Thoroughly Modern: Infrastructure Challenges And Easing Into The Cloud
November 8, 2021 Marcel Sarrasin
There is an old saying, purportedly a Chinese curse but never proven to be anything but a saying by English diplomats who interfaced with the Middle Kingdom: “May you live in interesting times.” There is an equally mistaken etymology that the word for “crisis” in Chinese is comprised of two Mandarin words for “danger” and “opportunity.”
Even though people misunderstand the source of these sayings, and the latter one is just simply not true at all, it is still the case that there has never been a more interesting time in the information technology sector in general and in the IBM i market, and it is all true that there is opportunity as well as danger as IBM i shops plot out the future of their infrastructure. There is always opportunity embedded in danger, and there is always danger embedded in opportunity. This is the spice of life, that what gives excitement also gives meaning.
These interesting times are the main reason why Fresche Solutions, which is best known for its portfolio of application development and modernization tools for the IBM i market, acquired Abacus Solutions a month ago. Abacus is a provider of hosting and cloud computing services as well as other managed services for IBM i customers, and forms the foundation of a new Fresche that can integrate the IBM i stack from application code all the way out to the cloud, and manage the whole shebang if customers no longer want to deal with the lower level infrastructure.
To get a sense of the opportunities and the dangers ahead for IBM i shops, I sat down with Thomas Harris, the chief operating officer at Abacus, and did a webcast about the low risk, high value initiatives that can help companies ease into the cloud. The following is an excerpt from that webcast, which went over considerably more material than we can put into a Thoroughly Modern column. But this will give you a feel for the kinds of strategic and tactical things that IBM i shops need to think about. We strongly encourage you to listen to the replay of the webcast if you had not already listened in.
Marcel Sarrasin: Some of the common challenges that we see in the infrastructure side of IBM i, and it’s actually very similar sometimes to the application side, but skillset challenges. You’ve got people retiring, and it’s almost that it’s more risky on the IBM i infrastructure side because you might only have one system admin or one operations person. Also, people have a priority or challenge of hardware modernization or refreshing. When does it come time to invest in all-new hardware? How do you make that decision? How much CPW do you need? How much storage do you need? Every IBM i shop is always looking at reducing cost, so how do you reduce infrastructure costs? Are there things you could offload over to the cloud?
Everybody is talking cloud. People are at different levels of moving to the cloud, or considering it, but taking advantage of having somebody manage it for you, looking at controlling your costs more, reducing risks, always having an up-to-date operating system and security. There are always compliance and security concerns on the platform – really any platform, especially nowadays. People are always looking at better high availability and disaster recovery plans. Let’s face it, putting a tape in the back of your trunk is not a strategy or a plan, so there’s work to be done there. And OS upgrades and other activities like this that you have to do very irregularly or maybe only one time in your career, or even once every few years. Having the proper testing in place is another challenge on these OS upgrades. Why do they take so long sometimes? There are a lot of companies that have the challenge of just managing their IBM i infrastructure in general.
These are mundane tasks, and this is where we talk about where your focus is as an IBM i company when it comes to infrastructure. Is some of your staff really just doing mundane tasks – disaster recovery, tape backup, over and over again, right? Is that really strategic? Is it a good use of their time? The other thing to look at in terms of the opposite of mundane tasks is highly specialized tasks. I consider this to be things like if I’m going to put a roof on my house, is that something that I want to do? I got to buy all the tools. I don’t have the necessary skills. It might be something I do once in my lifetime, hopefully not twice, but is it better to hire somebody for those types of specialized skillsets?
These are a lot of the challenges that we see. You know, everybody’s familiar with the HelpSystems survey by now. Very similar concerns, right? There’s always the security, the HA and the disaster recovery has actually been number two for probably the last three years. Modernizing applications, which again on the Fresche side, we help you with that in many different ways, but IBM i skills, number four there. Again, it’s always there. It’s always one of the key challenges that everybody’s facing.
Now, some of the great news from this HelpSystems survey: The usage of the IBM i seems to be going up on the survey, where 76 percent to 100 percent of core applications are running on IBM i for people who have IBM i. That’s up by 5 percent from the previous year. Everybody, of course in the survey, loves the IBM i: 92 percent of people say it’s a higher ROI than other servers. We’re seeing more developers doing work on the platform. And of course, there’s been the pandemic COVID struggles, with remote access to the IBM i and security concerns.
