It can be tempting to save on systems operations costs by turning to a cloud hosting service. However, connectivity, security, and loss of control remain significant issues.
Cloud hosting is one of those ideas whose time seems to have arrived. The cost savings of managing in-house servers combined with the economies of scale that hosting providers can enjoy by offering such services to many companies on their own in-house systems, coupled with the ubiquity of the Internet, make hosting an attractive option on both sides of the table.
Historically, some issues that arise for IT departments in general are slow to percolate into the IBM i market, but in this case the often-strong economic arguments in favor of cloud hosting are making enterprises of varying sizes consider it closely. The attractions of such a strategy besides infrastructure-costs avoidance include the ability to pay only according to the services an enterprise needs, the flexibility of adding or diminishing resources as required temporarily, and the physical security of host services' large data centers as compared to the possibly ad hoc nature of server security in businesses with a non-IT focus, to mention only the most prominent.
Hosting breaks down into three broad areas: Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS), and Software as a Service (SaaS). In general, IaaS provides the broadest service profile, offering not just virtual servers for software and employee activity hosting, but network connectivity, website hosting, and complete operational oversight. PaaS typically offers on-demand access to additional computing resources for special situations, such as application development and testing, but doesn't usually involve outsourcing the systems handling production environments or routine functions such as accounting. SaaS offers specific applications running on remote servers but often leaves other elements of IT infrastructure in-house. This article will focus on IaaS providers specifically for IBM i servers.
Hosting Issues Specific to the IBM i Market
Despite the potential for cost savings at many enterprises, there is still resistance among IBM i user companies.
"The two top reasons for resistance to switching to hosted IT operations are connectivity and our potential ability to respond to user requests, such as restarting printers and helping with password resets," notes Paul Fuller, owner at First Option IT. "We respond to these by reviewing the terms of our Service-Level Agreement (SLA), giving them a demo of our help desk, and by discussing the types of information our team will need from the customer to address and resolve issues."
"Many are concerned about web connectivity," relates Bob Losey, president of Source Data Products. " 'What happens when I lose access to the Internet?' While there are options for redundancy, some users, particularly users in remote areas or with unreliable Internet, will not consider hosting for this reason. Other reservations are intensified by prominent stories of significant security breaches. A third important reason is concerns about application licensing and IBM i OS version levels. Depending on the software provider, the fee to move keyed software to another server may not make the change cost-effective. In other cases, the customer's OS version level may be old, and the users may determine it's not cost-effective to upgrade to a newer version."
Losey's company counters such objections by pointing out some inherent strengths of the IBM i. "The native IBM i architecture provides greater security and reliability than most other popular operating systems. Most knowledgeable IBM i users know about IBM i object-oriented architecture and the security inherent with User Profile. If needed, newer releases of IBM i can provide for encrypted data at rest. Connection between a cloud hosting service and the IBM i users' VPN and private IP addresses provides for encrypted communication to a location that cannot easily be found by hackers. Those IBM i users that understand these concepts host their IBM i applications without reservation. The fundamentals of hosting is a better approach than an on-premise server, so successful users will discover and include redundant Internet connections in their solution."
The Future of Hosting Services
Both vendors see a bright future for hosting services in the IBM i market, given a few caveats.
"There is a great opportunity to combine hosting (operations) and consulting services," confides First Option's Fuller. "But there is also a prospective customer concern that lack of quality consulting resources will prevent their RPG applications from moving forward as their business grows. The challenge will be to convince executives that the RPG-based applications that are currently running the business can not only be hosted but modified and modernized to meet new business requirements."
"I see several challenges," points out Source Data's Losey. "First, many users are on third-party software that is outdated, not on support, and the software provider has very expensive pricing to change to a newer platform. Users ask if we can help with this. We really can't. Second, as with any market, I suspect IBM i hosting will become more competitive. Consequently, I would expect many new providers to overstate their capabilities and underperform. Third, when selecting an IBM i hosting solution, I encounter more people in the evaluation process without an understanding of IBM i. My concern is that this group of decision-makers may be prone to poor choices and overpaying."
