Using Microsoft Azure Data Box for migration of IBM i workloads to Skytap

Skytap partners closely with Microsoft Azure to provide the ability to host IBM Power IBM i (AS/400, iSeries) and AIX application workloads in the cloud. As a Cloud Solutions Architect (or Pre-Sales Engineer), I talk to many customers every day who say they want to move their ‘legacy’ applications running on these platforms onto the public cloud, but in many cases, these servers or ‘LPARs’ (Logical Partitions, or Virtual Machines (VMs) in cloud terminology) are large, very large or simply massive. So the mind is willing, but the practicalities are daunting – just how do you move, say, a 50TB IBM i system, complete, from your on-premise data center to Azure? Oh yes, and you can’t use physical tape, because this is cloud of course…

One solution is the Microsoft Azure Data Box, a hardened, portable network-attached storage device which can be ordered from the Azure portal and shipped directly to your data center, where your full systems save can be copied and then, when you ship it back to Microsoft, the data uploaded to an Azure Storage account in the cloud, ready for your Skytap IBM i or AIX virtual machine to be built and restored.

Has Skytap tested this solution? Yes, of course. Our technical team built out a standalone IBM i server in an engineering base and shipped a data box there, set it up, mounted the device as a target and copied over our IBM i saves.

Is it easy to set up?  Well, yes, it is. The instructions provided by Microsoft are pretty clear, in terms of the network IP addresses to use and what cables to connect to where, and the devices have a simple web user interface to access the setup screens, and data repository. 

What if I get stuck making it work?  One of the reasons Skytap invested the time into testing this pattern with Microsoft was to make sure our experts understood, and documented, the actions needed to make it work. So ask for help as needed and the Skytap team will be pleased to assist. A complete step-by-step ‘how-to’ guide on IBM i Migration to Skytap on Azure Using Microsoft Azure Data Box is available in the Skytap Well-Architected Framework.

Do you need anything extra to make it work? Just a standard screen, keyboard and mouse, and a few network cables. Everything else, such as a power cable suitable for the country, is included. An intermediate Windows server, or Virtual Machine, will be needed if Network File System is used as the protocol to transfer the backups from the IBM i to the Data Box. In the Azure region, nothing more is required apart from a Blob storage account, and of course the environment in Skytap.

Can I back up my IBM i server directly to it?  Unfortunately, no you can’t. The versions of the Network File System from IBM i to the Data Box are not compatible, but there’s a simple enough workaround using an intermediary Linux / Windows server or VM, which does support both protocols. But that is the purpose of testing, so Skytap could create some really simple ‘how to’ guides on this setup and configuration.

Can I send the Data Box anywhere?   There are some limits: the Data Box can only be shipped to and from an address in the same country, i.e. the UK. It can’t cross country borders, except within Europe.

Is there a cost, and how do I get one?  Microsoft does charge for the use of Data Box, but it’s very simple to arrange, and the cost is not high. The order for the Data Box can be managed through your Azure subscription and the cost is added to your Azure invoice, so no purchase order is required. Microsoft includes the shipping to you, and also the shipping cost to return it to Azure.

When would I use a Data Box for migration? When there is a large volume of data to be moved in one go, and speed is not the absolute priority, for example for non-critical workloads, or where a data replication solution is in place which can synchronize the changes between the save to Data Box, the restore and the cut-over.

So in summary, is an Azure Data Box a good solution for migration to Skytap for IBM i workloads? Absolutely. It does not solve every scenario where small to medium volumes of data could be sent over a network connection into the IBM i Virtual Machine in Skytap, or the Azure Storage Explorer is a good option to push data into Azure Blob (low cost, high capacity generic storage in Azure), but where the volume of data is very high then Data Box is a great solution for secure data transit into Azure and onto Skytap.

If you want to make use of the Azure Data Box solution to migrate your workload into Skytap, please contact your Skytap local sales lead or Cloud Solutions Architect, or get in touch at

Skytap team members that contributed to this blog:
Ateesh Sharma – Skytap Cloud Solutions Engineer
Richard Field – Skytap Cloud Solutions Architect

Both long-term IBM i and Power Systems technical SMEs, are employed by Skytap to help IBM i customers migrate workloads to the public cloud.

Join our email list for news, product updates, and more.