Looking to the cloud to augment or replace selected IT functions provides numerous service options to choose from for IBM i users.
As the strategy of choosing the cloud to supplement or displace enterprise IT infrastructure expands, so do the issues surrounding making such a decision. While the expense and implied surrender of some measure of control over IT operations remain as stumbling blocks for many, the expansion of service providers and service options is making cloud services more and more attractive to others.
For the IBM i, cloud service option considerations put the platform's users in the main stream of business computing, as most of the issues are platform-independent. (For more information on concerns in switching to cloud services, see "Considerations for Choosing a Cloud Service Provider.")
Three technical issues always come to the fore once an enterprise has made the decision to switch to cloud services, even if only for backup, and particularly in the case of outsourcing application-software access. These issues are uptime guarantees, the ability of the service provider to customize offerings for customers, and application-performance metrics. For this article, we'll ask a couple of cloud-service providers how they view these issues from their side of the negotiating table, and we'll conclude with a listing of cloud service providers that cater to IBM i users.
The Quest for Perfect Uptime
When access to systems goes down, CEOs and similar executive types who can no longer make some thunder with their own IT people suddenly find themselves questioning the decision to move to the cloud. To answer this concern in advance, cloud providers offer the Service Level Agreement (SLA), which is supposed to guarantee how much system availability the provider can offer without some form of compensation. Everyone realizes 100 percent uptime is impossible, but that's really what everyone wants. So the question becomes one of how much uptime is "good enough?" The answer seems to be a minimum of 99.5 percent.
"We do include an uptime guarantee in our
To a large extent, however, cloud service uptime is dependent on the Internet. While there hasn't so far been an example of a prolonged Web shutdown, and any such incident seems unlikely, the consequences could be devastating for cloud-dependent operations should one occur.
Unlikely or not, service providers are aware of the possibility.
"Our VPN-based connectivity options are fully redundant (diverse providers); at least we can manage a single-provider outage," reassures Abacus' Johnson. "Many of our customers have deployed production WAN connectivity into our hosting via Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) with our VPN as a backup to an MPLS provider outage. Interestingly enough—and the readers know this—even the enterprise private WAN providers experience outages that are more than an hour in duration."
"We have always supported private line connectivity to our sites as an alternative to using the Internet," points out Infor's Plourde.
Customizing the Contract
Another frequent issue is the extent to which cloud-service providers are willing, or able, to step outside boilerplate contracts and SLAs to offer customized services. Abacus and Infor express different views of this service aspect.
"Our applications tend to be highly configurable, even supporting business logic in many cases, so we rarely see true customization being asked for," maintains Plourde, although he acknowledges customization is provided in Infor's Enterprise Asset Management service offering.
"We provide customization post initial contract via Addendums," explains Johnson. "Our experience is that a typical customer may do three or four addendums per year. These could include additional capacity (short- or long-term) and additional workloads. As the customer becomes comfortable with the quality of delivery, they look to move other applications/workloads into the cloud model. So, [customization] is frequent and [requires] a high level of communication between the customer and hosting provider."
SLAs and Performance Metrics
If you check many pubs that serve the general IT market, you've seen that one of the new hot topics about cloud services is whether or not SLAs should include performance metrics other than uptime for software application access. In particular, some advocate formulating an
"Response time guarantees are difficult because there are many variables that are outside of the control of the service provider, including the Internet, customer ISP connections, firewalls, proxies, LANs, WANs, desktop hardware, desktop software, desktop virus protection, and so forth," cautions Plourde.
"On top of that, there are millions of function points within an application that can have different performance metrics under normal operating conditions. Customers can also have the ability to create some of their own SQL, which can have varied performance, depending on the quality of the SQL. Finally, every customer's data is different and can have some effect on performance," he adds.
"For iSeries-specific workloads, we try to gather historical performance in advance of migrating customers to our cloud," Johnson notes. "We utilize the MPG Performance Navigator Capacity Planning Toolset to fully understand premise-based performance and then configure our cloud to meet or exceed. When providing Infrastructure as a Service—we can guarantee server (CPW), storage (IOPs), and network minimums—the challenge is that we don't control the application software: how efficient it is or isn't and how the customer's utilization of that solution can impact performance. One of the advantages of the cloud is that we can very granularly and rapidly address performance issues vs. a premise-based deployment."
Some major cloud-service providers for IBM i are listed below with a brief summary notation. You should consult the vendor Web sites noted to get complete information about the depth and variety of features offered by each service provider.
Of course, when looking for any software or service, it's always helpful to consult the MC Showcase Buyer's Guide.
Cloud Computing Service Providers for IBM i
Abacus also provides cloud computing and remote IT infrastructure management services, including assessments, maintenance, and business continuity services.
ABC offers remote IT management services, including help desk, network monitoring, software supports, and audits.
Able-One's cloud-related offerings include consulting for creating or using a cloud environment, business continuity services, and virtualization services.
Intacct is a cloud-based software solution designed to help small and midsized businesses improve company performance via desktop computers.
Aktion's virtualization services include virtualization impact assessments, technology consulting, and virtualization installations and support.
CAS Severn offers virtualization and cloud-environment consulting, virtual infrastructures, and virtual-appliance deployment for application backup and performance improvement.
