IBM i in cloud: “trick or treat…?” – PART 1

With this study I will discuss about vantages and doubts on cloud, especially related to IBM i platform.
In the second part we will analyze hosting providers for IBM i.

First of all we should remember that cloud computing is an information technology paradigm, a model to share ubiquitous pools of configurable resources (computers networks, servers, applications, services, storage). Cloud allows users to store and process data either in private or a third part server, located in a data server, and this makes the data-access more efficient and reliable. Cloud computing in based on resource sharing to achieve coherence and economy of scale, in the same way of utilities.

The Cloud had the most important grow starting from the years 2010, when low-cost computers and storage, high capacity networks and the develop of the service oriented architecture, the hardware virtualization and the utility computing caused the possibility for the companies to scale up with lower costs, or to scale down as the business required in a “pay-as-you-go” price model.
So could become the foundamental element for enabling the “internet of things”.
All the big players invested in those years: in 2006 Amazon introduced its “Elastic Compute Cloud” and in 2010 was launched “Windows Azure” and in 2011 IBM announced his “IBM SmartCLoud” framework to support “Smarter Planet”.

The cloud could means essentially tree kind of services:

1) Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)
It typically provides access to networking features, computers and data storage space with high level of flexibility.

2) Platform as a Service (PaaS)
It provides services about hardware and operating systems, so companies don’t have to worry about resource procurement, capacity planning, software maintenance, patching.

3) Software as a Service (SaaS)
This service delivers a complete software product that is managed by the service provider, so the user have to think only about the software and not about the underlying infrastructure. One typical example is the web-based email.

Which are the main advantages and disadvantages in cloud solutions?

Based on Microsoft and IBM considerations these are the main advantages:

1) trade capital expense for variabile expense, it means invest only for servers really used
2) massive economies of scale, because the usage of a lot of users decreise costs that could be shares between all
3) stop to be worried about capacity, nothing to guess until all could be modulated after real needs
4) increase speed and agility, in a cloud all the IT resources are available quickly and this let you save time.
5) Stop spending money in data centers as fixed costs to mantein the centers

In general the cloud solution give to your business more flexibility (in term of scalability, storage options, security) and efficiency (in term of accessibility,speed to market, data security, savings on equipments) respect to the in-house servers.

And which are the doubts about the use of this technology?
Cloud Academy, an educational platform on cloud computing, provides this list of disavantages for this solution:

1) Downtime: this is the worst problem. The internet connection or the cloud too, could have a service outage. A rare event but it could happens, so the point is if your business process can be delayed in case the service goes down…

2) Security and privacy: every discussion about data must involve security and privacy. Even if we aspect that service provider could manage and safeguard the infrastructure, we couldn’t forget the case of “Code Space” hacked on his Amazon Web Services EC2 console. So the point is how much can the provider be trusted?

3) Vulnerability to attack: in cloud every component is potentially accessible from internet. Even it’s true that all things connected to internet aren’t sure, you must select providers who give you more affidability in term of security.

4) Limited control and flexibility: cloud users have limited control over the function and execution of their hosting infrastructure, because providers could impose limits on what they can do on their deployments.

5) Cloud computing platform dependencies: this is another of the disavantages of cloud. Differences between vendors could make sometimes impossible to migrate from one cloud to another… So you should reconfigure applications to adjust for the new host with risks to expose data.

6) Costs: cloud especially for a small scale and for a short term is strongly competitive, but in a larger scale the price could be higer then expected even if there is a reduction of staff and hardware…


But how is positioned our “IBM i” in the cloud scenario?

IBM i operating system is one of the best multi-workload, multiuser business platforms. Its architecture, based on object security, job descriptions, robust job scheduling and work management, make it an ideal platform for running multiple process workloads. So Managed service providers (MPSs) and cloud providers are using IBM i as a solid enterprise cloud platform.

Most part of IBM i customers have POWER5 and POWER6 installed and part of them are interested to host their applications instead of getting a new IBM POWER8 server. These are the main reasons to do it:

1) Save money: IBM’s smallest servers have usually more capacity than 80% then IBM i users’ need. The elimination of software fees and hardware maintenance could let to save $3.000-15.000 per year

2) IBM i Expert support: companies sometime have the problem of missing IBM i experts, often because retirement, so cloud supplies to this kind of need

3) Greater security, Redundancy: Data Centers surely could provide more security and redundancy than most of companies can afford for themselves and at a fraction of the cost.

4) Access to new Technology
Hosting will give you the possibility to upgrade to newest POWER server with the latest IBM i version level, without extra costs.

5) No Major Capital Outlay
Buy a new server is a capital investment that usually requires procedures to be approved. Hosting is an operational expense, so more easy to be realized.

6) Flexible terms
Hosting could be managed by 3-5 years or quarterly and monthly too. So it could be attractive for short-term needs.

The doubts about IBM i cloud that people has are promptly clarified by Bob Losey in his article.
As I discussed before, security isn’t an issue because hosting surely could offer more security service respect to your office. No doubts about the control of your LPAR, Logical Partition because if you have QSECOFR console you could control access and resources in your partition.
The internet speed is another big question of discussion but now the traffic between the server and the workstations is very small and efficient (in a range of 50-250 bytes per mouse click or entry). This because you only transmit changed fields.

The only questions to pay attention are:
– the possibility to change easly providers: changing hosting could be easy, depending to your provider. You should pay attention to your hosting agreement to check how easily you can leave your provider
– integrating windows subsystem: integrating other servers with your IBM i could be complex and cost-effective. Your hosting provider must understand the nature of the integration to chose the best approach.

As first general analisys I think IBM i in cloud is a must for all short term needs of a company.
Adding to this it is the best solution for middle companies that want to move quickly with their business when it grows or not, by using the best professionalities and technologies with a modulated cost: it is the best priced solution for go time to market.
The risk of attack or stop of service must be considered but is very low and could be accepted.
The important think is the chose of service provider, to be sure about high level of service and professionality.
Big companies or companies that must deliver high quality online services, as bank services, could think to develop their solutions inside the company, accepting to build their data center and to take care directly to their servers.

Sure I wait a big future on cloud solutions and on  “IBM i” cloud too.


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