IBM i Shops Do Less To Get More Done
November 14, 2016 Dan Burger
Offloading workloads seems to be a popular pastime for more and more IBM i shops. Some of that work goes to other platforms, but we also see the managed service providers (MSPs) with IBM i capabilities picking up jobs. Traditionally this has been disaster recovery service, but production environments are headed that way as well as shops take a closer look at internal IT staff capabilities and set business priorities. Workload distribution has become a strategic necessity.
The trend of moving production IT environments to managed service providers continues to be steady among midsize companies with IT staff tied up with maintenance of legacy applications, Power Systems hardware, and the IBM i operating system. For some of these companies it makes sense to hand off the responsibilities to a service provider, so the internal staff can come to grips with getting its application development house in order.
The idea of no longer buying a box and paying maintenance brings with it a lot of support issues that clear the decks and allow other work to be done. The IBM i support issues related to PTFs and security are no longer internal issues. That’s for the MSP to handle for a monthly fee.
In theory that gives the internal IT staff more time to work on business applications. In many cases, that alone is plenty of work.
For companies with packaged software, ERP or EDI, for instance, the move from on-premise hardware to hardware in an MSP data center means the software vendor must be notified and transfer fees may apply. Software vendors may also want to upward adjust license and maintenance fees in accordance with software upgrades, depending on how current or out of date the existing software is. Some vendors offer software as a service as an option to buying licensed software to run in an MSP data center, but for shops with highly customized software that’s not an option.
Frankly, there is a lot to be sorted out about how software vendors handle their customers’ wishes to move production to an MSP environment. The pricing model has yet to be resolved in many instances, so the result is a software customer continues to pay license and maintenance fees just as it did before transitioning to an MSP.
Two things are certain, however. If the vendor raises the price too high, customers will threaten to jump ship. Those companies that do jump ship face the difficult task of migrating complex, highly customized software, a process which is almost assured to be disruptive and costly.
“Companies need to be aware as they consider no longer being responsible for the hardware and the maintenance of the OS,” says Andrew Johnson, systems architect at Focal Point Solutions Group, a managed service provider catering to IBM i shops. “With some apps, the customer may still be on the hook for some fees.”
Most companies continue doing the day-to-day application work involving maintenance (general break/fix work), customization, and adding or deleting users, but some are looking to shed all responsibilities. Two IBM i customers in the past five months have had discussions with Focal Point about taking over the care and feeding of their applications.
“They both said, ‘We like our application, but we want to sometimes make changes in it. We want Focal Point to take it over the application and we’ll pay for it as a service,” Johnson says.
That sounds like a quick and easy solution for the customer, but it could be a nightmare for the MSP when the applications are a mess that can’t be cleaned up without a lot of work and expense. If packaged software is involved, there’ll be a lot of negotiation.
Last year, Focal Point had no production environments in its data center. All its business was based on providing a target location for high availability implementations. By the end of 2016, approximately 20 percent of its customers will be running some degree of production workloads, according to Ron Venzin, Focal Point’s CEO.
“We talk with shops on older releases of the operating system. They can’t go to new releases because of the software customization they have done and maybe the people who did that customization work are no longer employed at the company,” Venzin says. “We have to look at what we are getting into. We’ve walked away from some of these. When a shop says, ‘We want you to run everything,’ rarely is that going to work for us. Companies with unique situations like that are looking at a significant cost if they want a service provider to take it over.”
“The companies we’ve talked with are very aware of their situation with aging customized applications,” Johnson says. “They are taking a serious look at these things now because they see how bad it will get in five more years. They are starting a transition process. The hand-off can be accomplished with planning and time.”
By moving some of the workload into the cloud, working on the transition is easier because companies have less IT to manage and more time to straighten out their application messes. Those projects must be guided by internal staff, possibly with the help of consultants.
The consulting could come from the MSP, but not all MSPs wat to get into that business. You can bet all the MSPs are closely watching these developments. To some degree, it’s happening to every company.
“For us to survive and grow our business, we cannot turn our back on this,” says Johnson. “Companies, as they discover where they are with their applications and the age of their in-house IT expertise, will look for more outside help from service providers.”
These are difficult decisions to make, but when no decision ramps up the risk, difficult decisions get made. In some instances, that means leaving the IBM i and migrating to another platform.
“As customers put more solutions in the cloud, there seems to be less chatter about moving off the iSeries because it becomes a cloud solution and no longer an iSeries solution. Once the solution is in the cloud, companies no longer look at it as being old-fashioned. That part of the discussion tends to go away.”