When people registered for this webinar, one of the interesting things we did was ask: “What’s your biggest challenge?”
A lot of people said, “I need to defend my IBM i to my CEO. I need to justify why we should keep investing in IBM i,” So I changed gears a little bit. I added a couple of slides around that point, because so many people mentioned that. One way to look at this is cloud is used in many parts of your business already, you know? You’ve probably done it with your email, your task management, with maybe Jira, your CRM with Salesforce, many different ways, and everybody thinks it’s a great idea. Well, you can do a lot of the same types of things and have your own applications in an IBM i cloud as well.
One of my favorite things for defending the platform is it’s a few years old now, but this Quark Lepton survey has a lot of great metrics that you can use to explain the value of your IBM i to your high-level management, including the total cost of ownership compared to other platforms. There’s a lot of great metrics like this, but I think one of the key things that people really need to be aware of is you have an amazing platform.
But if all that has been developed on IBM i so far is green screen applications, maybe even hosted on an older operating system, hopefully nobody’s at V5 anymore, but there’s always a few out there, and you’re just producing green screens, that’s what everybody sees, and it’s not helping your day-to-day business in any new way, you can’t really blame people for questioning the platform. They’re are new to it, and if that’s what they see, then you can be sure they will be asking questions – “What’s a function key? What’s sub-file options?” All that stuff.
But the reality is, for over 20 years now, the IBM i has been capable of anything that you want to do for applications. Any type of web and mobile application, whether it’s RPG or using open-source languages like PHP, or Java, or Node.js, you can do that. You can take an API-type architecture for your applications. You can have this all hosted on the cloud, on the secure, stable platform with a low total cost of ownership. That’s what you can be doing, and everything’s possible right now on IBM i. So if you’re already doing this, they’re probably not even going to ask you, “Oh, what platform’s this running on?” Or, “This looks legacy. This looks dated. How is this helping our business?” Because once you do this, you can change. We often use the word digital transformation. You can transform your business, how you compete, the user experience, entering new markets. You can do so much, all from the value of your IBM i, with all the data that you have on it already.
Thomas Harris: I want to talk through a couple of things here relating to cloud adoption strategies. You may be in the early stages of cloud adoption with strategies that you’ve heard in the marketplace, heard around, with other organizations in networking events, or conversations with other businesses out there. And a couple of those strategies may deal with a cloud-first adoption model. This strategy is really focused on, at the core principle, really seeking to answer what applications, what IT tasks, what non-revenue-generating activities can we move over to the cloud as a first priority? You know, what are those things that we can move over quickly and easily, to get some initial bang for our buck. What kind of mundane tasks can we offload? And then what can we start thinking about strategically over the next few weeks or months or years to really put a plan to plan in place for us to have a revenue-generating functions moving into the cloud as well?
Those that are on that cloud-first adoption model are really centered on being able to take advantage of the cloud options and the strategy that’s a part of that, really around scalability, cost, reliability and configurations that you can customize. And in that cloud-first adoption model, it’s usually those that are looking to move those applications that are easy to transition out of the gate pretty quickly, whether that be the email servers, email applications, whether that’s voice or whether that’s some combination of any of those non-revenue generating, more mundane task types of applications, being able to move those into the cloud first.
And then putting a plan together, a one-to-three or even five-year plan as far, how do we get our revenue-generating applications? How do we get our revenue-generating business functions into a cloud native environment? That’s really the core focus for those cloud-first adoption models. That really hinges on everything that’s strategically done within the business. Every decision that’s made has that cloud-first adoption model in mind as far as, how can we optimize? How can we move this into a platform that gives us the greater chance of focusing on the core applications of our business so that we can continue to grow revenue and being able to focus on the core aspects of our operation?
Now, I will say with the cloud-first adoption model, cloud-first does not mean cloud only. You’ve got a very good chance that not everyone is a good candidate for the cloud. There’s some applications and some core tasks that don’t work well in the cloud. And cloud-first mentality doesn’t mean that we’re moving everything to the cloud, but it’s really our core thought process.
