Integrating PowerVC in an IBM i Shop

By Dana Boehler

The speed of business has never been faster. Product release cycles have shrunk to timelines inconceivable in the past. Some fashion retailers are now releasing new product every two weeks, a cycle that historically only happened 4-8 times a year, and certain retailers even have product available immediately after it is displayed on the runway.

The demand for immediate insight into the state of sales numbers, ad campaigns, and other business functions has made the continuous aggregation of data commonplace. And if those factors weren’t pressure enough, the threat of ever-evolving security hazards is generating mountains of updates, code changes, and configuration adjustments — all of which need to be properly vetted before entering a production environment.

All of this activity needs to run on infrastructure that administrators like ourselves must manage, often with fewer coworkers to assist. Thankfully, for those of us running IBM i on IBM Power Systems, IBM has provided a robust cloud management tool that allows us to quickly spin up and spin down systems: PowerVC.

PowerVC allows users to manage existing IBM Power System partitions, create images from those partitions, and deploy new partitions based on those images. More recent versions of PowerVC support IBM i management and deployment (earlier versions did not).

Over the past year, I have been using PowerVC to greatly reduce the amount of time it takes to bring a system into the environment. Typically, creating a new system would take several hours of hands-on keyboard work over the course of a few days of hurry-up-and-wait time. The first time I deployed a partition from PowerVC, however, I was able to reduce that to about an hour, and after more refinements in my deployment, images, and process, I am now down to under 25 minutes. That’s 25 minutes to have a fully deployed, PTF’d system up and running.

The full implications of this may not be readily apparent. Obviously, net new systems can be deployed much more quickly. But more importantly, new modes of development can be more easily be supported. PowerVC supports self-service system provisioning, which enables teams to create their own systems for development, test, and QA purposes, and then tear them down when no longer needed. Since the systems are focused on the task at hand, they do not need the resources a fully utilized environment would need.

There’s more: Templates can be created in PowerVC to give the self-service users different CPU and memory configurations, and additional disk volumes can be requested as well. Post-provisioning scripts are supported for making configuration changes after a deployed system is created. In our environment, we are taking this a step further by integrating PowerVC with Red Hat’s Ansible automation software, which has given us greater flexibility in pre- and post-provisioning task automation.

In practice, using PowerVC removes many of the barriers to efficient development inherent in traditional system deployment models and permits continuous deployment strategies. Using PowerVC, a developer tasked with fixing a piece of code can spin up a clean test partition with the application and datasets already installed, create the new code fix, spin up a QA environment that has all the scripted tests available for testing the code, and then promote the code to production and delete the partitions that were used for development and testing.

You do have to make some changes to the environment in order to support this model. Code needs to be stored in a repository, so it can be kept in sync between all systems involved. The use of VIOS is also required. Additionally, note that when using this type of environment, the administrator’s role becomes more centered around image/snapshot maintenance (used for deployment templates) and automation scripting rather than the provisioning and maintenance of systems.

For full information on the product and its installation, I recommend visiting IBM’s knowledge center.

Guest Blogger

Dana Boehler is a Systems Engineer and Security Analyst at Rocket Software, specializing in IBM i.

Introducing the POWER9 Server Family

POWER9 is here. As many in our community will be looking to upgrade, we want to provide information on what these new servers offer you and your business.

According to IBM, POWER9-based servers are built for data intensive workloads, are enabled for cloud, and offer industry leading performance.

As you have experienced, Power Systems have the reputation of being reliable, and the POWER9-based servers are no exception. POWER9 gives you the reliability you’ve come to trust from IBM Power Systems, the security you need in today’s high-risk environment, and the innovation to propel your business into the future. They truly provide an infrastructure you can bet your business on. From a Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) standpoint, a savings of 50% can be realized in 3 to 5 years when moving to POWER9 per IBM calculations.

When compared to other systems, POWER9 outperforms the competition. IBM reports:

  • 2x performance per core on POWER9 vs. X86
  • Up to 4.6x better performance per core on POWER9 vs. previous generations

Learn more about POWER9 by visiting the new landing page. For more detailed data regarding POWER9 performance, be sure to click on the Meet the POWER9 Family link.