Champion Solutions Group
Champion's cloud computing offerings include backup services for desktops, file sharing for internal and external users, disaster recovery, servers on demand, and selected software-as-a-Service (SaaS) Windows applications.
Champion's services include server virtualization, storage virtualization, development of cloud storage strategies, application virtualization, cloud-based services and support, and desktop virtualization.
Cohesive Flexible Technologies
VNS3 VNS3 is a hybrid overlay network appliance that helps customers connect to networking services in cloud environments. It concurrently functions as a router, switch, firewall, VPN concentrator, protocol distributor, and scriptable software-defined networking (SDN) device.
Cloud Server for the IBM i provides virtual machines for client use with escalating levels of service that add storage area networks and disaster recovery options.
Dedicated HostingCustom Hosting provides remote hosting services for IBM i and mixed, multiplatform environments. Additional service options include IBM i Dedicated Server Managed Hosting, IBM i Remote Administration and IBM i Remote Monitoring, and IBM i Disaster Recovery.
Connectria's service offerings include complete outsourcing of all data center operations, which includes both physical and logical separation of customers' servers and 24/7 support.
Contemporary Computer Services, Inc. (CCSI)
CCSI provides cloud-based network-management and other IT services.
CPS Technology Solutions
CPS' Cloud Computing offers a focus on IBM i. Services include application hosting, software testing environments, and disaster-recovery services using CPS servers.
Netherlands-based Databalance offers high-availability services via the cloud.
DataNational offers cloud-based system-recovery services tailored to IBM i. Services include disk-to-disk backup and recovery, tape restoration, and high availability.
DataNational offers hosting services for IBM i ERP, MES, warehousing, EDI, e-business, and email applications.
Data Storage Corporation
SafeData Cloud offers cloud-based storage for IBM i, AIX, and Windows applications.
SureSource Hosting provides Power Systems-hosted distribution and supply-chain applications.
EVault's cloud-related services include server/desktop/laptop backup and recovery, disaster recovery, and offsite data replication.
Australian company Evolution Systems' cloud offering provides hosting platforms for your company's custom software applications.
First National Technology Solutions
First National offers remote hosting, backup, software upgrade, change management, and other services for companies with i servers.
First Option's iSeries Hosting service hosts and maintains software applications of small-to-medium-sized businesses on First Option's servers.
The iSeries Watchdog is a cloud-based monitoring service that watches servers installed at client sites.
Fiserve offers multiple financial and customer-management solutions on a SaaS basis.
Cloud on Power Systems is a virtualization structure for Power Systems running AIX, IBM i, or Linux.
IBM's developerWorks Web site offers advice and a forum for programmers on cloud computing issues.
IBM SmartCloud Enterprise is IBM's "infrastructure as a service" offering and includes server, storage, and network monitoring.
IBM's Virtual Loaner Program lets companies use the cloud without having an IBM i by offering remote access to IBM hardware, including Power Systems running AIX, IBM i, and Linux.
Smart Cloud Services and Technologies for the
Infor delivers its CRM, ERP, asset-management, workforce-management, and other applications on a SaaS basis, as well as outsourced application deployment and infrastructure platforms for Windows PCs.
iTech Solutions Group
iTech provides cloud-based HA and DR as well as remote hosting and management services.
IT Solutions Group
ITSG offers cloud-based high-availability, disaster-recovery, and HA/DR testing services.
JDA Software Group
JDA Cloud Services specialize in JDA's supply chain applications, but also include general services in cloud services implementation, hardware and software administration, and operation and optimization services.
IMOD is a cloud-management software product that automates deployment and service-level management across public, private, and hybrid clouds.
Key Information Systems
Key provides business continuity and virtualization services in a cloud environment.
LANSA's aXes-Cloud provides browser interfaces for legacy IBM i application software to help facilitate conversion to a cloud-computing environment.
Logicalis' consulting services include advice on setting up cloud-computing environments.
Mainline Information Systems
Mainline's cloud-computing services include application server virtualization, IT-as-a-Service, enhanced disaster recovery, and consulting.
MindSHIFT servers can host applications from IBM i, Linux, UNIX, and Windows systems.
NSPI's service offerings include shared hosting, remote systems monitoring/management, and HA/DR for servers running IBM i, AIX, Linux, and Windows.
Denmark-based RZKH provides remote data-center operations services for SMBs.
Sage offers its accounting, human resources, enterprise resource planning (ERP), and other applications for IBM i on a SaaS basis.
SAP makes its ERP applications available on a SaaS basis.
Sonasoft provides virtual server disaster recovery solutions.
Symmetry's i in the Sky is a group of cloud-hosting solutions for hosting your in-house corporate software, software from third parties such as SAP, or software your company wants to offer other companies on a SaaS basis. It also includes disaster recovery services for these scenarios and related consulting services.
Wipro Infocrossing's Managed Cloud offers a cloud-based infrastructure that delivers a range of IT services and a cloud server infrastructure that can be scaled up or down as business needs require.
Wipro Infocrossing's Managed Servers provides different cloud-based servers that can be shared or dedicated and customized with varieties of storage, memory, performance, monitoring, OS, and other service options.
Xerox's Cloud Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) helps companies with IBM i, HP, Sun, and Windows servers move their applications into a cloud environment. The service provides hosting for legacy and third-party apps and databases originally running under IBM i, AIX, Linux, Windows, and other OSes.