At mindSHIFT, IBM i Hosting Options Abound
February 22, 2011 Alex Woodie
There is a widely held view in the IBM i community that IBM‘s Power Systems server is without a doubt the best platform in the world for running a “cloud” computing operation. However, there seems to be few vendors actually doing this. One managed service provider (MSP) that’s made the IBM i server a central component of its cloud operations is mindSHIFT Technologies, which upgraded its IBM i hosting options last year.
mindSHIFT Technologies is one of the largest MSPs in the country. It multiple divisions specialize in specific hosting tasks, such as running e-mail systems, hosting websites, or delivering private label software as a service (SaaS). The $100-million operation is also growing quickly, having already acquired two smaller MSPs in the first six weeks of 2011.
The Waltham, Massachusetts, company got into the IBM i hosting business about four years ago with the acquisition of Invision, which ran iSeries and System i servers for clients from its data center in Commack, on Long Island in New York. That acquisition gave mindSHIFT entry into the exclusive world of IBM iSeries and System i hosting.
Today, the IBM i portion of mindSHIFT’s business is relatively small, accounting for just 10 percent of the overall hosting business, according to Tyler Roye, a senior executive officer with the managed hosting and e-business application groups at mindSHIFT, and the former CEO and founder of Invision. But it’s more important to mindSHIFT than the number would indicate.
“It’s actually a significantly more important piece of the business than 10 percent because what happens is there are often very critical systems running on the iSeries,” Roye tells IT Jungle. “So when we win the business for their iSeries, a lot of other ancillary stuff comes along with it that we wind up hosting and managing. It ends up being two and a half to three times that in recurring revenue.”
mindSHIFT’s IBM i hosting business is composed of several parts. There is the traditional business of serving as host for other companies’ IBM i servers. Companies will retain ownership of their servers, but contract with mindSHIFT to care for and feed the machine in one of its SAS 70 Part II-compliant data centers. Commack is the primary IBM i data center, while another in Fairfax, Virginia, serves as a backup for its clients critical ERP systems, including JD Edwards and SAP.
The second component of mindSHIFT’s IBM i hosting business is newer, and much more exciting and potentially profitable to the company. In the second half of 2010, mindSHIFT launched its new IBM i cloud service, whereby it rents access to its IBM i servers. The company essentially has invested in IBM i servers, carved them up into multiple logical partitions (LPARs), and then put the LPARs on the open market for clients to rent on a monthly basis.
mindSHIFT CEO Paul Chisholm is bullish on the possibilities of cloud. “The trend in the industry generally is people want to get rid of these things, put them in a secure cloud, and let people run it,” he says. “It’s that whole mentality that’s facing IT today. They don’t want to buy hardware or software, but they would like it on an as-you-go basis. It’s generally true across the whole industry.”
mindSHIFT is currently running IBM i workloads for several clients on a pair of virtualized System i Model 525 servers, says Bob Lamendola, vice president of client services for mindSHIFT. The company prefers to scale out horizontally, in pairs of servers, to maintain flexibility with its new cloud offering.
The IBM i cloud is aimed primarily at smaller businesses that are in a state of flux. Perhaps they lost an IBM i administrator, the lease on their building has ended, or they reached the end of the lease for the server itself. “It’s an aging workhorse,” Lamendola says. “Not a lot of new IBM i platform engineers are coming into the industry.”
One workload that promises to drive lots of business to mindSHIFT’s IBM i cloud is business continuity. Companies are hesitant to invest in a second IBM i server to function as a backup for disaster recovery or high availability purposes. The mindSHIFT IBM i cloud presents a perfect opportunity to serve as that second platform.
mindSHIFT is working with a well-known IBM i high availability vendor to offer its HA solutions through its cloud of IBM i resources. “It will help customers accomplish their continuity objections affordably,” Roye says. “It’s a logical path for Power i to be headed to the cloud.”
The MSP also has a partnership with VAI, the developer of IBM i ERP software that’s based down the road from mindSHIFT’s data center on Long Island. Bob Vormittag’s group sells access to its ERP software via the application service provider (ASP) delivery method, whereby mindSHIFT serves as the hosting provider and VAI manages the software.
mindSHIFT also provides remote monitoring and management services for IBM i shops that want to keep their servers on site. The MSP has a partnership with First Option, which develops an IBM i management tool called the Watchdog, to use the tools to keep remote IBM i environments running smoothly.
There are just a handful of MSPs providing services for the IBM i server. But as the cloud becomes a more pervasive business model in IT, and as the legendary reliability and security of the IBM i server become more widely known, you might see more IBM i clouds on the horizon that resemble the one mindSHIFT is running.