IBM i in the Cloud: What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

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If you’re running IBM i in a major industry such as banking, health care, distribution, or manufacturing, vendors are probably trying to convince you to move your existing IBM Power hardware environment to the cloud.

While there are advantages to moving to the cloud in terms of costs and personnel, there are potentially offsetting drawbacks. Here are some important items to consider and get answers for before moving your IBM i processing to the cloud.

What Does the Cloud Do for You?

Generally, moving an IBM i partition to the cloud provides these benefits:

  • It breaks you out of the cycle of upgrading your Power i hardware every 3-5 years. Your vendor will now be in charge of your hardware platform and they will handle how much memory, disk, and CPU each IBM i partition receives. For a monthly fee, your IBM Power hardware and its attendant software moves from your capital budget to your operating expense budget. And the cloud provider (theoretically) will keep your hardware current and in good condition for you…with a promise of charging less money than you pay for your current environment.
  • You can reduce or eliminate IBM i administrative duties, involving machine management, backups, tuning, patching, etc. If a cloud-based vendor is configuring and maintaining your hardware, why would you still pay someone else to do the job?

Running IBM i in the cloud removes two headaches: getting capital to keep your IBM Power hardware infrastructure current; and maintaining personnel to manage and administer in-house IBM Power hardware. It allows companies to ease out of the IBM Power hardware management business and focus on their core IBM i objective: improving the bottom line using well-written and maintained software.

Where Running IBM i in the Cloud Can Really Hurt You

While cloud computing’s goals are admirable and align with my own vision for programming (i.e. don’t use expensive programming talent for things you can buy off the shelf), there are many real concerns when moving to the cloud. Consider these items before making any decisions about moving your precious IBM i data and programs to a cloud provider:

Cloud Compatibility – Before you can move to the cloud, you’ll have to upgrade your IBM i operating system to the minimum OS level supported by the vendor. Pre-move upgrades can be time consuming and expensive, not only for your operating system but for all the DIY and third-party software you run on that OS.

Data Security – Hardly a month goes by where there isn’t some highly publicized data breach. A cloud environment where you don’t own your servers and the network they run on (and that you share with other organizations) is more problematic than controlling your own data center. While it’s not to say that, more likely a breach will occur after you move, if and when a wide-scale cloud breach does occur – you’ll only be one of many customers the vendor is cleaning up after.

Regulatory Requirements – How will you meet regulatory requirements in the cloud? What will your vendor do to insure the network is PCI compliant (for credit card processing), ensure HIPAA compliance (for medical setups), or insure that you’re Sarbanes-Oxley compliant? How do you ensure that your critical data meets all the regulatory demands (and potential fines for an infraction) that you’re faced with? This is particularly significant for industries where lots of money changes hands in an IBM i environment, such as banking, insurance, and casinos.

Wide-Spread Outages – I recently heard of a national telecom vendor that had a problem with one router going down that took out telecom access for an entire day across hundreds of organizations. Even Amazon, one of the largest providers of cloud services, has also had major outages. Bundling your IBM i production solution in the cloud leaves you more vulnerable to a mass outage where again, you become one of many customers who can be affected by a single incident. And with any kind of data service provider, chances are high there will be an outage.

Financial or Change-of-Ownership Issues – Cloud providers are no different from other IT companies. They change hands and sell and buy businesses all the time. For example, ATT last year announced they were selling many of their data centers. Remember, the high-quality cloud provider you sign up with today could easily be sold to a discount Charlie cloud provider tomorrow.

Service Level Agreements (SLA) – Your partition won’t be the only thing residing in the vendor’s cloud. Many companies have SLA agreements with business partners and customers that the machine will be available at specific times with specific response times. Be sure to determine whether your cloud vendor will be able to honor your SLA commitments and what happens if they can’t.

IBM Power Hardware Maintenance  Let’s say that a cloud vendor is running an IBM Power 8 system attached to an IBM Storage Area Network (SAN). Let’s also say that they have to perform SAN maintenance where the entire system and all their customers’ partitions will be down for eight hours. What’s the process for bringing your IBM i partitions down and back up again? Will the vendor work with you to minimize your outage so it doesn’t affect your IBM i uptime window? Your cloud vendor can and will need to perform maintenance. The question becomes – how do their maintenance issues affect your processing schedule?

IBM Power Hardware Upgrades  If your cloud vendor decides to upgrade to a Power 9 machine in a few years, how will the upgrade and associated outage be handled? Again, this relates to who controls your processing schedule.

Increased Capacity – If you’re bringing on new capacity that calls for more processing power (say an acquisition or a major software rollout), can the vendor accommodate your needs for more horsepower through your contract or does the pricing change? Be sure your cloud vendor documents what happens when your business needs change and how that will affect your costs.

Network Architecture and Firewalls – How does your cloud vendor handle telecommunication lines and basic network equipment needed to attach IBM i cloud-based partitions to your network? Who manages special network situations, such as when you need to open up holes in the firewall to accommodate EDI data transfer with business partners? When your machine resides in the cloud, who handles the perimeter, DMZ, and internal networking issues surrounding your IBM i partitions?

Migration Back to the Internal Data Center – Many companies migrate to the cloud, only to decide to go back to an internal data center when their costs escalate too high or they need to once again control their own servers and networks. Once you dismantle your in-house data center and move everything to the cloud, you may face extreme IT costs if you reverse course and decide to move your systems back in-house. Going to the cloud is a major commitment that isn’t easily reversed.

While running IBM i in the cloud has its advantages, issues like these can make for a much more complicated, risky, and expensive environment than running IBM i partitions in your own data center. Companies should make the best IT decisions for their business and not necessarily go with the hot technology that’s popular now. If a cloud-based IBM i environment fits your needs, great. Go for it. But be sure you know all the risks and costs associated with that environment before you move your most important assets out of your proven in-house environment.

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Related Reading

Cloud No Security Panacea for IBM i

IBM Users: Stay Off the Cloud if You Don’t Need It

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Why Software, Not Cloud, Should be Transformative IT Priority for AS/400 & IBM i


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