Abacus Cloud Customers Enjoy Wider Ecosystem
June 22, 2020 Alex Woodie
For many years, Abacus Solutions ran its private IBM i cloud business out of a commercial datacenter close to its headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia. A few years back, Abacus decided to move its clients’ machines to a new datacenter, and in addition to getting better disaster preparedness, the move opened up a whole new ecosystem of services for its IBM i customers.
The move from Abacus’ old datacenters into new datacenters was completed in 2019, but only recently did Abacus Solutions announce it. To get the low down on the big move, IT Jungle recently caught up with Patrick Schutz, the company’s chief sales officer.
“We’ve been doing an AS/400 cloud for 10-plus years,” Schutz says, using the platform’s older, but still widely used, name. “You get a pretty good feel for that landscape. We argue we’re one of the best around.”
About three years ago, Abacus decided it needed to upgrade its disaster recovery (DR) capability. The company was leasing space in a pair of Atlanta datacenters. The setup worked well for Abacus, which manages thousands of IBM i systems for hundreds of clients. But since the primary and the backup datacenters were both located in the same city, they were too close together to survive a regional outage.
So Abacus started looking around for a new DR site in different regions, and that search brought it to QTS, a publicly traded company that runs more than 20 datacenters across the United States. Among the datacenters is a 700,000 square foot facility in Irving, Texas, that would have functioned nicely as Abacus’ DR site.
But along the way, another QTS datacenter caught Abascus’ eye. At 970,000 square feet, QTS Metro in Atlanta is the third largest private datacenter in the United States. “It’s massive,” Schutz says. “I’ve been in a hundred datacenters and QTS Metro is the best datacenter that I’ve ever been in.”
That’s when Abacus rechecked its math. It had originally set out to find a suitable DR site, but after seeing QTS Metro in its hometown, Abacus changed its mind. “The whole premise of it was the tail wagging the dog,” Schutz says. “We needed to go geographically dispersed for a DR datacenter, and by doing, so we decided to move production at the same time.”
First, Abacus stood up the DR site in QTS’s Irving datacenter. That work started in 2018, and was followed by the move to the QTS Metro facility in Atlanta. According to Schutz, migrating hundreds of IBM i customers to the QTS datacenters was a big undertaking, and took over a year to complete.
“It was a massive undertaking, but it was also an opportunity for the customers to get current, refreshed, and really under and that we were growing and they get an even higher level of experience and the latest and the greatest,” he says.
Abacus is one of the largest private cloud providers on the IBM i platform, and it runs many production systems for large companies that can’t afford much downtime. Because of that, a lot of care was paid to ensure the transition went smoothly.
Ironically, the easiest IBM i environments to migrate were those larger organizations that had invested in high availability solutions, either SAN-based or logical data replication solutions, because the transition was essentially a failover to the new site. The migrations for customers running DR or dev/test environments took a bit more time. These customers primarily relied on Abacus’ disk-based backup solution, so restoring their environment in the DR (and eventually new primary) location typically required a weekend, which meant downtime.
“Then there were other customers who were stuck on older systems,” Schutz says. Some of these folks were running unsupported ERP applications on unsupported operating systems like i5/OS V5R4 on unsupported hardware, like Power6-generation machines. Because of the aged nature of the systems, these folks required even more work and also suffered downtime.
“They’re tied to the box, so we had to physically pick them up and move them from one datacenter to the next,” Schutz says. “That would be an outage.”
Because the move was forced by Abacus and in some cases caused downtime, the company didn’t charge customers anything. But in the final analysis, these customers still benefited by the move. “We’re offering them a better service and better options, but there was no additional cost,” Schutz says.
By moving into the new datacenter, especially the huge QTS Metro facility in Atlanta, Abacus cloud customers have entered a new cloud ecosystem that expands their data processing options, Schutz says. That ecosystem isn’t necessarily composed of IBM i vendors, but other companies that can offer additional computational or analytic services on top of data housed in IBM i.
“It’s a symbiotic ecosystem that we work in,” Schutz says. “I tell customers, hey we’ve made a lot of the proverbial decisions by choosing the datacenter and the other products that we use for our cloud. Now you can parlay into that by bringing some other workloads to the datacenter or having a rack in there or using other cloud providers. We can all cross-connect together.”
The average IBM i customer has half a dozen to a dozen Windows workloads surrounding the production IBM i application, and these apps are prime targets for the ecosystem play, Schutz says. In many cases, these apps help Abacus to get their foot in the door to a larger relationship.
“We have our own Windows cloud too that we can provide,” Schutz adds. “So as opposed to saying, ‘Hey bring me half a dozen to a dozen of your Windows workloads,’ we say why not bring all 50 or 100 of them? Let’s make a bigger opportunity to have a single provider.”
But the ecosystem play isn’t limited to Windows workloads. Abacus also gets involved with other environments, such as Oracle RAC systems that can’t be easily moved into a public cloud system.
The company’s overriding focus, however, is IBM i, and that’s not likely to change. “Our tagline is we want to run the last 10,00 AS/400s,” Schutz says. “As we all know, it’s a shrinking platform, and we want to be the last one standing.”