Vision’s Product Plans Change Little Post Lakeview
June 26, 2007 Alex Woodie
Vision Solutions‘s plans for its i5/OS high availability products have changed very little following the acquisition of Lakeview Technology two weeks ago. In the short-term, the company plans to “cross-pollinate” some of the successful features that mark its iTera HA, ORION, and MIMIX product lines. The long-term strategy is less clear at the moment, but one thing is certain: It will be influenced heavily by Vision’s relationship with IBM, which suddenly got a lot closer.
If you’ve been around the enterprise IT space for a length of time, you’ve likely heard the horror stories about products and their roadmaps being scaled back, discontinued, sunsetted, or otherwise killed off following an acquisition, merger, or other disruptive event. In many of these cases, the customers are left holding the bill and have to make a decision: upgrade to a supported product, or run software that’s no longer supported, which is a scary place for most businesses to be.
While some people may have entertained thoughts that Vision and its parent company, Thoma Cressey Bravo, had similar aims with the acquisition of Lakeview Technology, that’s not the case at all, executives with Vision said in an interview last week. In fact the company plans to continue to develop and support MIMIX indefinitely.
“We’re not planning on sunsetting any products,” says Nicolaas Vlok, CEO and president of Vision Solutions, which is based in Irvine, California. “All three products will be supported and developed for the foreseeable future. We’re maintaining the same level of investment as we had before.”
Instead of three, Vision considers two to be the magic number when it comes to how it looks at its i5/OS high availability offerings. “What we’re doing in the market is, instead of looking at this as a three-product market, we’ve segmented the market into enterprise and SMB [small and mid size business],” Vlok says. “We’re positioning iTera HA into the marketplace with the clear message that we see iTera HA being the long term preferred solution for the SMB, from an ease-of-use and affordability perspective.”
MIMIX and ORION, meanwhile, will compete for business in the enterprise space. While ORION and MIMIX had competed very fiercely in the market for the last decade or longer, they are actually very similar products with few architectural or functional differences, Vlok says. “The difference between the MIMIX and ORION is very little,” he says. “They have a similar architecture. One might be stronger in one area than the other.”
For example, the graphical management console for MIMIX might appeal to a certain category of users that prefer a GUI and a mouse to a green screen and a keyboard. Similarly, MIMIX users benefit from a “runbook” function that performs an audit and generates a report. “It’s really nice and I’ve heard about it for years,” says Alan Arnold, the Vision CTO and executive vice president in charge of operating Lakeview in the interim. “Within a month we’ll have that on the ORION and iTera products because we think that will be a good value.” Lastly, Vision executives appreciate the “click licensing” that Lakeview has built into the latest version of its product. Click licensing streamlines much of the work of authenticating the product before instillation, eliminating much of the paperwork and faxing of documents, and speeding up the entire licensing process considerably.
Vision’s product strategy for the short- and medium-term is to cross-pollinate the best features of the three products. The company took a similar cross-pollination approach with Echo2 product, since rebranded iTera HA, following the acquisition of iTera last year.
When it comes to the stuff surrounding the product–the employees and partners developing, selling, and supporting the software and the hardware that it runs on–Vision is taking a mostly hands-off approach. While there have been staff reductions of around six to seven percent at the combined company, Vision will try its best to maintain the network of 200 business partners that Lakeview had set up to sell and service MIMIX.
“They’ve been building up the practice, working with that product for 12 to 15 years. We want those partners to continue to be comfortable knowing the product they are seeing is supported,” Vlok says. “We’re removing the complexity in the marketplace, from a competitive landscape perspective.”
The technical support organizations developed for ORION and MIMIX will continue to specialize in their product. However, MIMIX and ORION support people are being cross-trained to support iTera HA, which is Vision’s growth engine.
Much of Vision’s strategy is just now starting to be executed. That entails a lot of travel for Vision’s executives, as it visits Lakeview’s offices around the world. Arnold says the last two weeks, which he’s spent traveling to Lakeview offices in Chicago, Rochester, and Boston, have been hectic but rewarding. “The teams are integrating well,” he says. “There are really good synergies. It almost seems like we were separated at birth in terms of the issues, challenges, and opportunities we faced. Everybody is still pretty excited. We’re working 20 hours a day, but we’re having so much fun.”
The long-term strategy of how Vision will integrate Lakeview’s MIMIX technology is not as clear as the short- and medium-term strategies, for the moment. Will Vision elect to converge the three products into a single product? “We haven’t determined that [there will be a converged product],” Vlok says. “What we’re looking at is how we’re going to capture some of the emerging technologies and bring them into the fold.”
For example, just as the OS/400 HA market progressed from local journaling to remote journaling, and from clustering to “hardware mirroring”–a catch-all phrase for some of IBM’s storage-based replication technologies, ranging from the MetroMirror and GlobalMirror technologies in its TotalStorage SAN products, as well as its cross-site mirroring (XSM) technologies built into i5/OS.
Hardware mirroring is a particularly attractive approach to HA at the moment, Vlok says. “We think hardware mirroring is another technology that can be introduced into the platform,” he says. (For more on hardware mirroring, see Don’t Overlook Hardware-Based High Availability Alternatives).
It’s an open secret in the i5/OS world that IBM is continually developing and testing new replication and HA technologies, often with the assistance of the i5/OS high availability software vendors. In recent releases of i5/OS, IBM has introduced independent ASPs and built a new hardware-based replication solution, called XSM, on top of that foundation. However, XSM as it exists today has its limitations, including the fact that replicated volumes can only be used for disaster recovery purposes. A fix for this, among other enhancements, is expected in the next release of i5/OS, but all that is hush-hush.
Before the acquisition, Lakeview was widely considered to be the i5/OS HA vendor with the closest relationship with IBM. Much of that had to do with the fact that Lakeview operated a state-of-the-art lab at ground zero of the i5/OS world–Rochester, Minnesota–and staffed it with many ex-IBMers, including former AS/400 product manager Glen VanBenschoten. Now Vision owns that lab and the closeness that brings with IBM. “We’ve strengthened our relationship with IBM,” Arnold says. “We all work closely with IBM, and our strategy will be closely aligned with them.”
As for how that partnership will affect the products is a different matter. Both Vision and Lakeview were executing long-term product roadmaps. For the most part, those roadmaps are unchanged, according to Vlok. “Each of the companies had all that on their development roadmap, to be looking at what’s the next generation of product going to be. We’re continuing that,” he says. “We’ve made the commitment as a company to develop and support all the products. We’re not going to put a company in a position where they’ve made a decision to go MIMIX or iTera or Vision and they’ve made the wrong decision. Whatever they’re getting from Vision in the long term will be better than what they have today.”
Vision knows what kind of new replication technologies Rochester is cooking up in its labs, but it isn’t talking about what it is. “We’ve got a lot of options,” Arnold says. “We’ve got our smartest people working with IBM to define that. We’ve got some really good ideas.”
Vision’s vision for the future of i5/OS high availability is bright, particularly at the low-end of the market, which is just now beginning to benefit from the technology. “The whole philosophy of our approach to is based on growing opportunities, ” Vlok says. “This is not a business that’s going into maintenance mode. This is a business that’s preparing for growth mode.”