What can we move to the cloud? Does it make a good decision? Is it good strategically for us to move or to think about moving these services to the cloud? The whole goal for the cloud-first but doesn’t mean cloud only, is to really starting to think strategically about optimizing, modernizing core revenue-generating functions, being able to focus on how can we make the business the center of what we’re doing so that we’re not focusing on those mundane tasks or the tasks that are not done as often as Marshall mentioned earlier in the presentation? What are some of those things that we don’t focus on that often? Can we offload those into a cloud service model? Or what are those mundane tasks that we’re working on that we can offload initially?
That’s where you get into that hybrid cloud adoption model. It’s really a combination of thinking through what’s best to be placed in the cloud, what’s best to be able to… Benefits of a cloud adoption model, the scalability, configurability, repeatability, costs and reliability, but also what makes sense to keep on-prem. And having a hybrid cloud adoption model, having some on premise, some in the cloud and being able to use the best of both worlds to be able to get you to that level.
There’s a couple of strategies specific to the IBM i that I wanted to talk through that we’ve seen as a part of our organization, as well as what we’ve dealt in the marketplace and with other prospects and customers out there is that there’s a crawl, walk, run approach. Most people are very familiar or comfortable with this approach. Being able to obviously crawl before you walk, walk before you run, being able to have a staggered approach to get to the cloud, if that’s within your strategy, and being able to have a hybrid premise option so that you can take advantage of both worlds and really starting to think about how we can ease into the cloud. What are some of those applications or strategy activities that we can start to put into that cloud model first and crawl our way there, offload some of those more mundane tasks, and then starting to hand over more as time goes on, building that one-to-three-year strategy planning year so that you can understand what is going to be effective in that crawl, walk, run approach?
Another strategy that we’ve seen often for the IBM i is that there’s a big bang or some sort of a diving in head-first methodology. There’s some driver that’s causing you to have to adopt the cloud immediately, whether that’s a gap in skillset, if you’ve got a retiring workforce or skill sets. I’m sure most of us in our time over the last year or two have heard of the gray tsunami and the retiring skill set around the i. Or the hardware refresh activity, if your hardware is coming up for lease or if you’re long in the tooth on your hardware, you may be forced to make a very quick leap into the cloud that you may not have wanted to. That’s kind of that big bang or diving in head-first mentality as well.
Similarly, for the IBM i strategy specific around the offloading non-revenue generating tasks and helping to shore up those skill sets, those are all around driving those functions that are immediately pressing. What do I need to do now in order to get to this next stage next? And then from a hybrid strategy perspective, how can I help supplement some of these best practices out there that we either don’t have the skillset in-house, we don’t have the infrastructure in house, we don’t have the resources availability to do this in house? What can we do to help supplement some of these best practices, looking for solutions that will help us shore up business continuity planning or disaster recovery? When was the last time you tested your BCP plan or disaster recovery test, and when was it successful? A successful test is important. Just doing a DR test and not having it successful, you need to keep wrenching and repeating it until you get to that successful test and being able to utilize some of these cloud vendors that would be able to provide that supplement is extremely helpful.
One of the other things leaning into that mentality of how do you ease into the cloud is how can we utilize and leverage disaster recovery services? Say you don’t have a secondary site, secondary location, how can we leverage disaster recovery or offsite backup management if we don’t have a secondary site? You can start easing into the cloud in that way, by using some of these solution providers to provide that service for you.
If you’ve got a upcoming operating system upgrade, or if you’ve got a hardware refresh that requires an operating system upgrade, or if you’ve got a new application set that’s coming down that you need to upgrade to the latest and greatest your application provider is requiring you to upgrade for, continuing to maintain their support from a software perspective, how are you going to do that in your environment if you don’t have the available resources or capacity or hardware to really be able to test those activities?
Being able to leverage the cloud providers and easing into that cloud approach is one way to test out how you like those cloud providers. Are they providing a service and a value to you? Being able to do some of the OS upgrades and software testing in an isolated environment that you’re not having to interfere or impact your existing on-premise production system are very value-added propositions to a company? And really also helping to undergird that easing into the cloud mentality. And it goes back to that cloud-first hybrid model as well.
