The Most Talked About IBM i Trends And Technology
March 3, 2014 Dan Burger
Trends in technologies that affect IBM midrange shops sometimes makes it feel like you are trying to cross an ocean in a rowboat. . . with one oar, a loaf of bread, and a jar of peanut butter. Part of the technology dilemma is finding the time to sort through the possibilities and their associated costs. You might need some help. One of your best options, if you are a Power Systems shop, is to talk with other Power Systems shops.
Tom Huntington talks with a lot of Power Systems shops. As vice president of technical services at HelpSystems, Huntington attends dozens of trade shows and talks with hundreds of customers each year. He also squeezes in time to present sessions at local user group meetings and on a traveling road show that makes several appearances around the country each year. The 2014 version of the road show–“Beyond Power7: IBM i Trends & Tech Tour”–gets under way March 18 in Irvine, California, and is followed up by stops in Phoenix, Arizona, March 20; Charlotte, North Carolina, April 2; and Milwaukee, Wisconsin, April 3.
I talked with Huntington last week about the some of the topics and discussions that rise to the top of the list. Managed service providers, storage, and replication are topics that loom large, but the topics change from one road show stop to the next.
“What happens is that someone might talk about a topic like solid state drives and someone else is interested in possibly implementing SSD. It becomes a community discussion and people begin to help each other gather information that is important to decision making,” Huntington says. “You find people with bad experiences talking with people who have had good experiences working with the same products or working on the same projects.”
The trend that surprises him the most is the number of companies using storage area networks (SANs) and companies looking to make that move. One reason for that could be that IBM is marketing that idea with gusto, and when IBM turns up the marketing effort on a product or service, it has a much greater chance of success. Some of that can be linked to companies that rely on IBM for advice and do what IBM says. And part of that is attributable to IBM adding new capabilities that add value for IBM i shops.
“I see trends developing is storage area networks,” Huntington says. “Just five years ago, all the IBM i shops had to have internal disk, but more of the IBM i companies are looking at SAN options. A SAN sets up an environment to be virtualized, which means that workloads can be moved around easier, hardware can be used for backup and replication–it provides more flexibility.”
“It’s complicated though,” Huntington continues. “For instance, now there’s a VIOS server involved, which is new for some companies. Still, I honestly think that, five years from now, 75 percent of IBM i users will be using storage area networks. It will be the majority not the minority. That includes many of the small to midsize shops that will be doing this through a managed service provider.”
Managed service providers and cloud technologies are also topics that Huntington hears a lot about during discussions with IBM i shops. He says part of the reason MSPs will become more important to IBM i shops in the SMB market relates to the fact that Power Systems hardware at the entry level has more computing horsepower than is needed by a large portion of the IBM i installed base. Those companies may only be using 20 percent of the available CPU.
“The economy is telling me that those customers are probably better off sharing processors with other companies at an MSP,” he says. “We have seen a lot of consolidation in the Power Systems IBM i market, and I think we are going to see more in the form of MSPs hosting infrastructure.”
Each month the list of MSPs with IBM i shops as customers grows, compelling a healthy competition among the MSPs and providing choices for the shops looking for infrastructure relief.
“People need to think about these things as they move forward,” Huntington says. “Especially if they don’t have the human resources to handle things like upgrading operating systems or securing the system. They might be better off sticking to the business applications and keeping their user community happy and give up the infrastructure issues to an MSP. There are MSPs with expertise in systems and infrastructure that can do this. Why would a company spend staff time updating software when there are technicians working for an MSP who can do the job quicker and better?”
The MSP business model, as it turns out, mirrors the original AS/400 model. Although the AS/400 was originally sold as an operator-less environment, Huntington notes, there were a lot of companies with complex environments that had operators. Those companies needed help in terms of automation and management. Huntington’s company, HelpSystems, has been directly involved with those organizations after developing software that automates and manages systems beginning with the AS/400 and progressing with the system to the current Power Systems-IBM i combination. The same thing is happening with MSPs. The more clients they service, the greater the need for system automation and monitoring.
One of the technologies that gets a red flag from Huntington is PowerHA.
“If you listen to some people, PowerHA is the thing that everyone should be doing and software replication doesn’t have a place anymore,” he says. “The reality is there are some gotchas with PowerHA that you need to be aware of before you get into it.”
The topic of performance is almost always going to be brought up in a discussion about PowerHA compared to software-based high availability. Huntington says when a company is struggling with software replication performance issues, it is only going to get worse with hardware replication.
“Fix the performance problem first and then account for the cost in switching to hardware replication,” he advises. “PowerHA is not going to solve a problem in your network speed.”
Much of these types of debates get talked out in the course of multiple road show events. This is not the first year that Huntington has done road shows.
“We have people attending the road shows that have PowerHA, and they share their experiences,” he says. “They talk about what they like and don’t like. I’ve heard from attendees that have had PowerHA for four years already. They were technically savvy and they got it to work for them in the early days of PowerHA availability. There are also people who have software replication figured out and it works for them. It’s automated and automatically monitored.”
“They may think software-based replication is expensive and it sounds like PowerHA will save money, but there are costs that need to be compared and with switching comes risk,” Huntington continues. “For one thing, with PowerHA you have to have iASP. You have to put your application in an iASP. Some will say just put everything in an iASP, but it’s not that simple. Not everything just goes into an iASP. Security and systems management products don’t all make sense in an iASP. You want some of these things, like security and performance monitoring software, to be running in SYSBASE environments where, in the case of security, the security exit points and user profiles are located.”
With all types of new technology, people have to weigh the alternatives and determine whether it is worthwhile to move. The point though is to come to a decision rather than endlessly putting off decisions due to a lack of understanding.
“We still want to promote a strong ecosystem around Power Servers and IBM i,” Huntington says. He recognizes there was a time when companies gave all their time to the IBM midrange server and that this is not the way IT works now. Windows and Linux operating systems also critical to businesses along with IT resources poured into website, mobile, and networking efforts.
The interchange of ideas is the glass of water in the desert. The sharing of information is responsible for propelling the road show that Huntington hosts.
“I like to get customers involved with sharing information,” Huntington says. “People share their tips and techniques during the road show events. This is part of the education process that people go through. They enjoy getting the advice from their peers. It sometimes opens people’s eyes to ideas that they may have discounted in the past.”