the foreseeable future, it’s critical for the longevity of the IBM i that we embrace cloud where it’s appropriate to maximise agility and efficiency and stop others from propagating the misconception of IBM i as a legacy platform.

What is Cloud?

This may seem an obvious question for a concept we’ve been living and working with for the last decade but it’s not as clear-cut as that.  Within the industry, the cloud is widely defined as the on-demand availability of computing and storage that can be provisioned near instantaneously with pay-per-use pricing.  This capability has been available with x86 workloads for some time, with hyperscalers such as AWS, Azure, IBM and Google offering mature, business-ready Windows and Linux environments on demand. 

However, for IBM i, it’s only recently that the ability to achieve true cloud-like capability has become available.  Yes, for years third-party providers have offered IBM i in their ‘cloud’ but those offerings tended to be a dressed up traditional co-location where clients committed to long-term contracts for a set compute environment and didn’t offer the key tenets of Cloud to provision on-demand and pay-as-you-go.

So, do I have to migrate to the Public Cloud?

In a word, no.  Whilst moving to the public cloud may offer benefit (more on that later!), it’s not the right choice for everyone.  Through their Power Private Cloud offering, BM now offer clients the ability to turn their own on-premises Power server into a cloud service, with flexible, dynamic capacity on demand and pay-as-you-go pricing.

What is Power Private Cloud?

Released with POWER9, the Power Private Cloud offering allows clients to license only the baseline processor and memory capacity required, with short-term spikes in demand covered by pay-as-you-go pricing. 

When sizing for a traditional on-premises system, it’s important to model on the peak workload and ensure that there is enough processor and memory configured to meet this spike – generally we would take a performance collection from a month-end or similar and make sure that, at this most critical of periods, the proposed server can handle the load.  However, in many cases the average workload of the system is far below this peak.  This is exacerbated as you layer on multiple LPARs and even multiple Power servers until you get to the point that by having to cater for that high-water mark of resource, there is considerable wastage in unused activations and licensing for the majority of the time.

Power Private Cloud looks to address this by licensing only the cores that are used for the majority of the time – this pool of licenses is global across all Power servers in your estate allowing for further economies of scale.  When the workload of all servers exceeds the capacity of the pool, that usage is calculated and automatically billed by the minute.

As an example of this, we recently sized and supplied a pair of Power10 servers to a large international bank.  They were previously using 39 IBM i licenses across four POWER8 servers running in the UK and Singapore.  Through a sizing exercise using data collected from their current utilisation, we were able to propose a reduction to 17 IBM i licenses – a significant license and maintenance saving whilst transforming the perception of the IBM i environment into a private cloud for the organisation.

Why is Cloud so important?

The days of widespread cloud-first strategies that came to the fore in the last decade appear to be over on the whole as clients realise that migrating everything into the cloud isn’t the panacea they hoped it to be.  However, where a line of business is looking for a new application or platform, especially with the current volatility caused by international events, we see high appeal for solutions that can offer seamless scaling in an operating (OpEx) cost model.  It’s here that the perception of IBM i is important.  If IBM i is still perceived as a static, on-premises solution, there is a risk that the business overlooks IBM i as a strategic platform for the future.

When should I consider Public Cloud?

As we covered above with Power Private Cloud – it’s possible to achieve cloud like behaviour and economics whilst retaining your Power server on-premises.  However, there are scenarios where an adoption of IBM Power in the public cloud are favourable.  We have covered the key ones below;

  1. Where an organisation has a desire to close on-premises datacentres and move all workload to the cloud.  In this case, the capability to run IBM Power workloads in the public cloud prevents the workload from being a blocker to the corporate strategy
  • When workloads are required temporarily and an on-demand model works well – rather than purchasing additional capacity on premises for these workloads.
  • To enrich analytics with IBM i data.  When an IBM i workload moves into the cloud, it offers possibilities to ingest data from the core business application running on Power to gain insights.  For instance, for IBM i workloads running on Skytap on Azure, the IBM i data can be ingested to Azure Synapse to improve analytics.

Want to find out more?

For more information on how Northdoor can help you achieve cloud pricing and flexibility for your IBM Power workloads, please get in touch.  As a Platinum IBM Partner and a Specialist in IBM Power Systems, Northdoor act as the trusted advisor to some of IBM’s largest IBM i clients.

Register for Northdoors IBM Power Summit on the 1st November.

Find out more and register:

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