The IBM i specific cloud options, especially for Abacus, I wanted to talk through just real quickly and briefly on the next couple slides. Some of the answers to these strategies, wanting to provide some ways that we can not only help, but also how we’ve seen that into the marketplace and being able to shore up some of those gaps there themselves.
From an IBM i cloud perspective, as we’ve talked about, there’s multiple different strategies, whether it’s the cloud-first, the hybrid model, or a big bang diving all in. Abacus, we have the capability to provide a cloud approach. We can also provide a very unique offering around the on-premise environment or a hybrid environment to where we can be able to compliment your existing resources, compliment your existing strategy, to be able to come alongside and provide either the full cloud approach. Whether that’s on-premise in your location, whether it’s in our location or whether it’s some sort of hybrid in between the two.
We also have various levels of offerings to foray into that cloud approach. Whether you’re an entry, iCloud or entry cloud or enterprise cloud, there’s certain services that we can tack on. As we’ll mention here briefly, the high availability of the service, disaster recovery and backup as a service that we can layer on top of your cloud methodology to really help shore up some of those skillset gaps, being able to take off some of those mundane tasks that you don’t have the capacity to handle right now, as well as we also provide a Wintel cloud environment. So you can bring your ancillary x86 systems alongside your IBM i, those things that are tightly coupled one to the next.
Another way to ease into the Abacus cloud, as we talked about a little bit briefly beforehand, is the, how do you handle some of these one-off needs, an upcoming operating system upgrade? How do you handle the fact that you need to have a space dedicated to this without having to impact your current production workloads? How do you upgrade or test that new application or new operating system in a way that doesn’t impact production itself?
One of the ways that you can ease into the Abacus cloud is allow us to provide you a cloud environment, a replica of what your system is on-prem, that’s isolated, that’s in a network island, so that it doesn’t interfere or impact any of your production workloads so that you can test those operating system upgrades. You can test the new software features, the new applications features that you need to start running on, and then starting to build an approach or strategy around how to do that on-prem.
Maybe that means you need some help with disaster recovery or even backup services, being able to leverage the Abacus cloud as your target site, your target facility for disaster recovery, or even high availability. Maybe you don’t have a secondary location on-prem, you don’t have a secondary office space that you can actually replicate to, or it may not be far enough. If it’s a few miles away or if it’s less than a hundred miles away, it’s probably not very good from a disaster recovery perspective. Being able to have something that’s more geographically dispersed, being able to have it in a different facility is something that you can leverage in being able to ease into the Abacus cloud with as well.
As well as offsite backup replication. Not being able to stick your backup tape in the trunk of the car and call it a good disaster recovery plan, or even offsite storage, being able to leverage some of the solutions to ease into that space and us being your target location is something that can be really effective as far as being able to ease into that cloud mentality as well.
The infrastructure side is another key component here. One of the things around the infrastructure is that you may start having to start thinking through what are your strategies for how to deal with that infrastructure? Is there a hardware refresh upcoming? Are you ending or nearing the end of a lease? Do you have some considerations about pre-owned IBM i hardware? Which workloads work best on those systems? Do we need to start looking at strategies to move that into the cloud? Or is that something that we still want to keep on-prem and having to maintain it with hardware maintenance, with software maintenance? Is your current business partner not providing hardware maintenance? What are some of those drivers that you’re thinking of that are leading you to start thinking through, “What am I going to do with this hardware? And we’re getting long in the tooth and we’ve got to start making some decisions around what to do with that.”
One of the things that you can start thinking through is using a cloud adoption model to help offshore some of that hardware needs. There’s also some pre-owned equipment that we can also start to kind of think through if you have a project that’s underway that you need to have something for short-term, maybe a rental sort of an engagement as well. And then how do you get that installed? When you get the hardware, that’s great, but then what do you do with the hardware ones that arise at your location?
Being able to install it, being able to do the hardware migration, being able to do the testing and the software upgrades and operating system upgrades in order to take advantage of that operating system, and coming up with a strategy of being able to utilize that new hardware, and being able to implement it in like kind.
This content was sponsored by Fresche Solutions.