The Case for IBM i and the Cloud
Fortra's Tom Huntington on why IBM i is well-suited for hosting cloud environments, and why some enterprises are doing away with their traditional data centers
Paul Tuohy: Hi everybody and welcome to another iTalk Business with Tuohy. I’m delighted to be joined today—well actually joined again today by Tom Huntington, who is the executive VP of technical solutions at Fortra. Sorry—before we go any further Tom, just to get this out of the way. I’m sure everybody recognizes your name as an IBM Champion, etc., but a lot of people may not have come across the name Fortra yet. Do you want to just touch on that one briefly?
Tom Huntington: Well, thank you first, Paul, for having me on your podcast. It’s an honor to be here, second time for me. So yes, Fortra became the new name of HelpSystems back on November 2 of 2022. It was a reflection of the change in the organization from a standpoint of you know, we’ve done 40-plus software acquisitions at the HelpSystems company, and it actually was our 40th year of being in business. So quite a big name change. It didn’t happen overnight, but the reason was to emphasize the fact that yes, we’re this IBM i, AS/400, iSeries software company, but we’re also this large enterprise cybersecurity company. And so the name Fortra, if you look at it closely, the A is a delta, which represents change and the ever-changing cybersecurity world with the regulations, the bad actors, and everything else that’s going on in that world as we are all faced with that issue, so hence the name change. We’re your cybersecurity allies, and you know the other sidebar on this: I just finished going to COMMON POWERUp, and I had many customers ask the question. I said well, back to you: When you think of HelpSystems, what do you think of? Well, I think of that AS/400, iSeries, IBM i software vendor, right? I talk to customers every single day, and that was an issue we had as an organization. People would buy our IBM i software, but they wouldn’t even consider us for enterprise software. So hence the name change, and it’s gone really well. Got tons of compliments at the POWERUp conference on the new branding and the look and the booth, and it was quite fun.
Paul: Yeah, so I hope you don’t have everybody moaning at you about changing the name. So why aren’t you calling it an AS/400 anymore?
Tom: Yeah, right, right. You know and the thing too is I tell people hey, if Tom Huntington can get over it. As you know this is the 35th anniversary of IBM i. I also have my 35th anniversary at the HelpSystems/Fortra company, and if I can get over a name change, I think anybody else can.
Paul: [Laughs] Indeed. Okay well, primary what we’re going to be talking about today, Tom, is the dreaded cloud. Oh, that magic word, the magic word: cloud.
Tom: Yes. What’s the cloud, right?
Paul: So now I know that you personally have interaction with lots and lots and lots of companies all over the world. So let’s start with what are the trends that you’re starting to see with IBM i and organizations moving to the cloud?
Tom: Yeah, I think a couple of things about that. First of all, I think about what is the cloud. Well, the cloud is just the ability to be anywhere in the world and access computing technology, and if you think about IBM i and the Power technology, it’s very scalable and hence, it’s been a great technology for hosting cloud. So there’s a lot of business applications that run basically what I’d call a private cloud, where they’re hosted in one of the private cloud vendors, vs. public cloud, and they’re serving up IBM i on the cloud, and been doing that for years in the banking industry, in the manufacturing, etc. So the trend we’re seeing now today is that there’s a maturity in the market for one, in that you have of course, Microsoft. Believe it or not, Microsoft Azure in the cloud has IBM i Power servers alongside Microsoft. You have Google, that has of course IBM i available too for customers on Power. And then of course IBM, the IBM VS, and then Amazon through partners like Connectria. So what’s happened is a lot of the big public providers for public cloud have teamed up with other vendors in this IBM i space, and those relationships over the last year or so have become very mature.
