Racksquared Is Another Option For IBM i Private Cloud
November 2, 2020 Alex Woodie
IBM i shops that are looking for a private cloud to run their IBM i applications may want to check out Racksquared. The Columbus, Ohio-based managed services provider rents Power and IBM i resources to its clients, who, the company says, turn to it because of the increasing difficulty in finding IBM i expertise.
Racksquared was founded in 2011 when a 118-year-old restaurant supply distributor called the Wasserstrom Company spun out its IT department into a separate entity. Wasserstrom had outgrown the server room at its headquarters, so it bought and renovated an old AT&T Wireless data center in downtown Columbus to house its IBM i servers and other IT gear.
However, that 10,000-square-foot data center ended up being overkill for Wasserstrom, as the physical size of servers got smaller and they became more powerful. So the company decided to create a private cloud company called Racksquared to make use of the space.
Wasserstrom had a sizable investment in IBM i technology, and it still contracts with Racksquared to run its core IBM i applications on its behalf. But over the years, the company has attracted a sizable base of other IBM i shops, which today make up about one-third of Racksquared’s business.
The IBM i hosting busines has taken off in large part because of the difficulty in finding trained IBM i professionals, says Jason Hardy, Racksquared’s general manager.
“IBM i expertise is hard to come by,” Hardy tells IT Jungle. “They’re retiring. Nobody is coming out of college saying they want to be a Power administrator. They want to do AI. They want to do all kind of things other than administer a Power server.”
Hardy was speaking with a large global brand recently that has only one person left that any experience with IBM i. “Their IT guy is retiring,” Hardy says. “He’s the iSeries guy. The woman who works for him is retiring. She also knows the iSeries. The woman who works for her is eligible to retire, and she’s the last person standing who has iSeries expertise in that organization.”
Racksquared has about 12 administrators on staff to service the various Power and Intel environments that it runs on behalf of its customers. The company provides core operational services for things like backups, applying PTFs, and operating system upgrades. If asked, it will also supply more advanced administrative duties, such as setting up new user profiles or even tuning an application to increase performance. However, most customers want to maintain control at that level, Hardy says.
“I’m working with a local utility and there’s nobody on staff that has IT in their name,” Hardy says. “We sent somebody up there Saturday to do a system save for them. Google isn’t doing that for you. Being a local provider, being able to jump on the phone with somebody and walk somebody through it and be that remote hand — you’re not going to see that from a big company.”
Running “lean and mean” is a midrange specialty, afforded by the platforms’ unusual combination of reliability and self-sufficiency. It’s still not unusual for smaller IBM i shops to have no onsite IT personnel, let alone an IBM i expert. These companies often relied on a consultant or local reseller to manage the system on their behalf.
As the ranks of the resellers declines, companies are turning to MSPs and private cloud companies to be that trusted advisor, or what Hardy called the “virtual CIO.” That’s a role that Racksquared sees itself filling more in the future as IBM i expertise becomes even harder to come by.
“If you’re on a Power7, we’ll put you on a Power8,” Hardy says. “We’ll upgrade the operating system when we need to and when you’re ready to, we’ll migrate you to Power9. When Power10 and 11 and 12 comes along, whatever it is — that’s the path we’re heading down.”
Racksquared primarily serves clients in the Columbus area, but it does have customers in other parts of the country. It even signed up its first international client the other day, Hardy says. The majority of its clients are small and midsize businesses, but it does have some larger companies using its services. A 13-page brochure on its IBM i hosting business lists Ryder Last Mile, Mercer Transportation, and Sun Coast General Insurance Agency as customers (not to mention Wasserstrom itself).
Racksquared runs a handful of Power8 and Power9 machines in its primary data center, which sports redundant power, network, and cooling. It also has IBM i and Intel resources in a smaller backup data center located 10 miles away.
The company uses Rocket Software’s iCluster software to provide high availability protection for IBM i applications. It also provides SAN-based backups for IBM i and Intel servers, and can replicate those backups from the SAN in the primary data center to the SAN in the backup data center. It’s also quite accustomed to backing up its client’s environments with tape.
The looming end of life for Power 7 servers is perking up interest in the private cloud model, and Racksquared is ready for the extra business.
“If you’re on a Power7, it’s time to do something,” Hardy says. “Do you go buy a Power9? Or do you find another solution? What we find is, when customers have a choice of investing in hardware yet again and having that capital expense, versus converting to an operational expense model . . . then they can get what they need on a monthly charge instead of a capital expense.”
While organizations love the reliability of the IBM i server and the fact that it often runs the most critical applications in the business, the difficulty in finding IBM i expertise, as well as the capital expenditure to get into Power 9 technology, is moving customers to look for alternative solutions, Hardy says.
“A lot of customers are in a situation where they say, we’re on a Power7, but we plan on migrating off IBM in next 18 months, so we don’t want a buy a full server,” Hardy says. “We’d rather move to the cloud and that way when we’re done, we’re done and pull the plug on it.”
Of course, Racksquared is just as happy if you continued to run on IBM i and Power, and keep sending it those monthly checks.
“It’s definitely a growth area for us,” Hardy says. “It’s hard for people to migrate away from Power. It is an extremely reliable, resilient platform. They like their platform, they run their mission critical applications on it. So they don’t necessarily want to move away from the platform. But they would sure like to change the cost and support model.”