Key Info Unlocks Its Cloud
January 20, 2014 Dan Burger
Key Information Systems, the IBM midrange platform reseller and systems integrator, has flipped the switch on its new data center featuring Power Systems as the key component in an infrastructure as a service (IaaS) offering. This is a natural progression from the acquisition of ISWest in August. The Key Cloud is designed to assist current and prospective customers, particularly those with Power System iron with hosted options and managed services for at least some of their enterprise IT requirements.
The idea that many organizations no longer require the physical, on-premise presence of computer hardware, at least not to the degree that it has been, has had the attention of Key president Leif Morin for several years.
“The industry trends and our customer trends to utilize components of cloud services in the enterprise made this obvious,” Morin said in an interview with IT Jungle. “We are seeing that play out on a massive scale in the Unix, Linux, and Windows marketplaces. We have thousands of clients running on Power Systems architectures and they are looking for hosted options for at least some of their enterprise in a secure and private manner.”
Companies running IBM i and AIX on Power Systems are “opportunity sets for the marketplace” in the mind of Morin. That’s not to say there won’t be on-premise systems, but over time clients will have a mix of hosted and on-premise hybrid capacity and data will be passed back and forth.
“I absolutely believe the IBM i market is ready to move production capacity off premise. There is a significant market at this time,” Morin says.
You’ve no doubt heard this doctrine before: Companies want to run their chosen business and get out of the business of purchasing and managing hardware and patches.
To get into the business of providing infrastructure as a service, Key made the decision to purchase an existing datacenter rather than build one of its own. The opportunity to acquire ISWest came almost 18 months after Key decided to buy rather than build a data center. When Key purchased ISWest, it did not have Power Systems machines in its data center. No worries. There was an ongoing revenue stream, which allowed Key to quickly grab a seat in the cloud. Bringing Power Systems into the data center would not be a problem.
The data center’s proximity to Key’s corporate headquarters in Agoura Hills, northwest of downtown Los Angeles, was important to maintaining a regional presence. Key’s customer base is particularly strong in Southern California and is primarily west of the Rocky Mountains.
Morin was reticent to talk about data center specifics. He considers that information “confidential.” His comfort level almost maxes out by calling the data center contents “a blend of machines.”
“We have Pure Systems deployed in the data center and also a series of rack-mounted servers of varying capacities. We will offer a dedicated environment (co-location environment) if a customer believes it will consume the vast majority of all those resources. And we will offer a shared environment if a customer only needs either a slice of a CPU or only a few CPUs. Coming in the first quarter of 2014 will be a disaster recovery (DR) option–replication to a second data center location–for those running in our data center. We can also act as a DR center depending on the client requirements,” he said. “We have a significant amount of processing capability now along with storage and networking capacity and performance. I can tell you what we have is bigger than a Power 720. We believe there is a market for companies running 16, 32, and even 48 cores. They are looking for a hosted option because they don’t want to deploy and manage that architecture anymore. Their architecture is multi-platform and they want all the pieces to serve their internal clients.”
That may be true, but the current state of infrastructure as a service in the IBM i community is dominated by companies looking for disaster recovery or high availability backup. If you took the DR out of the conversation, there wouldn’t be much of a cloud left.
Morin uses the track record for IBM i shops doing DR in the cloud as a launching pad for running production workloads.
“Offering a set of instances and services in the role of a DR target is identical to running applications on those same instances,” he says. “Both are running operating systems. Functionally the hardware, the processing, the memory capability, and the storage performance capacity have to be there. If you take all that off premise and add replication, you make this infrastructure as a service.”
Mid-market businesses, outside the Power Systems market, seem to have a far greater interest in the cloud. Part of that is attributable to cloud systems that are more reliable because they are professionally managed by enterprise computing specialists. Those cloud customers realize some serious benefits such as increased availability and capacity and a reduction in downtime and associated risk.
The transition to the cloud also happened a little faster in the Windows and Linux environments because of the sheer number of machines that each business was trying to manage. The X86 virtualization technologies that support a cloud model with isolated and dedicated instances available to individual clients has become more mature and better understood.
“Virtualization provided an economic advantage through consolidation,” Morin points out. “The cloud presence is taking advantage of that in Windows and Linux environments and it’s a massive difference maker.”
There are plenty of midsize businesses running on Power Systems that would see the same advantages, he says.
“We have a completely redundant data center and people who know all the platforms inside and out. Most companies don’t have a staff like that. This is an upgrade in skill and capability. People see that in cloud architectures,” he says.
You can’t ignore the topic of cost in this discussion either.
“It’s not all about cost, but it is about cost,” Morin quips.
He uses the example of a company with a Power 720 running IBM i with four cores operational. When that company checks its performance stats and sees it is consistently using half a core throughout the month, yet paying for the entire instance of that environment, someone should be asking whether a leveraged model–only pay for what you use–makes economic sense.
Comparisons will not show a reduction in IT expense in every cloud-based case, but when even the smallest Power server has way more power than you can use, a cost comparison with a cloud architecture is a worthwhile effort.
In the Key Cloud infrastructure as a service model that Morin describes, his experts would discuss options with a company that is considering a cloud-based option. Topics of discussion would include which workloads make sense, how the process of moving to the cloud would take place, and what connectivity issues need to be ironed out.
Connectivity should raise a red flag even though it is sometimes downplayed as a non-issue based on the ease of obtaining bandwidth. But bandwidth is not the focus. Latency and response times are the focus. A discussion about how many employees or customers will be accessing data at an off-premise site and how far from the data center are these people needs to take place.
Companies that are thinking of offloading the care and feeding of systems also need to take into consideration the management of the applications running on those systems. The Key Cloud can spin up as many platforms and operating systems as needed and put all the necessary applications where they belong, but the management of that software is the customers’ responsibility. That’s not a problem because most companies want to manage the application sets and probably to some degree the operating system as well. That is especially true with IBM i shops because IBM i is deeply integrated into the application stack. That’s all the more reason to make connectivity a priority.
“Connectivity is a concern that needs to be addressed in almost every instance,” Morin says.
Moving IT infrastructure off premise and into the cloud where it will be tended by a highly skilled workforce is talked about like it is a sure bet. IBM, most assuredly is talking that way and it’s convinced a good many of its business partners to make that bet. The analysts and researchers are singing that song, too. It’s not a question of if it will happen, but when it will happen.
“My crystal ball prediction is that 50 percent of all consumption will be done in a cloud model within five years,” Morin says.