TECA Data Safe Gives IBM i Customers a DR Lifeline
January 24, 2012 Alex Woodie
Being prepared for a disaster makes good business sense, especially with the recent spate of major disasters occurring recently in the United States. For IBM i shops, disaster preparedness requires a little extra planning and capability. One company that’s growing its specialized IBM i disaster recovery (DR) service business is TECA Data Safe, which provides everything a company needs to recover its IBM i environment, including servers, bandwidth, and–most importantly–experienced staff.
TECA Data Safe first began providing DR in the mid-2000s as a value-added service for customers who purchased System i servers from its sister companies, VIS of Minnesota and Oracluar. The company discovered that smaller IBM i shops didn’t have the resources to either build their own DR plans or hire Sungard or IBM Business Continuity and Resiliency Services (BCRS) to assist them, says TECA president and co-founder Tom Fischer.
“We’re filling a niche,” Fischer tells IT Jungle. “We know we’re not the only game in town, but I think people like our size. And we offer flexibility that the bigger companies don’t offer.”
Hands On DR Service
As a small company itself, TECA knows firsthand the benefits of having a close relationship with its customers. Each DR plan is customized to fit the customer’s needs, the plan is tested annually, and company technicians will do most of the recovery work if needed.
That’s a lot more hands-on assistance than most SMB customers will get from SunGard or BCRS, where companies are provided infrastructure and not much else, Fischer says. “Essentially they give you infrastructure, but you’re on your own when it comes to [executing the] DR,” he says. “People don’t necessarily know how to do it. They haven’t had to recover their systems, whereas we do it pretty regularly as part of the service we provide.”
While TECA touts its intimate customer relationships, the company also relies on economies of scale to make its DR service profitable. “We have several partitions and/or servers sitting there empty and ready to go,” Fischer says. “We can offer that service to multiple customers, but 99 percent of the time, the partitions are just sitting there empty.”
TECA maintains space in a bunker-like data center located in the former vault of a major bank in downtown Minneapolis. At any give time, the company has a dozen or so LPARs spun up across several IBM i machines, including Power5, Power5+, and Power6 servers running i5/OS V5R3 through IBM i 7.1, and has the capacity to spin up many more in the event of customer disasters. The company also maintains IBM System x servers and VMware environments for customers. In the near future, the company expects to obtain additional space in a West Coast data center, which will provide another level of protection for TECA customers, and much more bandwidth.
TECA provides all the IBM i infrastructure needed to support its customers’ IT operations remotely until they get back on their feet. A customer with a cold-site agreement will commonly rotate their backup tapes to TECA on a weekly or a monthly basis. Warm-site customers already have their data loaded onto TECA’s machines (either via online backups, high availability data replication via MIMIX or IBM’s PowerHA, or through Vision Solutions‘ journal-based DR product RecoverNow, which TECA is a big fan of) and can switch transaction processing to TECA at a moment’s notice.
While TECA hasn’t had a customer actually declare a disaster and put the DR plan into action (an F4 tornado came very close to a TECA customer last year), the company gets plenty of practice recovering IBM i environments as an integral part of its service. “We typically do a test immediately when customers sign up, and then schedule them to do a test once a year after that,” Fischer says. “We actually do the restore process with some help by the end user. We sign on to the system, run some tests, run some transactions, and make sure libraries are up to date. We document each step in the process.”
The tests are critical for ensuring DR readiness. Often, the tests expose major vulnerabilities in the backup process that would have jeopardized a successful recovery. “That’s been a real eye opener,” Fischer says of the tests. “So many times, people thought this file or library was being updated in weekly or daily backup process, and they find out they’re not.”
TECA’s DR services start at about $400 per month. That gets the customer a minimally managed service where TECA just provides IBM i resources, minimal storage (several hundred GB) and data center space, and the customer is responsible for managing the environment. Customers requiring active management of IBM i environments, large data storage (in the multiple TBs) or more stringent recovery objectives (via RecoverNow or high availability software) can expect to pay up to $2,500 per month.
TECA customers are ready to run all types of applications with the DR service, including JD Edwards, MAPICS, Fidelity, and Jack Henry, says Ethan Bearman, a TECA co-founder and chief technology officer, and the architect of TECA’s IT infrastructure.
Bearman who works out of the Central Coast of California, says customers lean heavily on TECA on items not necessarily tied to DR. “People get to know and trust you know what you’re doing,” he says. “We do a lot of uncontracted system maintenance for customers. It’s still their equipment, but maybe they’ve got a runaway job . . .
“They just don’t have that staff or the skill set to manage the server, particularly in that smaller end of the market,” he continues. “It’s the ‘400. It does a very good job of managing itself mostly, but it does need attention. Customers get so comfortable that the ‘400 manages itself that they under staff. They get so busy doing other things and they don’t even do a daily check list of what to watch for anymore. Then run into problems and call us.”
In the near future, Bearman expects that familiarity and respect to gradually turn into a new business running the production IBM i workloads of TECA customers.
“It goes back to comfort,” he says. “Customers are able to successfully [outsource] email, or DR for that matter. As they reach a level of comfort with that, they ask ‘What else can we get rid of in-house? How do I stay focused on what my business needs from internal IT? How do I stay focused on helping the business, providing value to the business, and maintain minimal staff internally?'”
The IBM i server makes a great platform for service providers, and the interest in cloud computing will likely intensify interest in using the IBM i server as the backbone for remote hosting.
“It’s the next logical move,” Bearman says. “Customers are asking ‘Why are we spending so much time in-house on these systems? Why not let somebody else run it for us?’ That’s where we’re seeing the next level of growth.”
For more information, see the company’s website at www.tecadatasafe.com.