Paul: Yup. So is that sort of the big reason, just like the fact of the availability, or is it more a—
Tom: No. It’s a combination, right? So it’s a great question, follow-on question Paul, because it’s that you have to have the technology, and it’s got to be mature. Because us IBM i people, we’re used to things that just work. They have to continue to run. But then what’s happening is, as you know, retirements. So I lose my administrator to retirement, I’m struggling with getting staff members, but gosh this IBM technology just keeps running my business very reliably. What am I going to do? Retirement is one of the things that’s happening, that’s pushing even more of this today, and then there are companies that just don’t want to have a data center anymore. We don’t want to be the people responsible for doing the upgrades, patching the system, doing the backups, working with high availability or even security to a certain extent, but we’ll talk about that. The other side of it is they just don’t have time to manage the system, and of course the final thing with retirement goes along with lack of expertise. The systems have gotten a little more complicated when you talk about the virtualization and monitoring—you know working with VIO server and SAN storage and stuff like that. It’s all good because it gives people flexibility and being able to move technology around. We’ve had live partition mobility, we now have virtual serial numbers out there from IBM, which gives you the idea that you can move your VM—your partition, whatever you want to call it—from one place to another, and then there’s other organizations. It’s just like you know, my political belief which I won’t get into, but it is what it is and these organizations say hey, it’s cloud first. That’s our direction for everything that we do. And so IBM i becomes a me too, and what are we going to do? The final thought on it is—you know we’ve seen a lot of customers that are also saying, I have Power8. Should I go to Power10, or should I go to the cloud? And some of those organizations, the mistake they’re making, Paul, is they’re saying hey, I’m going to kind of compare what it would cost me to upgrade my Power8 in comparison to moving it the cloud, and that’s my decision. Well, that’s kind of short-sighted because it’s not just about price. Cloud is probably going to cost you more initially because of the movement, the getting there, but then over time you don’t have to worry about that. You focus on application. I know you’re an application person, and so being able to make unique applications—which is what makes IBM i unique, it’s the applications. That’s why it’s here today. It’s why it’s going to be here 10 years from now. So yeah, those are some of the reasons for moving to the cloud.
Paul: Yeah, and I—so as always whenever I talk to you, you give me one answer that gives me 10 more questions—
Tom: Never enough time, Paul.
Paul: But so you’ve already touched a little bit on it here, which is sort of the difficulties of getting to the cloud. So let’s say I’m in one of these situations where as you say, it’s the belief of the company. It’s sort of, okay, that’s it. We’re moving to the cloud. You guys move us to the cloud.
Tom: Right. Right.
Paul: So what am I getting into? You know, what are the—how would I put it? What are the big challenges to get me from my data center into the cloud?
Tom: Right. I think you have to look at a couple of things. One, you have to understand there’s a different reason of why people move IBM i to the cloud vs. why they move Windows or Linux or UNIX. Windows, UNIX, Linux: it’s generally because of the server sprawl. It’s become unmanageable, and that’s why they move to the cloud. Let’s just let Amazon and Google and whoever else manage that problem, right? With IBM i, because it’s a scale-up server, it really doesn’t take a lot of manpower to manage it on premise. So when it comes time to move, you have to think about that scalability that you’ve developed over these last three decades that you’ve owned this technology, and how big it is. And so one of the first things that we do at Fortra is we like to understand what your footprint is, what’s your DNA, because no two IBM i customers are the same. You have customers who have a half a terabyte of storage. They want to move to the cloud, right? Then you have customers that have 30, 40, 100 terabytes or more, and they want to move to the cloud. Those are two different equations that you have to deal with, or two different characteristics. Because the person who has a terabyte, or even two terabytes or four terabytes—it’s not all that big these days. And moving them to the cloud is maybe a 24-hour period in a lot of cases, whereas the bigger ones take a lot of time. And so part of the expertise at our company is we help customers size servers—anyways from Power8 or Power9 to Power10—and so what we can do is we can help size your system so we understand what your DNA is. Then when we move you to the cloud, it’s the appropriate cloud for you. And again, keep in mind there’s private cloud and public cloud, right? There are players like Meridian. There are players like Fresche or Connectria out there that are all what we would consider private clouds. They can offer up something unique to you that maybe Azure, IBM Global Services or IBM virtual server don’t offer because they want to be very generic, whereas the others can tailor things for you. So, if you’re really unique, there are some technologies on IBM i and Power that just don’t work very well in the cloud either, that you have to think about differently. FlashCopy: What is FlashCopy? A lot of customers use it for point in time backups today. Well, that’s an IBM SAN storage feature, and if you move to some of these public clouds, they aren’t using IBM SAN storage, right?
Tom: So, guess what? That doesn’t work. They might have something similar, but it’s not going to be the FlashCopy that you’re used to.
Paul: Okay, so again, something that we touched on there and you’ve got to—okay, so as you said—
Tom: So it’s the amount of data that’s the difficult issue, right? So, the data is—I probably didn’t answer that well enough. It’s that the amount of data that you need to transfer to the cloud is an issue for a lot of people because you’re using public communications, right? You don’t have dedicated communication lines, so you have to think about how am I going to get that data from point A to point B in a reasonable amount of time and keep the business still running on premise? So anyways what the larger customers tend to do is they move development environments, they move HA environments, test environments first, and they do some testing and making sure that things are going to run okay, because okay, we’re talking IBM i. But what about your Windows servers or your Linux servers? And again, application-wise, you might have a web server that’s talking to IBM i and serving up IBM i data, and that’s running on a Windows server. You might want to have that server fairly close to wherever IBM i is in the cloud because of performance latency—
Paul: Yup, yup. Okay, so coming back, Tom, on something you said earlier. I’m putting on my application guy hat here, okay?
