Recognizing that many small but growing businesses are short on IT skills to adequately protect critical data on Windows servers, IBM offers an easy way at a price that makes sense.
One of the things that I have discerned about IBM over the years is that the company tries to give customers what they want, which undoubtedly has led to its success. While the company I'm sure has principles, it isn't weighed down by dogma. Its solutions may not always be the most popular in the marketplace, but there usually is a solution that works, and it's one that is more likely than not put together with some thought behind it.
I do hear complaints about the company from Business Partners who may feel at times that the solutions they are asked to sell don't make sense economically. Prices clearly are coming down all the time, however, something that, in the long run, may not be in a Business Partner's best interest. Occasionally, I'll hear that a piece of equipment isn't reliable, and customers are reportedly shocked when a disk drive fails. These occurrences are becoming less frequent as well, and computers in general are getting increasingly reliable with the introduction of such advances as solid-state drives and virtualization.
So what is the secret to IBM's success? Ultimately, it has to be customer satisfaction. If customers aren't happy with your products--or they can't afford your products--you are eventually going to go out of business. IBM tries hard to provide quality products and services that are above average. You may pay more for them, but you generally are getting a more reliable, more integrated solution than you'll find from its competitors.
Staying with this theme, it has always surprised me that IBM has developed some very robust operating systems--that may or may not have been accepted by the marketplace--yet sold ones offered by its competitors simply because those were what people wanted. Most readers will remember the battle for the desktop back in the nineties between Windows and OS/2 with IBM eventually conceding the market to Microsoft. Anyone who used OS/2 would tell you it was a better product than Windows because it was more stable. Windows is still an unstable platform, and it's amazing that some businesses continue to run their entire operations on it. IBM is wise enough to recognize that if people are going to use Windows, then they're going to have problems with it and lose data. What is the company's reaction? Certainly not contempt; instead it regards the situation as a business opportunity and develops products to address the reliability issues that Windows presents.
It introduced one such product this week that truly is a blessing in disguise for SMBs. The Comprehensive Data Protection Solution Express (CDPS) says it all. I can't say that I'm exactly thrilled with the name since it's too long to be adopted by Windows users, who generally like their computers sleek, sexy, and offered in five or six different colors. But if it works, then who cares what it's called? The Comprehensive Data Protection Solution is for Windows servers. Let's see--why would that be, again? Just kidding. There are so many threats out there today that companies are vulnerable to losing data no matter what operating system they're running. Sure IBM i essentially has no problems with viruses affecting DB2 data, and an integrated Power Systems server or System i has a reputation for reliability. But companies aren't buying all these HA and DR solutions today because they like to spend money. They're doing it out of necessity. Any number of things can cause data loss, but in SMB offices, one of the biggest culprits is operator error. Smaller companies don't have professional IT managers. It's the office manager who often is assigned to backup duties. Whether it gets done or not and whether there's a 99.999 percent chance that the backed up data can be restored in a timely fashion is another question.
Hackers like those remote offices too, where companies frequently store limited instances of sensitive data, such as social security and credit card numbers, on Windows servers even though the main office may be running an IBM i. And even if you have the hatches pretty well battened down against outside threats, how do you know one of the employees isn't going to turn mean and wipe out your entire database after he learns there aren't going to be any raises this year? But if you're really unlucky, you'll have your servers on the ground floor during a hurricane that leaves two feet of water all across town.
Needless to say, IBM has seen it all, and they finally decided enough is enough. Customers, it seems, are mad as hell at Microsoft, and they're not going to take it anymore. Fancy a scene out of Network (1976). Enter Howard Beale (played by Peter Finch), carrying a box imprinted with the Windows 7 logo. He launches a tirade about Windows security issues. But, before Microsoft can release the product (it's just been announced that worldwide general availability for Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 will be this October), IBM introduces a solution to offset everyone's security angst. The solution will back up all the windows servers in a company and restore the data in a matter of hours. Even as data is being restored in the background, users have access to applications and data so they can keep working. Now that's a trick.
