Sirius Fluffs Up A Cloud For IBM i SMBs
September 17, 2012 Dan Burger
What Sirius Computer Solutions has learned in the managed services business, it hopes to apply to a new cloud services business the company has drawn up specifically for small to midsize IBM i shops. The targets in the sights of the shooters at Sirius are companies that find even the smallest Power 720 running IBM i much more than they need. Although the Power 720 is the volume leader among IBM i boxes, its performance and cost exceeds what many SMB customers can put to use, or what they want to pay.
Sirius believes the cloud is the only way for many shops to get the right system size and shape. And the company also figures it has the right combination of services that will relieve the technical headaches that plague smaller companies and bog down their smaller IT staffs.
Sirius has been in the hosted services business since 1994, if you count the experience in this line of work that MSI System Integrators brings. Sirius acquired MSI in December 2010, in a move designed to emphasize services in the Sirius business plan. Jay Johnson came to Sirius from MSI in the acquisition deal. He is now the director of managed services for Sirius, and it is his staff of trained and certified personnel with the specialized skills to care and feed IBM i environments that will have a significant role in the cloud endeavor. He shared some time with The Four Hundred last week in advance of the Sirius SMB cloud announcement.
Monitoring and managing systems for companies has worked out well for Sirius and for the companies that are finding it increasingly difficult to do that work for themselves. In Johnson’s view, SMB shops struggle to stay current with technology and are better equipped for application development than systems management because it is hard to find the time and the personnel with the varied skills systems management requires.
Johnson says Sirius has done the homework and is confident there are many shops ready to give up ownership and management of their hardware and allow data outside the walls of the company, which may be the biggest obstacle cloud computing has to overcome.
One thing that could eliminate trepidation is allure of cutting costs and wringing the most value out of an investment. If there’s a solid business reason for cloud computing, that could be a powerful inducement. Johnson says it has reached that point.
Part of this is simply a cost equation. The price of a new Power 720 running IBM i, compared with a hosted multi-tenant Power 720 environment–which can be scaled to a much better fit in terms of CPW, memory, and disk–heavily favors the cloud model. At the low end of the scale, Sirius says one-tenth of a core (approximately 500 CPW), 4 GB of memory, and 50 GB of disk pencils out to $150 per month for the hardware. Bump it up to one-fourth of a core (approximately 1,350 CPW), 4 GB of memory, and 100 GB disk and Johnson put a $290 per month price handle on that hardware configuration.
Slicing processor cores into tenths (which is a function of the PowerVM hypervisor and the lower limit of granularity for that hypervisor) provides a close degree of custom fit, and memory and disk can be independently configured with a fine degree of granularity as well.
Hardware configuration is just the starting point of the cloud discussion. Software and managed services vary widely from one circumstance to the next. The services, which most small to midsize businesses would find useful when compared to handling these things internally, include items such as preparations for cloud access, virtual private networks, operating system upgrades to IBM i 6.1 or 7.1, monitoring, management, security, performance, and numerous options that come under the general heading of operational, administrational, migrational assistance. High availability and disaster recovery options are also available. Depending on the amount of Power i computing resources and the level of managed services a company requires, it is not hard to imagine a monthly bill for cloud services would easily reach $750, and could double that and more if high availability and/or disaster recovery features were added. Even so, when the upfront cost of buying new hardware is factored in, the value proposition of the cloud can be persuasive.
One of the benefits of a services contract is staying current with operating system and hardware upgrades, which have been cumbersome for many companies and has resulted in reliance on older, unsupported versions that increase risk and play havoc with cost-effectiveness numbers. It is widely misconstrued that hanging back on technical upgrades saves money, when the opposite is true more often than not.
Johnson points to a couple of reasons why the SMB market is ready for cloud computing. Hardware and system costs have been reduced over the years, which is particularly true with Power boxes running the IBM i operating system. This has made it more economical for the service providers to build data centers with equipment that can be sliced and offered in the multi-tenant fashion without bringing in the bigger boxes that bring with them the higher software pricing tiers that drive up software license costs in absolute terms and on a dollar per CPW basis alike. Improved capacity on demand using smaller iron has improved as well, which adds flexibility to the cloud choice.
Sirius, through MSI, has been successful in the hosted services area for more than ten years. As the company has improved its capability for managing infrastructure, there’s been an inclination in the business community away from managing their own infrastructure.
“We’ve had clients with no desire to own assets for eight to 10 years,” Johnson says. “And we’ve been hosting and managing and owning systems during that time.”
He estimates that 10 percent to 15 percent of the Sirius IBM i customer base that he works with in managed services has been doing cloud computing for years, meaning that Sirius has owned and managed their systems in one of the Sirius data centers.
“The difference between managed hosting and cloud is multi-tenancy, the elasticity to grow or shrink the resources as needed, which doesn’t exist in a managed hosted environment,” Johnson says. “While companies might not say they have been doing cloud computing, many of our clients have moved their assets to a data center that is owned and managed by Sirius.”
Clearly Sirius plans to market itself as more experienced and knowledgeable in the cloud.
“Our years of experience have made us really good at managing infrastructure and Sirius has a 100 percent score on the IBM Vitality Scorecard, which means it has experts with certifications in all IBM technologies.”
The IBM i-based companies Johnson works with could be described as the leading edge of the trend toward cloud computing, but at this juncture it would be a stretch to say they represent a glimpse of the entire IBM i install base.
A year ago in an interview with The Four Hundred, Sirius president Joe Mertens noted that the company’s managed service business was doubling every year. He predicted that cloud computing was the future, but also that customers remained hesitant with multi-tenancy and putting their most critical data into somebody else’s hands.
It will be interesting to see what he and Johnson see a year from now.