Tom: Well, you’re scaring me now because I’m a little further removed from application development these days—
Paul: No, no. So not a development question. This is more a use question, because really for me, for a lot of what I would do, the difference to me about whether my machine is sitting in a data center or whether my machine is in the cloud. Is this just a thing about physically where it is? I mean, what is the difference between cloud and the IBM i sitting in my data center?
Tom: Really, the big difference is you are generally going to be sharing a server with other people. So part of the move here too is that there are customers out there that are only using 10% of their Power server, and it seems like a waste. So when they move to the cloud, they might actually be running on the same Power server, but they’re sharing it with 20 other customers. So that is again something you have to plan for performance-wise, because you are sharing a server with other people, and those other partitions could impact your performance. If something bad happens on their partition, that’s something you have to think about. But to your point, in reality, from a development perspective you don’t really care, because if I can connect to Db2 and that’s my database server—which is what in application terms today, IBM i is a database server with Db2 built into it, and it’s quite nice at that. So that’s just, you know, access to data and you’re fine. You don’t care where it’s at.
Paul: Yeah, okay. So, and again, you’ve mentioned a couple of things about when Fortra goes into talk to customers about this. So do you want to be a bit more specific about that, Tom? I mean what Fortra can do for people if they’re thinking about moving to the cloud?
Tom: Right, right. So first of all, a couple of things to clarify with that. One, we recognize—I mean part of the reason that we’re good at what we do is we talk to our customers. We have a lot of one-on-one calls. This topic has been coming up more and more, so it’s like instead of just ignoring and let people do whatever they do, we feel like we can offer up a lot in experience and knowledge because we have high availability technology for helping to replicate data from one place to another. We have Performance Navigator as a product, which helps with that capacity issue. Once you’re in the cloud, we can help you with monitoring technology, and we can also help you with backups because we work on things like BRMS and Robot Save. And then security. Let’s not forget about the big elephant in the room for everybody in IT, and that’s cybersecurity. Just because you move your IBM i server to the cloud doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have proper security around Db2 and be thinking about things like antivirus and ransomware protection and firewall technology. Things like that don’t go away—and of course neither do the regulations. In the banking industry, you’re being audited pretty much every month. If you’re in other industries, you know, once or twice a year you’re being audited. You got to still pass all those audits. So Fortra will help you. We’ll consult with you to make you better understand what your move is going to involve. Again, smaller customer, it’s not that complicated. Let’s just go ahead and move you. It’s a matter of okay, is the price right for you? Is the timing right for you? You’re talking about a fairly easy move to the cloud in my mind. The big thing to consider there might be, again, application performance—and you should always test things out, right? I mean your software background, it’s like this is: You should test it out. You should have a test environment first. Make sure that your applications perform well, and then that’s what you do. Another reason too that people are moving to the cloud is some people are getting off the platform or trying to get off the platform for whatever reason. We can argue that topic all day long, but the reality is, instead of buying hardware, they’re looking for a place to host IBM i, because they don’t really see it as a long-term solution. Then we have other customers that do actually move to another platform for whatever reason, and then they have archival data. What are they going to do with that? So put that up in a public cloud and only spin it up when you need to use it. So then you’re only paying for it when you’re using it. That’s another good usage for cloud.
Paul: Right. Okay, so there a couple of other work things that I just want to touch on, but I’m going to swing back on them because first of all I heard a rumor about you, Tom—
Tom: Oh oh.
Paul: I heard you got a boat.
Tom: I did. Yes, I spend part of my time in Florida in the Tampa area, and part of my time up north in the Minnesota area where Fortra’s headquarters are. And recently yeah, I bought a center console fishing boat. So I’m learning a couple of different things: one, how to properly tie lines so I don’t lose the fish every time, and trying to figure out how to fish this crazy area. And then the other big thing: If you decide to do this and you want to do boating in the Tampa area, you need to learn about all the markers and stuff. There’s a thing called the ICW that a lot of people don’t know about. It's the Intracoastal Waterway, and it runs from Brownsville, Texas, all the way past up through the East Coast up through New Jersey. I’m not sure exactly where it stops up in that area, but can you believe that? That runs in the Intracoastal around the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean, and navigating that is a little tricky because it defies marker rules when it comes to basic boating—which is you know, red on right when returning, or starboard if you want to get fancy. But when you’re doing the ICW, you have to know the markers for the ICW because green always faces out to sea. So green should be on your right or your left depending upon which direction you’re going in the channel. Otherwise, what people don’t realize is there’s a lot of water—you know, with the tide. The tide is not great here. It’s only two feet, but there’s a lot of chance to bottom out, and that’s never a good experience.
