Abacus Solutions Puffs Up An IBM i Cloud
May 7, 2012 Timothy Prickett Morgan
You can find a million places that offer you cloudy instances of Windows or Linux operating systems on X86 servers running out there on the Internet, but finding similarly cloudy slices of Power-based machinery sporting the OS/400 or IBM i operating systems can be a challenge. Especially if you don’t want to make long-term commitments and only want to buy a relatively small slice of a machine. But this week at the COMMON midrange trade show, Abacus Solutions is throwing its data center in the ring with its i in the Cloud offering.
Yeah, it would be better if they could call it iCloud, but there are a number of people arguing over who has the trademark on that name and Apple has usurped iCloud (much as it did iOS) and has $100 billion in cash and big-time lawyers that want to get some of it. I know what you are thinking, but i in the Sky would have brought out the lawyers from the Alan Parsons Project, and probably CBS, too. So i in the Cloud it is.
Abacus has its roots in the secondhand market, peddling iSeries and pSeries iron back in the day and its affiliated company still does peddle such iron, giving Abacus access to relatively inexpensive and still technologically sound Power6 and Power6+ gear that is abundant on the market these days. According to Patrick Schutz, director of managed services and support at the company, about five years ago some customers buying backup machines for disaster recovery and high availability clustering asked if the reseller wouldn’t mind hosting the gear, and so it built a data center expressly for this purpose, offering HA as a service. It now has 50 customers using this service. The company also offers third party hardware support and has over 200 customers paying it, rather than IBM, to babysit their Power Systems iron and keep it humming along.
The hosted HA/DR offering has been refined over the years, and now Abacus is ready to reach for the clouds, offering slices of Power6 machines with a minimum commitment at a very low price for customers to either do development upon or to actually run production applications.
The i in the Cloud offering lets customers buy a slice of a 16-way Power6 with memory and disk. This particular box is sliced into 15 logical partitions, each with 1,000 CPWs of raw performance, 4GB of main memory, and 1 TB of disk capacity (917 GB of it is usable by OS/400 or IBM i). You can pick which operating system version and release Abacus throws onto the partition, including i5/OS V5R4 and V5R4M5 (also sometimes called IBM i 5.4 and 5.4.5 by Big Blue these days) as well as the more recent IBM i 6.1 and 7.1. The cloudy i slice includes 9×5 tech support, weekly backups, and 1.5Mb/sec network access into the slice with an encrypted virtual private network (VPN) link. If you want to get started, you either send Abacus a tape or you can upload your applications and data over the VPN if that works better. The whole shebang costs $500 per month per 1,000 CPW slice, with a minimum 90-day commitment.
“When we brainstormed about this, we originally thought it would be for development environments,” says Schutz. “But we have been pleasantly surprised by the number of customers who want to move production IBM i environments to the cloud.”
At the moment, Abacus has 40 customers running on its cloudy infrastructure with over 75 total LPARs, and the numbers are growing fast, says Schutz. Most of the customers are in the United States, but there are a few in Canada and a number overseas. One customer, in Colombia, was looking at buying a slice of a Power 595 from IBM’s Global Services behemoth in Bogota decided instead to host its 400 JDE users on the Abacus cloud using a 10 Mbit/sec network link. And guess what? The users don’t know the machine driving their apps is sitting in Georgia. (Shhhh. Don’t tell them.)
Since Abacus is just ramping up production on the i in the Cloud product, it is restricting customers to two logical partitions on the cloud until they get their feet wet a little. After they get used to using it for a while, Abacus is happy to customize a solution for them. One early customer needed more oomph but not as much storage and is running three IBM i slices and only 917 GB of disk, for instance.
The Abacus Marietta, Georgia data center, fronted by its tech team: Christian Hilton, data center and support business manager; Patrick Schutz, director of managed services and support; Scott Johnson, iSeries senior account executive; and Josh Osborne, iSeries solution engineer.
Aside from offering IBM i and Power System slices on its cloud, another thing that makes Abacus distinct from Amazon is that it has people with deep skills running its operations in its two data centers (the primary is in Atlanta and the secondary is in Marietta on the outskirts of town). “Our average response time for tech support is under ten minutes,” says Schutz. “We are people, not some faceless cloud giant. We are big enough to matter and small enough to care.”
Abacus has over 75 people in total working at the company, including 25 engineers and 25 sales people. The IBM i tech team has eight dedicated people, and they are expert at all the new technologies.
“We’ve been using Virtual I/O Server and SANs for three years now, and it is old hat to us,” says Josh Osborne, iSeries solution engineer at Abacus. “This allows us to deliver hosting and cloud at an even lower cost because of the resource sharing it enables on Power Systems.” VIOS and SANs are exactly the things, of course, that are alien to most i5/OS and IBM i shops, who load a tape into a machine, use local disk, and don’t generally virtualize too much.
While the new Flex System converged chassis and server nodes and the PureSystems setups that IBM announced several weeks ago are interesting and quite possibly will be the foundation of future IBM i clouds, Abacus things that they are overkill for many IBM i shops.
“We thing the average customer will look at PureSystems and think it will be too much for them to bite off,” says Schutz. “And then they will look to the cloud.”
And Abacus will be there, ready to take that call.