Cloud Hosting Resources for IBM i
The listings below focus on providers offering IBM i hosting services via the cloud. The number of vendors offering more limited cloud services, such as backups and business continuity only, or specific kinds of hosted applications, are too numerous to be mentioned here, although some vendors mentioned in this article may also provide those. In-house application-management services should not be assumed to be included unless specifically contracted with the providers. The vendors included here may provide many other kinds of services in addition to the ones mentioned. Be sure to consult each provider's website via the links provided to learn details of the cloud services and other available options.
Some service providers offer what are called Tier 3 and Tier 4 services. Tier 3 is usually defined as 99.98 percent availability and may be vulnerable to situations that affect multiple infrastructure components concurrently. Tier 4 is usually defined as 99.99 percent (or higher) availability and means the data center offers complete component redundancy and can provide server availability except in extreme or catastrophic circumstances.
Heritage Hosting accommodates users with older AS/400, iSeries, System i, and Power Systems servers. Offerings include hardware relocation services, basic operations management, daily backups, and basic network management as contracted as well as shifting operations from production to various levels of archive states until there is no further use for the affected data.
Able-One provides hosted infrastructure, cloud backup and storage, and hosted backup and disaster recovery services for IBM i servers. The company also offers private cloud deployment services.
Baseline Data Services
Baseline offers hosting services for IBM i servers, including those running AIX and Linux. Services include software replication, physical server migration to virtual machines, intrusion prevention, backup and continuity, and high availability.
BDK offers IBM i hosting at its Tier 3 data center, managed services on IBM i servers at customer locations, application hosting, disaster recovery, and private data cloud planning and implementation.
UK-based Bluechip's managed hosting services for IBM i servers include Tier 3 and 4 design facilities and 99.995 percent availability. The company also offers cloud-based management for servers located at the customer's site.
Netherlands-based BPSolutions provides hosting for IBM i servers, including those running AIX and Linux.
CAS Severn administers IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS services in public, private, and hybrid cloud environments for IBM i servers, as well as security and compliance, storage management and backup, and systems integration services.
Champion Solutions Group
Champion's services include server virtualization, storage virtualization, development of cloud storage strategies, application virtualization, cloud-based services and support, and desktop virtualization.
CMA Technology Solutions
FastCloud for Power i provides secure hosting and remote managed services for IBM i servers. Features include system operations and administration, automated alerts, disaster recovery, OS updates and PTF installations, and functional testing.
Cloud Server for the IBM i, including servers running AIX and Linux, provides virtual machines for client use ranging from 685 CPW to 60,000 CPW. Escalating service levels also include managed hosting, remote administration and monitoring of customer-site systems, and disaster recovery.
Custom Managed Hosting provides remote hosting services for IBM i and mixed, multiplatform environments, including Domino and WebSphere environments. Escalating service levels also include remote administration and monitoring of customer-site systems, disaster recovery, and HIPAA-compliant hosting.
CPS Technology Solutions
CPS iSeries Hosting includes application hosting, performance analysis and tuning, LPAR setup, PTF and release update management, and high-availability and disaster recovery services using CPS servers.
Netherlands-based Databalance offers hosting, storage, high-availability, and replication services for IBM i servers via the cloud.
Datanational offers hosting services for IBM i that include hardware and application software monitoring, automated job scheduling, system updates and fixes, performance and disk space monitoring, system connectivity and support, and change management.
Australian company Evolution Systems' cloud offering provides hosting platforms for custom software applications that run on IBM i, as well as testing environments, disaster recovery, and other managed services.
First Option IT
First Option IT's IBM i hosting service maintains software applications of small-to-medium-sized businesses on First Option's servers. The service options include shared or dedicated LPARs, help desk, daily backups, error detection, and PTF installations.
IBM offers numerous cloud-related services, including hosting, remote management, multiplatform management, helping enterprises establish themselves as managed service providers, and marketing of cloud-based applications.
IBM Cloud Manager with Open Stack for Power Systems is an entry-level cloud solution that works with Power Systems servers to manage private, public, or hybrid cloud infrastructures. Options include a self-service portal, OpenStack APIs for customization, virtualized management of applications and technology levels, and management of all IBM environments and hypervisors.
