Ensono Emerges With IBM i Cloud Offering
March 29, 2017 Alex Woodie
When it comes to selecting a cloud provider to run your IBM i applications, you have a lot of options, including prominent business partners and well-known VARs in the midrange market. One fairly large IBM i cloud provider that you’re probably not aware of is Ensono, and it’s working to raise its profile in the changing market.
The first thing that differentiates Ensono is its rich history. While the company’s name is just over a year old, it actually traces its business process outsourcing roots back 47 years to Downers Grove, Illinois, when the data services firm May & Speh was formed. In 1998, M&S was acquired by its competitor, Conway, Arkansas-based Acxiom, to create a data services giant with $700 million in revenue and top-tier clients like Sears Roebuck and CapitalOne.
Last January, Acxiom spun out its IT Outsourcing (ITO) division and, with the help of some private equity, formed Ensono. With two data centers each in Illinois and Arkansas and dozens of high-profile accounts, the $300-million company is possibly the biggest cloud computing provider that you’ve never heard of.
That’s something that Steve Lord, the senior product manager in charge of the IBM i cloud business, is hoping to change.
“I would say it’s been a little bit of a hidden secret,” Lord tells IT Jungle. “We don’t sell IBM Power gear. We’re not a VAR. Our biggest differentiator with our clients is we have a lot of large and midsize companies. We help them manage not only their IBM i systems, but we can also offer them hybrid IT and reach out to the Amazons of the world.”
IBM i Clouds Gathering
Lord says Ensono currently manages about 110 IBM i LPARs on behalf of its clients, and probably twice the number of AIX LPARs (or WPARs as the Unix enthusiasts call them). The company also provides and administers its fair share of MIPS for IBM mainframe clients who need to keep the mainframe apps but no longer want to be in the mainframe-hosting business themselves.
Ensono surrounds these valuable Big Iron hosting services with a wide range of X86 hosting running atop VMware, Windows, and Linux. It will even manage Windows and Linux operating environments running in the Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure.
Few managed service providers (MSPs) have that kind of range, Lord says. “If you were to go into a room full of cloud providers and ask them how many can do mainframe, IBM i, VMware infrastructure, and go out to Amazon and Azure, 10 MSPs are going to be in the room, and one or two will be able to raise their hands,” he says. “We’ll be one of those one or two.”
Earlier this month, the company announced that it’s now offering IBM i 7.3 as a service. Upgrading the IBM i cloud was important because it allows Ensono to help clients migrate to newer platforms to take advantage of the latest technology, Lord says.
“We want to enable those clients who still love IBM i . . . to have that option,” he says. “They say, ‘Gosh I really want to move to version 7.x. However I’m having a hard time on my old Power server. It doesn’t support it.’
“That’s where Ensono comes in,” he continues. “We help them migrate from older environments to newer environments and take on a migration role, sort of, and then help enable them to be a newer platform. Now they have access to the latest and greatest API sets and can better enable end users to access the systems of record that are running on the IBM systems.”
Slices of Power8
Ensono hasn’t been advertising its IBM i cloud work for long, but it’s already caught the eye of IBM Manager of Business Partner Programs for Power Systems Brett Flory.
“Our IBM i users continue to look to add increased value to their organizations by deploying scalable and resilient solutions that give them the tools they need to move toward a hybrid environment,” Flory said in a press release. “Ensono’s products and services that support IBM i showcase how IBM i on Power enables higher performance and optimization for top-quality hybrid IT operations.”
Ensono sells access to Power8 boxes in slices as small as one-tenth of a processor core. That capability to carve up the powerful IBM servers makes the economics work out for everybody involved.
“We’re finding a lot of clients in the midmarket range area want to get onto something new. They know their stuff is outdated. However they can’t afford to spend the $250,000-plus on new Power equipment and really would rather go to an OpEx solution and just fractionally pay for what they’re using,” Lord says. “So instead of buying a big box where I may not use all of it, why not just use fractional and pay, in essence, for a quarter of that, depending on what they need . . . I think the financials work better.”
A Menu of Services
The company employs dedicated IBM i professionals whose job is to manage the client environments. Anything from the operating system level on down is Ensono’s responsibility, while anything from the application layer on up is the client’s job. The company uses BMC’s cross-platform management software, called TrueSight, to stay on top of potential problems can impact different species of computer.
One of Ensono’s unique aspects is that it offers IBM i clients three grades of storage, including regular storage, high-performance storage, and archival storage. The regular storage hits IBM and EMC SAN arrays equipped with spinning disk, while the high-performance storage tier uses flash disks.
The data of open systems clients, meanwhile, traverses NetApp networked attach storage (NAS). Backups are handled with virtual tape libraries (VTLs) from IBM and EMC, including DataDomain units with built-in de-duplication. Tape is also offered as part of the archival storage offering, where tapes may be driven offsite and stored in a secure environment, such as Iron Mountain.
IBM i clients who require low recovery time objectives (RTOs) and recovery point objectives (RPOs) may be upgraded to the MIMIX high availability solution from Vision Solutions, which is offered at an additional charge. All backups are replicated among the four main data centers in the United States, while data of customers in the UK are protected in the six or so data centers that Ensono recently acquired there.
At the end of the day, Ensono hopes that it can help clients reduce the OpEx side of the ledger enough to justify investment in more value-add activities, such as Web development initiatives and legacy modernization projects.
“Ultimately it’s about trying to make it easy for end user to get access to the data,” Lord says. “That’s what we want to be able to allow our clients to do and spend CapEx on improving applications instead of spending it on infrastructure and managing infrastructure.”