IBM i Shops Seeking More Services
March 27, 2017 Dan Burger
Many folks view managed services as a replacement for processes that company employees used to do. Like backing up data, for instance. Slow backups and nearly closed windows for planned downtime have more organizations looking at the managed service providers for improved efficiencies and the opportunity to add a disaster recovery plan that makes sense.
That used to be a big part of managed services, but the definition has greatly expanded in the past few years. As IT complexity has soared, there are many pieces in the IT puzzle that are missing or a bad fit in organizations that struggle to keep up with technology.
Managed service providers are nothing new, but many of the provided services are. Backup and recovery is still a big deal, because it’s a squeaky wheel in many organizations and it’s something that managed service providers have done for many years. But the scope of what the MSP provides is well beyond repeating the same process in the same way that it’s been done for many years. The number of MSPs featuring IBM i services continues to grow.
“MSPs continue to grow, in general, as local skills deplete at customer sites, says John Dominic, vice president of business development at Maxava, a provider of disaster recovery as a service to end users as well as MSPs. “We see VARs (value-added resellers) using our solutions to shift their service model away from hardware to incorporate more monthly recurring revenue streams. They do this by bundling a combination of software, services, and some infrastructure to increase the value add to the customer. This makes particular sense in the DR market, as customers are looking to keep CapEx investments off their books.”
Jim Kandrac, president of UCG Technologies, says the IBM i MSP arena continues to add new players. He describes the MSP market as fragmented and filled with niche players offering a variety of services. “Value-added resellers a little farther down the channel are now seeing that services are proving to be what IBM i shops want,” he says.
UCG Technologies has provided backup services for more than 12 years, focusing primarily on IBM i disaster recovery and high availability. When Kandrac considers how his business has evolved, he says one of the biggest adjustments in recent years is the “cross-pollination and reliance on Intel [servers] feeding the IBM i and vice versa.”
IBM i shops with multiple LPARS that want to integrate virtual machines into their backup (archival), disaster recovery, and high availability plans are showing up more often.
An MSP must listen to its customers and try to be flexible, he says. For UCG Technologies, that meant a change from solely supporting backup and recovery for IBM i to include Intel and VMWare backups and restores.
Kandrac says some prospects that received quotes for projects a year to five years ago, are now ready to move forward. “Initially, I think, they were interested, but they needed time to vet our solutions and decide which routes to take,” he says.
The interest in hybrid cloud environments continues to grow despite the hesitancy most companies harbor when giving up complete control of their data, says Maxava’s Dominic.
“Many IBM i shops have had total control of their environments and are reluctant to change,” he says. The more transparency MSPs can provide with the service, the better. Customers might be relying on MSPs to fix problems, but they still want some visibility into the situation.”
Maxava provides data center facilities to MSPs that are getting a start in the hosted services business. Some of those MSPs will eventually create their own facilities as their business and expertise develop. Automation is the key to delivering reliable service at a reasonable price, Dominic says.
IBM has been coaxing its business partners to transition into service organizations for several years. One of its largest partners in the reseller channel, Sirius (formerly Sirius Computer Solutions), has hosted services – mostly disaster recovery and high availability backup sites–for more than 20 years. It has also sold a lot of IBM Power Systems hardware – mostly AS/400s, iSeries and IBM i systems. But as server sales continue to decline, Sirius and other VARs are looking for options that will replace the significant revenue once generated by server purchases. Those options align with some of the unique skills used in complex environments that are hard to find in the IBM i community. A few prominent examples Johnson mentions are ecommerce, data analytics, high availability, regulatory compliance and security.
“As we look at the Power cloud landscape, there aren’t as many providers with the focus and skill we have,” says Jay Johnson, vice president of managed services at Sirius. “The MSPs that have grown their skills and competencies are in better position to grow and sustain their businesses.
Client sophistication has grown and changed during the past three years, Johnson says. There wasn’t much talk about putting pieces of production hardware and software in hosted environments three years ago. Companies are more interested in an integrated hybrid approach now. Where other MSPs have positioned themselves to manage Power Systems hardware for their customers, Sirius has taken another step to manage complex software environments.
“Our application portfolio has changed tremendously,” Johnson says. “We have application managed services (AMS) that include commerce, big data analytics, security, content management, portal, social, mobile, and QA testing. For example, with WebSphere Commerce on IBM i, we manage the updates and optimizing the site. The customer, obviously, needs to provide the business acumen. We also manage the hardware, infrastructure, data center, network – all those are things we’ve managed for years. We have clients asking for help linking the infrastructure for commerce, analytics and security and driving efficiencies by establishing policies, procedures and governance, plus automation, process improvements and technology enhancements.