Attending the COMMON Fall Conference & Expo? Be sure to attend the POWER Panel session on POWER9. This will be your opportunity to learn more about the servers from experts.

Minimize Employee Use of Local Storage

Saving files in local folders and even on the desktop is an easy option. Whenever you open a new file or download an attachment, it saves to a local ‘Download’ folder by default and edited files try to save themselves in ‘My Documents.’ But using local storage on individual devices can slow down your business.

Why Should You Reduce Local (Device-based) Storage?

Central or cloud-based storage is beneficial for multiple reasons. Easy security, universal access, and consistent back-ups are a few, and the inverse is true for local storage.

Only the Employee and the System Administrator Have Access

Locally stored files are easy for an employee to save and open, but only that specific employee. No one else has easy access, including managers or co-workers involved in the project. Only a network administrator with remote access to the drive can access the files. Not only is this inconvenient if the employee is out of the office that day, it also provides no protection against long-term loss of access. If the employee leaves the company and the drive is wiped (or the employee was using a personal device), any progress is lost. Hard drive malfunctions can also wipe out files without backup or a reparable file.

There Is No Version Control

If you’ve recently emailed a large group of people, the conversation probably segued into a couple of different email threads. This can be tricky to get back on track, and it always ends with not everyone having all the information they need. This is even more true with in-progress documents. If one employee is making updates based on a local file, other parties can’t see the changes until it’s manually shared. If two employees are making separate changes, then some work will be irreparably lost or there will be more confusion and frustration down the line. But if files are stored in working software, where changes are made live and saved continuously (especially if edits are marked by author), then there’s more collaboration and less overwriting or wasted effort.

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Cloud Technologies – Containerizing Legacy Apps

Information technologies are continually in a state of transition and organizations often need tools to help them transition from one platform to another, especially with regard to legacy apps. Many companies either still find value in these apps or simply cannot make the transition to Cloud technologies fast enough due to budgetary concerns or other reasons. For these organizations, IBM is now offering the Cloud Private platform, which allows businesses to embrace the Cloud by not only containerizing their legacy apps but also containerizing the platform itself, along with other IBM tools and many of the notable open source databases.

Providing Bridges

Through their Cloud Private platform, IBM provides the bridge between current cloud services and an organization’s on-site data mechanism. In essence, it allows a company’s legacy apps to interact with cloud data. IBM understands the value of making a platform accessible to other technologies and they used this philosophy as well with their Cloud Private tools. Whether an organization uses Microsoft’s Azure cloud platform or Amazon Web Services, IBM’s Cloud Private is flexible enough to work with both.

A Comprehensive Package

IBM’s Cloud Private platform offers a comprehensive package of tools to help companies mix and mingle their legacy apps with other cloud services and data. The Cloud Private toolset includes components for:

  • Cloud management automation
  • Security and data encryption
  • The core cloud platform
  • Infrastructure options
  • Data and analytics
  • Support for applications
  • DevOps tools

Providing a comprehensive transitioning tool, such as the one IBM developed, should help companies make the most of their investment in their legacy apps. In addition, it will provide them with the time buffer they will need before eventually making a full transition to the Cloud.

Cloud Technologies and Handling Ransomware

Cloud computing is one of the best technologies to have in the workplace. Not only can you store your data quickly and efficiently, but it’s also easier for you to access any data. With that said, when it comes to your business security, especially the malicious tool known as ransomware, why are cloud services so important?

Cloud = Virtual Storage

One reason why, is because cloud computing allows you to store your data virtually over the Internet. This makes it untouchable in the event of a disaster. Let’s say a ransomware attack happened on your device, and it affected the data on your hard drive. Despite this, none of your virtual data would be affected, especially since this isn’t what most hackers are banking on. However, since ransomware locks your computer, you wouldn’t be able to access any of your virtual files, right? As a matter of fact, you can. Cloud computing not only keeps your files safe in the event of a disaster, but your data is also accessible from any device with an Internet connection. Whether it’s another computer in the workplace or even your mobile phone, the sky’s the limit to where you can access your personal data.

For more information about cloud computing, COMMON offers educational opportunities throughout the year. Stay in touch to see when the next cloud-related sessions become available.

