Implement, Teach, And Get Out Of The Way
February 23, 2015 Dan Burger
Stretched, strained, and even swamped are words that describe IT resources in a great many companies that are leaning on service providers to advance their IT objectives. This is decidedly true when it comes to implementing new technology, where skills and experience are in short supply. The circumstances occur across all platforms, but perhaps is more apparent among the users of the IBM Power Systems running the IBM i operating system, where IT staffing is known to be light.
IBM recognized this years ago and came up with team of technology specialists who could be called on when organizations needed help implementing the products Big Blue was developing to add business efficiency through technological complexity. Not that IBM was any better or worse at creating efficiencies by adding complexity. It has been an industry standard for many years. However, IBM, to its credit, understood that companies would need some help snapping all the correct puzzle pieces into place.
About the same time the AS/400 burst onto the scene in 1988, IBM introduced Lab Services–technological sharp shooters closely tied to the AS/400 development lab in Rochester, Minnesota, where they had early access to the technologies to be incorporated into the soon-to-be-dominate midrange computer. For early adopters of AS/400 technology, Lab Services provided the guys and gals who already knew the integration ropes. Their engagements with AS/400 customers helped with the technology adoption and their experiences also returned to IBM development teams to improve the product.
The importance of Lab Services and its early successes in the AS/400 community became a model for growth within IBM, where it was extended to include all the IBM platforms. Today approximately 40 percent of the Lab Services work within the Power Systems group is directly related to IBM i, according to Ian Jarman, who is responsible for the Lab Services Power Systems’ teams. His official title is business unit executive for the Power Systems Lab Services at IBM.
There are five Lab Services teams that are IBM i-centric and, in terms of geography, they do the biggest percentage of their work in the United States. Other consultants are positioned around the world with staffing appropriate to the size of the IBM i markets in those regions, Jarman says. He would not reveal the overall number of team members, or the size of any individual teams, but the five areas of specialization are: infrastructure implementation and performance, database, PowerHA, security, and application modernization.
He also noted there were subject-specific teams set up in accordance with IBM’s often-stated priorities of cloud, big data and analytics, as well as teams specific to AIX and Linux.
For most corporations, business units are set up as profit centers. And throughout the IT industry there has been a growing emphasis on services as an added revenue stream. IBM’s Global Services is a successful example. The IBM business partners in the sales channel have also transitioned to become more services oriented. The ISVs have also followed suit. However, Jarman sees Lab Services in a different light.
“Lab Services is not actually here to sell services so much as to help clients implement systems,” he told IT Jungle during a telephone interview last week. “The difference is that we are not a group that’s interested, for instance, in strategic outsourcing. Our typical engagements are relatively short and in an advisory capacity.” The Lab Services teams are interested in helping with installations, getting solutions up and running, and transferring the skills to the client’s IT staff so they can manage the system independently, he says.
If Lab Services has an infrastructure engagement, the system readiness aspect includes reviewing all component-level firmware and software versions. The team manages the chassis and discovers, accesses, and inventories all the components. It confirms the system is ready for network integration, virtualization, and IBM i OS workload deployments. It also the system is integrated into the network with client-tailored redundant switch configurations. The skills and knowledge transfer includes the basics for operating, maintaining, and monitoring the system, plus the fundamental architecture and designed integration values.
The typical engagement for performance optimization assessment at a large customer is approximately five days, Jarman says. A database design or performance optimization engagement involves help with best practices and implementation, and then the team moves to another client.
During a conversation I had with Tim Rowe, who is IBM i business architect for application development and systems management, just a few weeks ago, he referred to the Lab Services team for DB2 on i one of the most successful teams in all of Lab Services and described them as very busy working with customers on database modernization projects. In Rowe’s view, companies in the IBM i community are moving in the direction of SQL after a long period of refusing to acknowledge SQL as the de facto database language for the younger generation of developers who will be taking over for the retiring IBM i specialists.
Although shying away from details about how many consultants are working on the Lab Service teams or how many engagements those teams have on an annual basis, Jarman described the number of engagements related to IBM i clients in a year-to-year comparison as “not changing dramatically.”
Where there are dramatic increases in the number of Lab Service engagements is relative to Power Linux.
“There are an increasing number of crossover implementations of IBM i and Linux,” Jarman says. “We don’t track that specifically, but I believe it is a growing number, for sure. In the future, there will be a growing number of solutions that are deployed on Power Linux and connected to systems of record running on IBM i databases,” he predicted. “There are a lot of new applications that run on Power Linux that are complimentary to the typical apps that run on IBM i.”
I’ve been asking IBM to connect me with an organization that is running IBM i and Linux on the same box with integration of front end (system of engagement) and back end (system of record) systems. As soon as that connection gets made, I expect it will make a story of interest. Readers of The Four Hundred can determine whether that’s true or not.
Implementing PowerHA is another example Jarman uses to demonstrate how Lab Services gets a project up and running and makes sure a customer has the skills to run without need for long-term consulting.
“Implementing HA for the first time, in many instances, requires services, whether it’s software-based or hardware-based high availability. Implementation services are highly recommended,” he says.
“The need for long-term consultants is not necessary with PowerHA,” Jarman says. But I suspect all HA vendors would say the same. Almost any new technology (including those that are new to the organization, but not necessarily new to the IT industry) requires services in at least 90 percent of the installations. Jarman does not disagree.
PowerHA implementations are very much associated with Lab Services. Not surprising given that PowerHA is a new technology that is wrapped up with several new technologies such as clustering, external storage, metro and global mirroring, and flash copy. The PowerHA product had its origins in Lab Services. The tools were created for Lab Services clients and eventually became products.
Other notable tools that came from Lab Services work are the PowerVM provisioning tool kit and the live partition mobility automation tool that is used for AIX provisioning of hundreds of partitions. The PowerSC (security and compliance) team has also led the way to new tools.
“It’s not our intention to be a development shop though,” Jarman notes.
The application modernization engagements by Lab Services are generally in an advisory capacity. “There we are working with clients–and sometimes independent software vendors and business partners–on strategies for existing development teams. The discussion might include application design techniques, but we’re not going in and modernizing applications. Many times the ISVs take this on because they are the experts. They have the skills and understand the best practices. We typically help ISVs with specific issues or challenges. We provide advice on a topic like SQL optimization,” Jarman says.
The Lab Services home page can be found here.