Tapping The Sky For Disaster Recovery
July 6, 2020 Timothy Prickett Morgan
The killer app for IBM i in the cloud, at least for the next several years, is very likely going to be disaster recovery and high availability. Not just because it is so much less expensive to provide these vital infrastructure services on the cloud than it is on premises, but because so many people still need DR and HA but cannot afford it.
The cloud is changing that, and a partnership between Skytap, the upstart provider of IBM i server instances in the cloud, and Maxava, the now established but once upstart provider of HA and DR software for OS/400 and IBM i, illustrates the point. But for this to work, there has to be economies of scope and economies of scale that only clouds can provide. And software licensing for the underlying systems and for the HA and DR software, too, has to match the cloud model. DR and HA have been for rent under an outsourcing model for decades, so the basic idea is not new. What is new is that the cost of servers is lower and the flexibility of providing compute, memory, and storage capacity is much higher and, thanks to the sharing of resources enabled by very efficient logical partitioning systems, can be shared by many users who have modest capacity needs relative to that provided by even so-called small systems – P05 and P10 class systems, in the IBM i parlance. The economics of systems, driven to new levels of price/performance by Moore’s Law, combined with subscription-based pricing, which implies a modest premium over acquiring the software over a three year span but a relatively low monthly cost, makes DR and HA in the cloud affordable.
How affordable? Simon O’Sullivan, co-founder and senior vice president at Maxava, walks us through the numbers over a three-year window of usage. “I think the cheapest IBM i machine with a reasonable configuration is on the order of $50,000 to $60,000, and then supplemental datacenter costs for a co-location facility, including space, power, cooling, networking, and some management, plus the cost of the HA software, will work out to be on the order of $5,000 to $6,000 per month, or somewhere between $180,000 to $220,000 over three years. This is vital and absolutely worth it for the 20,000 or so IBM i shops that have adopted HA clustering, usually for on-site mirroring of mission critical systems, but also sometimes for off-site replication as a means of disaster recovery, and sometimes both at once. But for the other 100,000 or so IBM i shops that do not have HA software, these costs are still too high. And by the way, we have come a long way in two decades, when the number of OS/400 shops was about 2.5X higher and the number of customers with HA software was an order of magnitude – that’s 10X – smaller. And one more thought: The entry of Maxava into the HA market, with its aggressive pricing and solid technology, is what helped drive down the HA software price to align better with the ever-decreasing cost of systems due to Moore’s Law improvements. And still, with all of that, many IBM i shops think HA is out of reach for them financially.
But, enter the IBM i on the cloud, and things are changing.
“The classic IBM i customer has maybe 16 GB to 32 GB of memory, maybe 2 TB or slightly more of data, and somewhere between 2,000 and 5,000 CPWs of compute,” says O’Sullivan. “This is really the sweet spot, and having the datacenter for this machine, with power, cooling, security, and such, can cost somewhere between $2,000 and $3,000 alone. You have to add in the cost of the DR software, too, and the cost of the people to keep this all running is the hardest thing to quantify. But the average customer, in this scenario, is probably paying around $5,000 to $6,000 a month for the whole shebang. So that’s not cheap. But by running DR on Skytap – and every customer scenario is different, of course – I think you are looking at being able to do it for no more than half that price, and often less than that.”
The numbers, says O’Sullivan, are a bit tricky for truly small IBM i shops, where not too much CPU or memory or storage is needed, it might be cheaper to do HA or DR with their own systems. But for the rest of these customers, particularly for disaster recovery, and particularly if they don’t need to replicate their full system CPW and memory and storage all the time but rather just have enough machine to replicate data and transactions to, then a cloud offering like that available from Skytap, which we detailed last July, is perfect for the job. And when there is a disaster and they need to fire up 5,000 CPW or 10,000 CPW or even 15,000 CPW of capacity on a partition to support their users, customers can do that and replicate back to their primary systems when the disaster is over.
“I think for some of these folks, who might be figuring out what their cloud strategy is going to be as it related to their IBM i workloads, this is a fantastic first step,” George Stamos, director of strategic alliances and solutions architecture at Skytap, tells The Four Hundred. “Customers can get geographic redundancy with Skytap or with our partner, Microsoft Azure, and they can think about where they want their production workloads to be. But to start, many IBM i customers will be attracted by the simplicity and low cost of doing DR in the cloud. There is this capability that you have in the cloud that you do not have on premises where you can kind of pilot light the scenario, with a combination of Skytap capacity and Maxava DR software but you are not maxxed out and paying for that on the cloud.”
Chilewich Sultan, a maker of high-end textiles and furniture based in the Gramercy Park neighborhood in New York City, is a case in point. The company has experienced disasters before, including when Hurricane Sandy struck the -Big Apple head on back in 2012. The company did daily backups to a third-party datacenter, which gave Chilewich Sultan a 24-hour recovery time objective, but usually meant it lost 48 hours of work. To avoid this situation, the textile maker – whose case study is available here – looked at putting a second Power Systems machine running IBM i in its own data closet, but the cost of the system was excessive. But last year, when Skytap started selling IBM i slices, another option emerged.
The company has a Power Systems machine with 9,000 CPWs of compute oomph, with 28 GB of memory and 1.7 TB of disk capacity. Very much a typical small business setup running IBM i. And now, it is using Maxava’s disaster recovery as a service setup to replicate its 6 million daily transactions up to the cloud and its Mi8 software to monitor both systems, which now includes a cloudy logical partition on the Skytap cloud with 1,274 CPWs of compute, 8 GB of memory and 1.7 TB of disk. That slice is plenty big enough to run the replication, and in the event of a failover, it can be expanded to meet the compute and memory requirements of the workload until the disaster is over and the cloudy IBM i slice can fail back to the on-premises machine. This DR in the cloud setup costs about a third as much to run as a traditional on-premises HA setup. (Not including the extra compute costs when more capacity is used during a disaster, naturally.)
With the coronavirus pandemic hitting businesses of all sizes particularly hard, Maxava has been generous with deals. First, customers using Skytap with its Maxava HA replication tool have a three month free license and the implementation is also free. Under a prior deal announced in March, Maxava HA customers are also able to get the Monitor Mi8 service for free if they are using Maxava HA so they can remotely monitor their clusters – a very important thing considering that most companies not being allowed to let employees back into their facilities, so they have to monitor their IBM i systems remotely. To match this generosity, says Stamos, Skytap will offer IBM i shops that set up DR services on its cloud using Maxava HA software 50 percent off the cost of the infrastructure as a service fees for those first three months. So this is a heck of a discount, but one that is commensurate with the times and encourages new customers to both Skytap and to Maxava.
By the way, the partnership between Skytap and Maxava is not exclusive for either partner. Maxava works with other clouds and hosting providers, and Skytap could work with Precisely (formerly Syncsort) or HelpSystems or IBM for DR software on its cloud as well. But at the moment, Skytap and Maxava are putting together a deal that makes this combo a no-brainer.