The Role of IT in the Retail Industry – Adapting to Trends

IT has a substantial role to play in the modern retail industry. This has been the case for a long time. However, the world of information technology changes quickly enough that individuals working in retail have had to adapt to various trends.

Mobile Apps for Retail Stores

Many experts today are now urging all retailers to create apps that specifically pertain to their products and even their store locations themselves. This is one of the biggest trends with regards to IT in the retail industry. All of these apps are incredibly different, however.

RetailSome makeup stores will offer apps that enable users to test products in advance in a whole new way. Some of the apps will offer customers convenient discounts right at their fingertips.

People can use apps in order to get a sense of where different items are located and whether or not they’re currently available. As such, there are apps that will truly help people overcome some of the most frustrating parts of shopping in the first place.

Cloud Computing in Retail

Thanks to cloud computing, it is much easier for retailers to consistently monitor their inventory. They can quickly get a sense of what they have in stock and what’s going on with orders. Losing large amounts of data is much less likely in the era of cloud computing. While this makes the technical side of the equation easier, it also means that retail workers can place more emphasis on customer service.

IT helps improve efficiency in the retail industry. The retail industry may also be able to fulfill more of its primary objectives thanks to modern information technology trends.

Demand for Cloud Technologies

Those who have skills and experience with cloud technologies are going to be much in demand in the next few years. According to Tech.Co, the use of cloud computing technologies is expected to quadruple in the near future. Estimates are that cloud data centers will manage a whopping 92 percent of all workloads.

So who are the biggest contributors to this massive progression to the cloud? The biggest players are the IoT (internet of things) and big data centers. Most of the growth will occur in public cloud data centers, with the use of private clouds beginning to decline. Interestingly, predictions are that infrastructure as a service (IaaS) will decline somewhat, due to many organizations focusing on improving their own corporate infrastructures, including both data storage for sensitive information and acquisition of their own high-speed connections.

In addition, a recent study, “2017 Cloud Computing and Business Intelligence Market Study” conducted by Dresner Advisory Services, notes that as organizations are turning to public clouds, they are also looking for cloud-based business intelligence tools such as dashboards, advanced visualization tools, ad hoc queries, data integration and data quality, end-user self-service and reporting features. The study goes on to note the trend for increasing demand for cloud-based BI services, is largely driven by smaller organizations. However, not included in their across the board “must have” list for BI services, is social media or streaming analytics, although these are still important in certain industries.

Trust in the cloud is not just increasing for businesses. Consumers are also expected to demand more from the cloud. Estimates are that personal cloud storage will increase from 47 to 59 percent. That may not sound like a huge percentage increase, but globally the increase represents about a billion more users.

The future looks bright in the cloud, supported by both business and consumer demand. Anyone interested in applying their technology skills to this trend will most likely have a bright future as well.

Layers of a Scalable Cloud Architecture

Cloud

The cloud computing ecosystem is huge and consists of several technologies. Many companies rely on these varying cloud infrastructure to deliver their products and services efficiently. This brings up the question, how scalable is your cloud architecture?

Using the right architecture is extremely crucial for your entire cloud’s operation. It is important that organizations understand the specific requirements of their servers, and if they are already using a cloud platform, decide on the type of cloud architecture that would be best for their business logic.

Before choosing a cloud computing architecture, the first thing that’s required is a scalable structure. Cloud computing is scalable when all its components are independent of each other. This independence allows systems to scale at exceptional levels and is usually implemented at the design stage.

Features of a Scalable Cloud Architecture

Typically, cloud computing systems involve different cloud components communicating with each other on a system that functions like a messaging lineup. How these components interact is what determines the scalable nature of your infrastructure. There are two layers that make up a scalable cloud architectures:

1. The Client / Front-end

The client structure is where all users interface with the target platform. This is usually the mobile or web application that manages users, sessions and pages. The client usually makes API calls to the server.

The front-end comprises of single user or a network of users. Note that some front-ends will not look like the regular applications we see everyday. The main thing to remember during the design stage is that this is the layer that communicates with the back-end. Therefore RESTful calls to the back-end is the main purpose during the front-end design stage. Whatever visual design you build into your cloud’s front-end, making API calls to the server is the main focus at this stage.

