Scott Schrader, VP marketing at Meridian IT, also contributed to this article
Most organizations running business-critical software like an ERP system on IBM Power systems are reluctant to consider a cloud migration because they assume it will require more work and a higher level of risk than they are comfortable with. It can take a data center closure or forced hardware upgrade to even bring the option of cloud migration to the table. But technologies for migrating even the most complex IBM Power software have improved to the point that these applications do not need to be rewritten or refactored at all, eliminating a large part of the risk.
Migrations still require plenty of prep work, but with the proper approach, the risk level is minimal. Companies may be talking themselves out of moving to the cloud (and taking advantage of cloud benefits and services) based on some mistaken assumptions.
One recent joint customer of ours, Intertek-PSI, told us after a successful migration that the process was easy enough that they regret not doing it sooner. Let’s walk through some of the reasons why companies in this situation are reluctant to consider a migration, explain Intertek-PSI’s experience with each one, and discuss what others can learn from their process.
I need more support!
Like many companies, Intertek-PSI was intimidated by the amount of work they thought a cloud migration would involve. They didn’t consider this option until their IT services provider ended support for IBM Power. Other common forcing factors include the end of a data center lease or an expensive hardware upgrade. Intertek-PSI’s core business relied on Infor Lawson enterprise resource planning (ERP) software and line-of-business applications based on IBM AIX Power Systems with interfaces to several x86 front-end systems. These essential applications had been hosted and managed by the service provider for nearly a decade. When they ended support for IBM Power, Intertek-PSI had just six months to find another solution.
Intertek-PSI's data center put them in touch with Skytap, who provided the cloud infrastructure for their existing IBM Power applications to run in the cloud. Meridian IT was brought on to execute the migration due to the complexity of Intertek-PSI’s software.
What if it breaks?
Intertek-PSI’s IT team quickly decided that they could not move off the Power systems because their ERP system was critical to the business and re-platforming the application would introduce unacceptable levels of risk. Many companies older than ten years will likely find themselves in the same boat; the software on which their business depends wasn’t built for the cloud and has become so customized over the years that rewriting it is too difficult.
Thankfully, there are now solutions available to recreate IBM Power environments on some of the major public clouds. This allows traditional applications, like this company’s ERP system, to be lifted and shifted to the cloud without any rewriting. This also sets them up to modernize pieces of their software using cloud-native tools if they want – but they can do that at their own pace without affecting the rest of the business.
It’s too much work
For traditional applications running on IBM Power, re-platforming would be a significant project that busy IT shops don’t want to take on unless it’s absolutely necessary. Even if it were risk free, the time investment is often more than the IT team is prepared to handle. Fortunately, the lift and shift options explained above also reduce the work required for a migration. Using a service provider with experience handling migrations to the cloud will also help bring the workload down to a more manageable level. For Intertek-PSI, the lift and shift of four LPARs, more than forty x86 VMs and 29 terabytes of data took three months of planning, and the migration itself took one weekend.
We can’t allow downtime
The final objection to cloud migrations is that the transfer will cause downtime. This was a crucial point for Intertek-PSI due to the sheer volume of data that needed to be transferred. According to Intertek-PSI’s IT Director, Aaron Wetherhold, “It was an enormous amount of data, to the point where it was almost unreasonable to think that we could move that much data across the public Internet, but our systems integrator figured out how to do that and how to do it successfully.”
Luckily this is another area where technology has improved. For Intertek-PSI, Meridian used a backup system to migrate the x86 workloads, native export and import tooling for AIX workloads, and Azure Databox for physical storage. Dev/test workloads were migrated first, followed by production workloads. The cutover from the existing provider to the cloud was completed over a weekend, without impacting users. This process allowed the team to troubleshoot each step of the way, before moving the vital production workloads. Intertek-PSI’s IT director later called the move “so smooth.”
The process took significant expertise and planning but, in the end, it moved very large amounts of data without downtime affecting users. There’s no reason to believe others couldn’t achieve the same results.
Not only did Intertek-PSI’s migration go much more smoothly than they expected, they also enjoyed several surprise benefits. They’re now running on the latest Power 9 hardware in Azure rather than the Power 7 systems at their previous provider, which afforded them a boost in performance at no extra cost. Having everything in Azure coupled with fine-tuning network configurations is expected to improve application performance overall. The move was cost neutral, and their IT team anticipates savings in the long term.
Our major takeaway from this process is that if cloud migrations from IBM Power can be low-risk, manageable and completed without downtime, then organizations can be more strategic about when they move. Rather than being forced into a migration by external factors, they can decide to migrate (or not, depending on their needs) on their own terms and on their own schedule. Anyone intimidated by the idea of a cloud migration, should take a second look at their options – they just might find that they don’t need to wait after all.