IBM i High Availability: A Met Need?
March 7, 2022 Alex Woodie
Data from the IBM i Marketplace Survey suggests an interesting phenomenon may be playing out when it comes to high availability and disaster recovery: As the usage of HA solutions goes up, the percentage of users expressing concerns about HA and DR goes down.
After peaking at 66 percent in HelpSystems IBM i Marketplace Survey for 2020, the percentage of IBM i users declaring high availability and disaster recovery (HA/DR) a concern has dropped each of the past two years. For the 2022 survey, which was released last month, only 59 percent of survey participants declared HA/DR to be a top concern (see Figure 1 below).
That is still good enough for second place in HelpSystems’ pantheon of IBM i concerns, which includes cybersecurity, the perennial top vote-getter. In fact, for the past six years, the order of top concerns has remained identical in HelpSystems annual survey, with cybersecurity and HA/DR taking the top two spots, followed by modernizing applications and IBM i skills, in that order. (In this analysis, we hesitate to include data from the 2016 survey, which showed a much different distribution of numbers and concerns, with security garnering only a 33 percent share.)
What’s interesting though is that over roughly the same period of time, as the concern about HA/DR has gone down as the actual adoption rate of HA solutions has gone up in the IBM i installed base (see figure 2).
According to the 2016 IBM i Marketplace Survey, 44 percent of survey-takers reported having installed an HA solution. That figure grew to 60 percent for the 2021 IBM i Marketplace Survey, before dropping to 59 percent for the most recent study (which reflects data collected in late 2021).
That begs the question: Is high availability becoming a met need for IBM i customers? It makes sense that, as companies take steps to shore up their servers against unexpected outages by implementing an HA solution, that they cease to be as concerned about it as before.
There is other data from the Marketplace Survey that suggests that premise may hold water, including growth in the number of servers that IBM i customers run and a decrease in one-server shops.
In the 2016 IBM i Marketplace Survey, HelpSystems tells us that 52 percent of customers ran between two and five servers (actually, it said 52.3 percent, but HelpSystems wisely moved away from using decimal points in its survey figures a few years ago, so we’re rounding the figures from past reports to the closest whole number). The figure rose to 56 percent in 2018 and hit a high of 59 percent in 2020 before dropping to 58 percent for the 2022 report.
The percentage of single-server shops has shown similar movements. In the 2016 report, 35 percent reported having a single Power server. That figured dropped to 27 percent in 2018 before rising to 28 percent in 2020 and 30 percent in 2022.
While the data doesn’t paint a perfect picture for the premise stated above, there seems to be a general trend at work here. As the percentage of IBM i shops reporting deployment of HA solutions goes up, the percentage of shops with multiple serves also goes up. This, in turn, roughly jibes with the decline in the percentage of IBM i shops expressing a concern in HA/DR.
There is some danger in extrapolating too much from the HelpSystems data and trying to find patterns in year-to-year comparisons, as the company has told us before. HelpSystems has little control over who takes the survey every year. While that might sound good for generating randomness, this method is generally not conducive to the type of random sampling that scientists would prefer for making statistically sound projections about the population at large.
But the perfect is the enemy of the good, as somebody once said (alternative “You go to war with the survey data you have, not with the survey data you wish you had”), and this is the best data that we have. We also have this line from the 2022 IBM i Marketplace Survey itself: “Multiple servers continue to reflect more and more people implementing high availability solutions.”
Not surprisingly, software-based high availability solutions from vendors like HelpSystems, Precisely, Maxava, iSam Blue, Shield Advanced Solutions, and others continue to dominate the spectrum, accounting for 66 percent of the HA user base, according to HelpSystems’ report. IBM PowerHA, which is dubbed a hardware-based HA solution, is used by 22 percent of HA users, the report states.
Moving beyond HA into DR, an even 50 percent of survey respondents use tape for DR, followed by 33 percent using virtual tape libraries (VTLs) and 15 percent using cloud backups. Only 2 percent of survey-takers say they have no HA or DR systems in place–which is a great number for the industry as a whole, but makes you wonder what is going on at those individual organizations.
In the end analysis, the continued adoption of HA solutions is definitely a good thing, according to Ian Jarman, the CTO of IBM Lab Services at the IBM facility in Rochester, Minnesota. But there’s a difference between having HA installed and having the confidence that it will work when needed, he notes.
“We have a very strong high availability practice, so we’re always encouraged to see that strong high availability number there,” Jarman said during the recent HelpSystems webinar presenting the survey’s results. “We just encourage people to make sure that not only do they have high availability solutions in place, but they’re doing regular testing of their role swaps and so on, so this is a good trend.”