The solution includes Tivoli Storage Manager FastBack Center software, a System x Express x3550 server featuring a quad-core Intel Xeon processor, and a System Storage DS3200. The DS3200 is really an entry-level storage system with a serial-attached SCSI (SAS) design that supports up to three System x or BladeCenter servers and offers fibre channel-like performance and reliability at a low cost. However, the solution can also include higher-end, more-robust physical disk storage solutions, including the DS3300, DS3400, DS4200, DS4700, DS4800, all the way up to the DS5000 engineered for the most demanding midrange and high performance computing environments.
A recent survey of midmarket companies found that 72 percent of respondents cited security as a critical IT solution priority. One wonders what the other 28 percent were thinking about when they were filling out the survey form, but apparently they were so clueless about security that they failed to cite it as a critical priority. Whatever. The solution offered by IBM includes hardware and software that midsized organizations need to enhance their data protection capabilities in a Windows environment. It has patented "express mount" technology for instant disk-based recovery. Needless to say, while tape can take hours or days to recover lost data, creating extremely expensive downtime with questionable chances for success, Tivoli Storage Manager FastBack combined with IBM System Storage can reduce recovery time to minutes and ensures recovery reliability to the transaction level, according to IBM. It's a true set-it-and-forget-it solution that eliminates user error and offers very easy administration. The System x server is dedicated to running Tivoli Storage FastBack, and for those who have Exchange and SQL Server, CDPS offers granular data protection with fast, reliable recovery of individual files, emails, database transactions, and entire volumes. Users literally can recover data and be back at work in minutes, according to IBM. The solution includes ASIC-based RAID 6 protection with great performance, the company says. The physical storage enclosure can support different types of drives, including high-performance fibre channel or SAS and high-capacity SATA drives in the same enclosure, a nice way to reduce costs over supporting multiple-drive enclosures. System Storage holds volume group metadata on all drives in the array, a feature that allows drives to be relocated within the storage system or even migrated to another system.
The best thing about this solution is that it's priced right. Through the end of November, IBM is offering the IBM Comprehensive Data Solution Express with the DS3200 at nearly a 40 percent discount off the regular price. For a mere $298 per month, qualified customers can let IBM Global Financing own it while they begin to reap the benefits and continue to do so for 36 months. The $298 is less than what most people would pay on a used car today. The $9,500 price tag represents a generous savings of $6,000. Who knows how much IBM is making on this package, but it's clear the motivation behind it is not to pump up the price of its stock but to get some bulletproof protection in the hands of those Windows devotees so that they can go to sleep at night without worrying about when the critical data loss will occur, instead having sweet dreams about how easy it's going to be to restore the data once the inevitable eventually happens. What can I say; I'm a fatalist.
IBM also is offering a second option to help SMBs address the challenge of protecting and recovering data on Windows servers: IBM ServicePac. It is essentially unlimited phone support for System x and BladeCenter servers and storage devices along with all related software. Why does IBM think businesses need and may take advantage of this?
"We're seeing a widening gap between the growing need for data availability and the ability to protect and recover that data using traditional methods," says Surjit Chana, vice president of marketing for IBM General Business. "The first step in developing a cost-effective backup and recovery plan is to understand what data is most important and where it resides," says Chana.
We have to believe this is another example of IBM giving customers what they want. While IBM could--and perhaps eventually will--try to sell these Windows customers on a more robust platform (such as IBM i), the company sees a need to help these customers while they grow their businesses on a Windows platform, which they have come to understand and rely upon. That they may be building their house on a flawed foundation doesn't matter at this point. What matters is figuring out a way to recover quickly when that Windows server lets you down. It appears IBM has come up with an affordable means for SMBs to have a reliable backup and recovery solution that is so far superior to tape that even those who have not tried and failed to restore data from backup tape will instantly recognize its benefits.