Paul: Okay. Are you sure about this, Tom? Are you sure you want to do this?
Tom: Yeah, I do. I’m a big fan of navigating. I’m a snowmobiler up north when I’m up there. I love that because it’s speed and it’s also navigating your way through northern Minnesota, through the woods and all the trails and stuff and not get lost. I’ve also done navigating in the Boundary Waters of northern Minnesota, which is a beautiful area. It’s a canoe-only area. I like navigating—I guess that’s why I’ve enjoyed my job at Fortra, too. I’ve been dropped in pretty much every major city in the U.S. and other places around the world where I’m like hey, it’s like my own little amazing race. I have to get to that spot and I have to find that customer. I’ve got to get to that trade show. I’ve always enjoyed that navigation part of travel.
Tom: A lot of people don’t. It stresses the hell out of them.
Paul: Yeah, I’ve got my hat raised here, Tom [laughs]. I want to get in a cab and say, take me here.
Tom: Yeah, I’m the person that shows up at the airport an hour beforehand, you know that kind of stuff, because I’m so used to it, right? I mean I don’t need a lot of time.
Paul: So okay, swinging back just before we leave, Tom, there are two things. One is—well, sorry, a big one. Every year HelpSystems used to have the Market Survey. Still going?
Tom: Right. It is still going. Last year, 2022, was year nine. This September and October, we’ll be launching year 10. Can you believe it’s been a decade of doing the IBM Marketplace Survey, now under the Fortra name? We definitely will continue that—and again, for our IBM i customers, keep in mind IBM i is very important to us, because we work on BRMS. We work on PowerHA, and we work on RDI, too. So we have the unique relationship with IBM, and that’s been, I believe, a very wonderful relationship. I think we’ve done wonders with all three products. They’ve gotten better over the years, and so IBM i is important to us, the Marketplace Survey is important—and there’s even cloud slides in there where we ask questions for the customers and what they’re thinking about for cloud. So when you think about cloud, think about Fortra. We’ll have a nice discussion with you. We don’t host you. We do bring partners in. Obviously, you could go to public or private—and I have to apologize. We have a lot of partners out there and I didn’t mention your name. I could go through the list of Kyndyl and on and on and on—Connectria. I think I might have said their name: Meridian. Guys, don’t get mad at me. Just give me a call. Shake me up a little bit. We’ll work with you, too.
Paul: Okay, so before we go then, Tom, any last parting shots you want to give here about security or anything that you want to touch on.
Tom: Well, cybersecurity is always on everybody’s mind. I think the best thing to do is no longer can you say, I know I have warts in cybersecurity, I just don’t want to look at them. You know we do the free security scan for customers. It’s a great service. The worst thing that will happen with it is you’ll be affirmed that your security on IBM i is not as good as it should be. We find a lot of horribly configured IBM i servers, and it’s just because it’s been around for so long, Paul. You know IBM did a great job of making the system securable. We as administrators and programmers have done a bad job of implementing even things like object level security. I mean if know Carol Woodbury, it’s the first thing out of her mouth when it comes to cybersecurity. If you do good object level security and you know how to implement that properly, your system will be very secure, right?
Tom: But hey, the bad actors, they’re after everybody. So even IBM i is not safe anymore.
Paul: No, indeed.
Tom: That’s a whole other topic.
Paul: Indeed. I was going to say, maybe a good warning note to leave this conversation on.
Paul: Tom, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me. That’s it for this iTalk Business with Tuohy, everyone. Tune in again for the next one. Bye for now. Oh, Tom?
Tom: Happy anniversary to IBM i on June 21.
Paul: Oh yes—indeed, indeed. Another month.
Tom: 35 years. Crazy.
Paul: Now that’s a better one to leave it on, as opposed to a warning on security [laughs].
Tom: There you go.
Paul: Okay, we wish them a happy birthday.
Tom: All right. Take care.
Paul: That’s it, everyone. Thank you. Bye for now.
Interested in learning more? Check out Fortra's website.