Managed Service Provider Picks Its Niche
June 8, 2015 Dan Burger
If you’re a traditional IBM midrange shop, the idea of managed services provided by a vendor may seem as unlikely as commuting to work in George Jetson’s flying car. But then how do you explain all the managed service providers lining up to do business in the IBM i community? They are all jockeying for position in anticipation of trend toward outsourcing pieces of IT and in some cases, all of IT. Focal Point Solutions Group is carving out a space of its own.
Here’s a scenario that is not uncommon. An organization is running important applications on the IBM i and it doesn’t want to replace that application. It’s mission critical and has to be up every minute of every day. The company chose another platform to be the IT backbone and is looking to reduce its investment in the IBM i platform and the human resources devoted to running that platform. Contracting with a managed service provider is a good decision in this case, says Ron Venzin, the CEO of Focal Point Solutions.
“We have an arrangement like this with Miami Children’s Hospital in conjunction with Champion Solutions Group. We run an iSeries for them. It’s very important to their day-to-day operations, although they most of their business on Intel iron,” Venzin notes. Champion manages the hospital’s Intel-based infrastructure.
“It’s become obvious to some companies that they have a box nobody on staff really knows or understands even though it is running some really critical business applications, or in other cases they have very skilled operations people, but they are ready to retire. Those soon-to-retire staffers know the application, the business, and the HA environment. But replacing those people is difficult. We have the in-house expertise to take over operations that include HA.”
Having the expertise to monitor and manage high availability installations is Focal Point’s calling card. Companies that run Vision Solutions’ MIMIX HA are the businesses Focal Point targets. They represent about 40 percent of Focal Point’s revenue.
“We have a strong partnership with Vision,” says Pete Elliot, a partner in the start-up managed service provider. “We focus on the role swap piece specifically. We take that process and standardize it and automate it as much as possible. Then we monitor and manage it so companies can do better things with their time. We have the skill sets to manage HA systems. We know how difficult it is and we can help companies figure out the role swap or failover process.”
Elliot says it is not uncommon to find failed attempts at role swaps or out of date run books. In some cases, he says, the process was not built into HA operations from the day it was implemented, or it may have been in place at one time, but through the attrition of key people or transition to different priorities HA management fell off the radar screen.
The key to HA is having the knowledge–based on monitoring and managing–that the system is switch-ready at any time.
Because Focal Point knows the IBM i platform, Venzin and Elliot see an opportunity to provide that service to managed service providers that specialize in non-IBM services, but are unable to help those companies that have an IBM i in their heterogeneous environments. With Focal Point as a partner, an MSP can provide services across all platforms.
Focal Point is an IBM MSP Infrastructure Partner with certifications in Power Systems, Tivoli Storage Manager, and IBM storage. The company has clients throughout North America and specializes in managed services, high availability, disaster-recovery architectures, security monitoring and implementing single sign on.
Venzin believes Focal Point’s strengths–IBM i data protection, availability, storage solutions, marketing and sales assistance, lead referrals, and technical support–can be valuable to other IBM i business partners who have strengths in other areas. The company is actively soliciting partnerships with system integrators and independent software vendors in the IBM i space.
“I’ve seen things shift from a product- and solution-based model to services-based model,” Elliot says. “Many people with IBM i skills are retiring. The platform installed base has melted, but that melting has stopped. The core users are supporting the platform and it will remain stable. But I think the ecosystem will grow as new support mechanisms are established.”
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