Vision Begins Product Transition with iTera HA 5.0
February 20, 2007 Alex Woodie
Vision Solutions last week announced the availability of iTera High Availability version 5.0, the first new product from i5/OS software house since the merger with former competitor, iTera, was finalized in November. iTera HA 5.0 marks the beginning of an ambitious, multi-year transition for Vision Solutions, which is seeking to move its legacy installed base to the remote journaling-based iTera product line while simultaneously keeping its large customers happy and opening new markets with a low-end HA offerings.
Before we get into Vision’s current and future product plans and how the iTera products fit into it all, let’s recap the events of the last few months. In September 2006, venture capital firm Thoma Cressey Equity Partners acquired Vision Solutions’ parent company, the publicly traded Idion Technology Holdings, for about $63 million. Then, in November, Thoma Cressey acquired privately held iTera and merged it with Vision to create, arguably, the i5/OS HA market’s dominant vendor. With about 2,700 customers and 12,500 installations around the world, Vision officials believe the company has just less than half the total i5/OS HA market.
Now begins the product transition. iTera HA 5.0 is an updated version of the former iTera’s flagship product, called Echo2, which had done very well in the market during the past few years, at the expense of Vision and other HA software developers. The fact that Vision picked Echo2 and not its original ORION HA suite, which has been in development for many years and has 10,000 installations around the world, shows that Thoma Cressey is willing to make tough product decisions.
Some New Features
iTera HA 5.0 is a minor upgrade from the version 4 releases of Echo2 in 2006, including the April 2006 introduction of a new high-end version, Echo2 HA Enterprise Edition, which added support for IBM‘s Cross Site Mirroring (XSM) capabilities. The new version includes only several new features that customers can put to use in production.
The first is a new bi-directional library replication feature, which will come in handy for that rare HA user that wants to mirror two production boxes, but both have the same library and object naming conventions. ORION supported the feature, but Echo2 didn’t.
The second new feature is the inclusion of the Integrated File System (IFS) in the product’s rollover readiness monitor, which iTera used to call E2KG. This feature is designed to boost rollover readiness by automatically performing synchronization checks, which are displayed on a screen. Echo2’s E2KG function would check nearly all areas covered by iTera HA 5.0, including data, objects, and other items requiring replication, but the IFS was not among them. Now, IFS is supported.
Lastly, users can now perform tape backups against their production box, without taking it offline. In previous releases of the Enterprise Edition of Echo2, users who wanted to back up their systems without causing downtime could do so if they performed the backup against their secondary, or target, machine. Now, users who are adamant about performing backups on their primary production servers can do so, without kicking off users or ceasing operations.
Focus on Streamlining Upgrades
Most of the work in iTera HA 5.0 went into streamlining the initial product installation and improving the implementation, says Dan Neville, Vision’s executive vice president, and the former CEO and president of iTera. Vision calls it autonomics.
“It used to be that HA vendors would charge $30,000 to $35,000 for the implementation and training,” Neville says. “When iTera came in, we drove it down to $16,000, but it still took about 80 hours of services. Our goal in coming up with this solution is it will take two to three days, to get it synched up and users trained on it.”
New installation routines in iTera HA 5.0 have greatly reduced the need to manually identify the objects that a customer will need to start replicating for high availability, he says. These routines, in addition to pre-existing autonomic capabilities, such as the E2KG, Concurrent Audit Concurrent Heal (CACHe2), and E2 Apply Accelerator features that were added to the Echo2 product about 16 months ago, help push iTera HA 5.0 toward Vision’s goal of HA software that runs itself.
“We’re getting close. We’re not there yet,” Neville says. “We have one more release to go, in the next six months to a year. That will almost totally run itself. That’s our goal anyway.”
Vision has other stuff in the development pipeline before we see an upgrade of iTera HA 5.0 in the next six months to a year. In the next couple of months, possibly around the Spring 2007 COMMON timeframe, we’ll likely see the introduction of an entry-level high availability offering that includes software, hardware, and services for under $1,500 per month, according to Neville. The company is working with partners to roll this out to small businesses that never thought they could afford high availability.
“We think we can do a vaulting-like solution for HA for almost the same price as an Evault,” says Neville, referring to the online backup company recently acquired by disk drive maker Seagate for $185 million. “Customers won’t even have to monitor [the replication environment]. We’ll monitor it for them.”
Moving the Install Base
While Vision chases the growing small to mid size business (SMB) market, the company also needs to keep its large customers happy. Some of these customers have invested thousands of hours and millions of dollars in high availability environments anchored by ORION, and they aren’t going to switch to the new Echo2-based iTera HA software overnight.
“We have a lot of big customers that are very happy with that technology and we need to support it for a while,” Neville says. “We’ll be upgrading and enhancing the ORION technology as we bring this converged technology to the marketplace. We certainly don’t intend to abandon anyone . . . [But] at some point, that will all go away and we will have one converged product.”
Vision plans to ship at least one more release of ORION, and plans to support these large and important customers on the ORION software for the next two-and-a-half to three years, Neville says. Eventually, the goal is to move all Vision customers–including customers that adopted the former OS Solutions’ product, which Vision renamed ORION Standard Edition (SE)–to iTera HA. Vision hopes to make that transition as smooth as possible, and this is the primary reason that iTera HA 5.0 focuses so much on streamlining the installation process.
“My biggest concern is to automate the technology, so when we upgrade Echo2 customers and ORION customers, it feels more like an upgrade, and its’ not going to be totally disruptive,” Neville says. “We need to make it feel like an upgrade, not a migration or a total switch out.”
iTera HA 5.0 is available now in three versions. The product’s packaging and pricing has not changed from the last releases of Echo2. For more information, visit www.visionsolutions.com.