Paying attention to the best uses of cloud computing, the business benefits of the IBM i, and shrewd use of the platform can keep the i relevant into the future.
While there are possibly many people who think the IBM i has already seen its best days as a platform, there are also others who don't agree with that assessment. While there are some negative-sounding statistics, there are also hopeful signs that developing technology and services, particularly cloud-related, can revive the platform's outlook.
One of these is Simon O'Sullivan, senior vice-president of sales for Maxava's Asia Pacific area. Maxava is a provider of high-availability and disaster-recovery software, Disaster Recovery as a Service (DRaaS), cloud-based monitoring solutions, IBM i and disaster-recovery professional services, and cloud-services expertise. In a recent interview, O'Sullivan laid out the reasons he sees a bright future for the IBM i.
"The IBM i base itself appears to be shrinking at a rate of about four percent per year," O'Sullivan concedes. "It’s a very large base, and there are still around 150,000 businesses on the platform according to IBM, so that’s 6,000 businesses that leave each year. The real issue is that these businesses don’t just leave IBM i—they leave IBM. It’s a huge loss!
"IBM Needs to Get Serious About Engaging with ISVs"
However, O'Sullivan thinks many cases of migration away from the IBM i can be avoided by taking a clear-headed view of the platform's business benefits.
"We hear a lot of stories about how a new CEO will come into a company and want to replace the IBM i. Then they discover the value of the platform and begin to understand the ROI in more detail, and in a lot of cases they stay on the IBM i. I recently brought IBM to a customer site to explain the virtues of the platform, and the customer decided to remain with IBM I, which was great!"
What's more, O'Sullivan sees parts of the i market that are expanding.
"The companies that are looking for high availability and disaster recovery within the IBM i base are actually growing. Maxava is experiencing strong growth as a company, which is very encouraging. We see the adoption of cloud services and models as a way to stem the flow of customers who are leaving the platform and ultimately to begin to generate growth again in the IBM i market. However, IBM needs to get serious about engaging with the IBM i ISVs to achieve this.
"The way in which the IBM i ecosystem (customers, ISVs and IBM partners) is being allowed to shrink due to a lack of focus from IBM is currently IBM's most intractable problem. IBM has a fantastic platform, a loyal customer base, and exciting opportunities, but it requires a total change of focus to realize growth."
IBM does at least seem to be thinking in cloud's direction.
"I like IBM’s quote: 'Data is what, Cloud is how, and Insight is why," O'Sullivan points out. "Maxava has been investing in our cloud infrastructure for some time now, and we believe we are ahead of the curve with DRaaS on IBM i. We also think this fits perfectly with the direction in which IBM is moving because DRaaS is a big part of the worldwide growth in cloud adoption.
"I think cloud will become the predominant mode of distribution for disaster recovery on IBM i. It’s not a fad! With DRaaS, it’s less complicated, less expensive, and just a much better model. Some customers will stick to the traditional model, and that’s fine, and Maxava continues to invest in the traditional DR software, but DRaaS is really gaining some traction. When selling disaster recovery solutions to IBM i customers, it is necessary to offer a variety of options. When you directly compare cloud DRaaS versus traditional, the argument becomes quite compelling."
The Cloud Is Friendly to Software Companies
O'Sullivan sees cloud-based computing as a huge opportunity, both for his own company and other ISVs.
"Maxava has built its own cloud infrastructure in four datacenter locations around the world, and we also work with our partners to deliver our software via the cloud. We have invested a lot of time, energy, and money in our cloud infrastructure. The issues that we have overcome include developing the correct infrastructure and datacenter, developing our software specifically for the cloud, pricing the offering, and also marketing cloud to the IBM i base."
O'Sullivan sees the cloud as a potential boon to nearly any company offering software solutions.
"We have many partners who are third-party MSPs that are running our company's software on their servers. There are no particular challenges to this—in fact, it's easier to control software versions and upgrades in the cloud model because you have a bit more control and visibility than in a traditional model. In fact, for our software licensing, in terms of our current leads, opportunities, and pipeline, I would say it’s about 50/50 cloud services as opposed to traditional software licensing, but I expect it to be 80/20 in favor of cloud within two years."
The upshot is that cloud is a fertile area for expansion in Maxava's view.
"The outlook for software sales versus services sales is also drastically different from just two years ago! This is changing very rapidly, and it’s without a doubt the fastest rate of change Maxava has experienced since our business began back in 1999.
"We want Maxava to be known as the top company for delivering IBM i disaster recovery in the cloud. We really do stand out from our direct competitors in this area with some very large customers using our DRaaS service across our four locations worldwide and also our partner network, which includes some of the world’s biggest disaster recovery vendors."
O'Sullivan notes that control of HA/DR services from mobile devices is also an important aspect of success that can't be ignored.
"We have put a lot of investment into this area, and now Maxava can be monitored and managed from any type of mobile phone and tablet. We also have our new monitoring software, which can be run from an Apple Watch.
COMMON Still Has a Role to Play
"I believe COMMON is still important, and a sense of community among IBM i users is critical to the future of the platform. That is why Maxava has supported COMMON and other IBM i user groups with grants from the Maxava iFoundation. Maxava has awarded $240,000 in grants to various IBM i user groups over the past five years."
But the bottom line, at least for O'Sullivan, is all about being mindful of the opportunities that advancing technology presents.
"HA/DR, at least, is moving to the cloud," O'Sullivan emphasizes. "If the various HA/DR-type products are not cloud-enabled and cloud-ready, then they will be left behind as customers move to a DRaaS model."