Smart Cloud Services and Technologies for the Enterprise is a cloud-service delivery platform that offers two tiers of service, software that includes templates for assembling cloud services, and other features.
iInTheCloud is a hosting service for Power Systems servers at the company's Tier 3 data center. Options include AIX and Linux partitions, high-availability, backups via a Virtual Tape Library, PTFs, replication, system administration, and daily systems management.
Infor System i Business Cloud offers a spectrum of cloud-based services for IBM i servers, ranging from backups and high availability through management of servers at customer sites to complete systems hosting.
iTech Solutions Group
Power System Hosting lets remote users run their businesses on iTech's servers on the customer's choice of OS. Other services include disaster recovery, high availability, and managed services.
Key Information Systems
KeyCloud offers IaaS, hosting, disaster recovery, and backup services, primarily in Arizona and California, on its Power Systems and Intel servers running iOS, AIX, Linux, and Windows. Options include virtual and dedicated machines, HIPAA and PCI compliance, 99.999 percent uptime, and network security features.
Logicalis offers IaaS services for IBM i servers that provides the servers, network, storage, and bandwidth at its Tier 3 hosting facility.
Logicalis UK provides computing-as-a-service, remote hosting, system monitoring, cloud-migration readiness assessments, and support for AIX and Linux environments on Power7 systems.
Midland Information Systems
Midland has established a Tier 3 data center for hosting IBM i servers, including servers running AIX, Linux, and Windows. The data center is SAS70-, SSAE16-, and HIPAA-compliant and uses multiple sites to provide disaster recovery services. Other services include storage, security, database administration, and system management.
MindSHIFT servers host applications from IBM i, Linux, UNIX, and Windows systems on a 24/7/365 basis. Services include device and application monitoring, patch management, antivirus, and engineering support.
OnX Managed Services
OnX hosts and manages IBM i servers in their data center or in remote client centers on a 24/7/365 basis, which includes meeting a range of government and regulatory compliances, high availability, monitoring, alerts, auditing support, and ITIL best practices.
Italian-based Nika Systemi provides hosting services for IBM i servers.
Oxford Networks hosts IBM i servers, including those running AIX and Linux, with optional WAN connectivity in addition to via the Internet. Additional options include business continuity services, backups, records retention, and virtual LPAR customization.
Prominic will host enterprise IBM Notes 9 mail and application activity and archives, including client machines. Prominic also offers disaster recovery services for Notes/Domino systems.
Prominic can provide virtual machine services for IBM i servers running Linux via the cloud on a three-tiered system of escalating costs and services.
Prominic.net offers dedicated hosting for IBM i servers on a five-tier plan of escalating costs and services.
Denmark-based RZKH provides hosting, housing, and hardware and software services for IBM i users.
Secure Infrastructure and Services
Secure hosts IBM i workloads or entire systems in its Tier 3 data center with three different levels of service. The most basic service includes a dedicated account manager, 24/7/365 infrastructure monitoring, and secure connectivity. Other levels add standby high availability, help desk, custom network configuration, and other services.
Sirius Computer Solutions
Sirius offers Power 720 CPW server performance for hosting customers, including those running earlier servers. Users can run production, development, quality assurance, high availability, and disaster recovery workloads.
SIS services include dedicated platform hosting, business continuity and disaster recovery, backup and storage, remote systems monitoring, and administration.
Site Ox provides hosting for IBM i servers and also leases partitions on IBM i servers belonging to itself or other companies. Site Ox also offers regulatory compliance services running on legacy systems and disaster recovery services.
Source Data Products
Cloud400 IBM i provides hosting services for all IBM i servers at its bomb-proof data center. Services include daily backups, PTF upgrades, no software application license fees, and a 60-day free trial.
StorTrust's IBM i hosting service includes systems administration and operations, disaster recovery and replication, JBoss and WebLogic application servers, Oracle and Siebel ERP application support, and support for Oracle, DB2, and Informix databases.
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.
Syntax provides a suite of managed services for enterprises using IBM i servers. Services include monitoring of vital server functions and logs, SQL databases, network communications, virtualization, and infrastructure performance tuning.