CAMSS in Conversation: Cloud

Managed Services / SaaS / PaaS / IaaS
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IBM Power Systems in the cloud is bigger than you might think. And it's a growing ecosystem.

Joining me this week to talk about the cloud component of CAMSS (Cloud, Analytics, Mobile, Social, and Security) is IBM's Alise Spence, IBM's Power Systems Cloud Offerings Product Manager. Alise is responsible for setting the strategic direction for the offerings IBM brings to market for public, private, and hybrid cloud solutions.

Steve Pitcher: I'd like to understand about Power Systems in the cloud and where IBM is headed. I understand from an IBM i perspective about a lot of the partners who are doing hosted IBM i in the cloud. Can you expand on that for Power Systems as a whole?

Alise Spence: Power Systems is established broadly across the whole stack. You mentioned you're aware we have many partners who host IBM i and make their services available to their customers in a cloud manner. Companies like Connectria, Logicalis... I have a list of 40 or so, and I don't think it's even complete. It's a really robust ecosystem. Our managed services group is looking at IBM doing IBM i in the cloud, but they haven't determined if they're going to go ahead with that offering. They're determining if there's a business case to support it.


Beyond that, we're trying to substantiate Power as a premium platform in the cloud for big data and analytics workloads on Linux. We have a number of cloud providers who are already established with Power. And then we have Power in our own Softlayer cloud, which runs today the Watson workloads, and now we're going to be offering bare-metal solutions and next year have virtual machines as a service. It's all Linux-based.


Whenever you think about Power Systems in a public cloud outside of the IBM i space, then we're really talking about Linux-based offerings, VM, bare-metal solutions. As those offerings become available, they will become the foundation for other IBM offerings. We can see Bluemix data services running on Power because it's going to be more economical for those groups to do that. We expect to see that transition happen down the road. Right now, we're focused on the initial Power Systems offerings in Softlayer.


SP: In terms of getting out there in the Linux space, how are things like the OpenPOWER Consortium and the Linux on POWER Centers of Excellence doing to drive new business for Power Systems?


AS: Absolutely great. Rackspace is doing an OpenPOWER offering. We're talking to Google to create a platform offering based on POWER. It's that type of mega-scale datacenters where we see the OpenPOWER systems playing. The scale-out architecture manufactured by commodity manufacturers out of Taiwan. That's the play with Softlayer. Softlayer in fact will have an OpenPOWER-based system, code-named 'Habanero.' The flip side is that we continue to position and see that IBM-branded Power Systems are very relevant and valuable for midmarket, managed, and cloud provider groups. We also see it strategic for private cloud and public cloud. It's kind of two-tiered. If you're in the midmarket, you can't afford to buy 100,000 scale-out systems from a Taiwanese manufacturer. If you can't do that, you're going to buy a smaller number of IBM-branded systems instead and get the support and all the familiar things that IBM provides.


SP: I work for an SMB, and we do IBM i primarily but run some Linux on Power in a supporting role. IBM i is primarily an SMB market, and therefore most of my readership have similar smaller environments. Can you explain why existing IBM i customers with their own iron would be interested in what IBM is doing in the cloud space for Power Systems? The wow factor is there when you're talking Google running POWER chips and especially Watson, but where does Tom and Joe's Trucking Company with 55 users and a little Power Systems S814 benefit? Is it primarily technology innovation? I tried to ask that in the nicest, sincerest way possible.


AS: A big focus of IBM's cloud business is around bringing to our customers and clients OpenStack management tools. Think about cloud delivery model of services. I'd assume the regular IBM i guy is pretty self-sufficient. The system just works, and it's everything they need. Is there an opportunity to bring cloud delivery elements to that IBM i environment? For instance, a self-service interface that could automatically provision resources, carve out an LPAR, set up a development environment or an application environment and then make it available to an end user. A typical case would be a test team. If we cloud-enable the environment, then we can bring OpenStack tools from the cloud business unit into the environment that can provide a self-service interface to the constituents in that group so that they no longer have to request resources from the IT team. Does that resonate with you?


SP: It would for some shops, depending on the level of resources they have. If Tom and Joe's Trucking has a single administrator who doesn't have the time to learn partitioning, then a cloud model could work for them. Certainly. IBM i is a business system, not an IT system. It's all about resources. Do they even have the resources to physically fit a new LPAR on existing hardware for a test environment? If not, an IBM i partition in the cloud could be very economical and attractive. That's a good thing. Good answer!


AS: IBM is very committed to OpenStack and the cloud delivery platform. It can be run in the cloud and on premises. Because it's open source, the development community provides great value for customers.


Another thing I wanted to mention about your SMB question: As IBM begins to expand into our own public cloud, it opens up an opportunity for companies who want to do a proof of concept. Something that they don't want to invest in any additional infrastructure. They can go and contract IBM resources in the cloud and then relinquish those resources when they're done. It enables some extra flexibility for existing on-premises customers. In a hybrid cloud world, it's great to have a good balance between on-premises and off-site.


SP: In terms of Linux, where do you see IBM going in the next few years with Canonical, SUSE, and Red Hat? I know Canonical has Ubuntu available in both big and little endian on Power Systems. What's next? I ask because a lot of the cloud services you've mentioned are tied to the hip with Linux.


AS: We continue to work with three of our Linux partners. Canonical...we're expanding integration for Ubuntu so we can automate workloads onto Power Systems. SUSE and Red Hat are very strategic in our enterprise plans, but they're a little more challenging contractually. We're working with Software Group to support all three Linux distributions. That's all from an IBM perspective. From the outside, when we look at Linux, it's really tied to the hip with the evolution of open-source applications, micro services, and API economy.


We're also focused on expanding that ecosystem from a cloud perspective. We talked about OpenStack as a foundational element that's strategic to Power. We're also working with Docker so we can help automate deployment of applications inside of software containers. We're working with Cloud Foundry as well. The runtime, the languages, MongoDB, management tools...not only can you run your mission-critical analytics applications on Power, but you can build on Power and deploy it. Where we see us going is to strengthen that ecosystem and [ensure] that the tools are easily acquired and usable.