2. Server / Back-end

Your server comprises of data, caching services and all services that interact directly with your server applications. This interaction is necessary for data delivery.

Your server applications drive your business functions and can include apps like CRM, inventory, accounting, reservation system and much more. Adding new applications is part of scalability, so as you add new applications, the demands of higher traffic and computing loads must be anticipated. Your front-end will not automatically scale to size unless you ensure that your back-end accommodates the new load and traffic.

For best practices in maintaining and protecting client’s data, a cloud computing structure requires a high level of redundancy than is necessary for a system hosted locally. The backup created by this redundancy means that the back-end server can jump in and access backup images for quick restoration of data.

In a highly scalable cloud computing architecture, applications are managed, controlled and served by the back-end. The strength of the back-end is how it manages security protocols, traffic and system files. If the applications on your server are broken down and classified into sub-components of the main server, your cloud infrastructure will deliver limitless efficiency and possibilities, making scalability much easier.

Public vs Private Cloud Technologies

Both public and private cloud hosting solutions greatly benefit any growing business requiring expansion capabilities. Leveraging this technology is key to improving many aspects of your business strategy including revenue growth and employee morale, but the debate continues as to which is superior. Thus, the beauty is in the eye of the user. Choose the one that’s the most pertinent to your company’s needs. If you’re having trouble deciding, here are some comparative features to help you make a more informed decision.

Public Cloud

The public cloud is an environment containing multiple users whereby each user purchases their own piece of the cloud server. The commune of the cloud computing world, public clouds are convenient in that they rarely require any type of contract and generally run pay by the hour services. Also a perk for some, public clouds are self managed, giving the user the freedom to set up and manage their own particulars.

The drawbacks, however, generally pertain to security. The public cloud provider customarily designates the hardware and network your virtual server relies on. Because other users in the cloud also share these facets, compliance requirements such as SOX or PCI are rarely possible. Therefore, development systems and web servers employing a business model that does not require security and compliance are the best candidates for public cloud computing.

Private Cloud

As the name suggests, the private cloud hosting environment caters to a single user. Your own personal computing residence, the private cloud provides your company with dedicated hardware and secure data storage capabilities that none of the center’s other clients can access. Security compliance standards are therefore easily achieved. An additional benefit is that the private cloud’s hardware, network and storage performance are also highly customizable.

This is a higher-end, more specialized service that aptly tends to cost more. Though you’re gaining many advantages over the public cloud, the resources provided in the private cloud are numerous and can potentially be under-utilized by smaller businesses. It’s also pertinent to consider many private clouds potentially require a contractual obligation.

As with any tech upgrade for your business, doing your due diligence is crucial to finding the solution that’s right for you.

Swift and Kitura

SwiftMost developers think of Swift as Apple’s latest open source language for macOS and iOS. However, IBM is also putting a lot of effort behind it. The open-source Swift language is suited for many kinds of work, and IBM is promoting it as a language for Web and cloud applications.

KituraIBM’s Kitura Web framework, written in Swift, includes its own HTTP server. It aims at the development of full-stack applications using Bluemix and an OS X or Linux server.

IBM Cloud Tools for Swift simplify the job of developing applications using Swift on both the client and server sides. Currently the emphasis is on mobile applications, but Apple is energetically moving to Swift for macOS (formerly OS X) development, so Mac-native clients will be feasible.

Swift includes many modern features, compiling to very efficient code while providing a higher level of code safety than the C-based languages which have traditionally been used for low-level code. The features contributing to code safety include:

  • Almost no use of raw memory pointers. They’re available when it’s necessary to address memory directly, but otherwise aren’t needed.
  • Restricted use of null values. A common software bug is the failure to handle unexpected null (called nil in Swift) values. Normal variables in Swift never have nil values. A variable has to be declared optional in Swift to allow nil, calling attention to the need for checking. An optional can be assigned to a normal value after excluding the nil case.
  • Safer switch statements. A switch statement must exhaustively cover all cases, and cases don’t fall through to the next one by default.

Developers can join the Kitura community by submitting a Contributor License Agreement. There are a lot of opportunities for developers to contribute to Swift and Kitura projects.