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Technology Focus: Cloud Service Options for IBM i

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Cloud computing is touted as the wave of the future for IT, promising better economies of scale for its users. The IBM i has its share of service providers in this arena.

 

Cloud computing is aptly likened to a power grid, in which the electricity you use in your business or home isn't produced where you use it. Rather, it's produced at a central location and parceled out according to need, which you then pay for. Going hand in hand with virtualization, roughly defined as the ability to produce a fully functional replica of a computer system's hardware and software at a different location, cloud computing services are a rapidly growing industry.

 

While this industry is best known for providing centralized services for PC-based networks, the IBM i market now has a large and growing share of vendors offering cloud-based services. (If you're primarily interested in PC-based cloud services, information clearing houses such as Cloud Computing Companies.org can provide an overview of the largest and most popular providers.)

Some Basic Terminology

To provide a little background, server virtualization can include infrastructure and architecture design and maintenance, disaster recovery and high availability, server consolidation, and security management and compliance. Storage virtualization can include design, management, and implementation services; virtualization gateway analysis; and storage optimization. Cloud-based services and support can include virtual operations, storage and backup, and servers on demand.

 

Cloud services are further broken down conceptually into three types of offerings. Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) offers virtual machines, and network utilities such as firewalls and storage, at a second location. Client companies can load operating systems and applications onto these virtual machines and access them via the Internet. Platform as a Service (PaaS) is this sort of service, with the service provider offering the OS, databases, and other software components that client companies can then use. Software as a Service (SaaS) adds the component of application software, offered and maintained by the service provider, which the client company can access remotely. In between are such measures as Storage as a Service (StaaS), which outsources backup services.

 

There are also three types of clouds: public, private, and hybrid. Simply put, cloud services offered by a remote service provider are a public cloud. Services offered within your own company for your own use is a private cloud. A hybrid cloud is when you outsource some cloud services, such as high availability (HA) and disaster recovery (DR), to an outside provider, and handle the rest of your cloud in-house.

 

Using cloud services is basically a financial decision. The major question to answer is whether the value to your enterprise of maintaining and controlling all your hardware and software in-house outweighs the value of being able to use your IT staff for other functions, such as data analysis, application development, or what have you, by outsourcing that control.

Asking the Experts

While it's beyond the scope of this article to get into cost-justifications that will clearly vary from one enterprise to another, some representative service vendors were willing to make some general statements.

 

"The economics are compelling," notes Dan Wilhelms, president of Symmetry Corporation, a cloud service provider for IBM i. "Our cloud solution costs 50 percent less than on-premise management."

 

"It comes down to arithmetic," maintains Bob Morici, director of Power Systems at Mainline Information Systems, "which varies with the amount of control the customer wants, what the customer can afford, and what's their return on that investment."

 

"It comes down to meeting a customer's needs," agrees Rich Waidmann, president and CEO of Connectria. "Certain applications are not well-suited to virtualization, so they need to remain running on a dedicated server platform. In some cases, clients have unique security or audit requirements, but they still want to enjoy the benefits of cloud computing."

 

Regardless of the financial considerations for individual companies, all three service providers unsurprisingly agree that the i is a good platform for cloud computing.

 

"It's a viable and outstanding cloud platform," asserts Wilhelms. "Its partitioning makes it easy to reallocate resources, and it's stable, robust, and mature."

 

"The i is well-positioned," Morici concurs. "Its inherent object-level security, database encryption, and the fact that security is part of its infrastructure are key. LPARs are good at keeping jobs separate, and by nature it's a multiuser platform."

 

Waidmann agrees in principle but also points out, "The application licensing is somewhat unique. IBM i software vendors typically look at the total processing capacity of the underlying servers when determining the price of their software. IBM and Connectria are working with ISVs to revise their pricing models to focus on the size of the cloud server, and not on the processing capability of the underlying servers within the cloud."

The Issue of Security

One area in which these three vendors didn't quite agree was on the issue of security. For example, when offered the scenario of service provider employees extracting confidential information, they expressed varying levels of caution.

 

"Cloud security concerns are overrated," maintains Wilhelms. "Many companies have more significant security issues with their own employees. One danger with emerging technologies is that analysts characterize things in ways that aren't helpful. Our clients have their own partitions, and each partition has the same security as a standalone server. We also use password-protected accounts, data, and so forth."

 

"Some have likened a public cloud to swimming in a cesspool," concedes Waidmann. "All our new employees are required to pass rigorous background checks prior to being hired, and we have extensive 24/7 monitoring and security measures in place to ensure that the data of our customers is protected. Using [our solutions] would be more equivalent to swimming at a private club with a limited membership of pre-screened businesses."

 

Morici was even more emphatic. "The i is good at keeping people out of each others' pockets. [The platform's] object orientation and strict control over work management, its limited pointer support, and our practice of not keeping data in contiguous files mean [our clients] are protected in their own job space. If you also do backups smartly by using encrypted backup tapes, I don't think [data thefts] can be done."

Getting Started with Cloud Services

When asked for advice on how to initiate cloud services, two of the service providers recommended using DR as an initial springboard.

 

"Start dabbling with DR," Wilhelms advises. "You can pay for just a sliver of steady state coverage that can be expanded to full coverage with a phone call in the event of a DR declaration."

 

"Doing DR/HA is easy," concurs Morici. "Then you can decide if hosting is a good next step or whether it's better to wait until next year. Any combination [of services] is possible."

 

To help you get started, below is a compilation of cloud providers that service the IBM i market. Included are application service providers that simply offer software on an SaaS basis. A partial listing of such companies can also be found in the MC Press Buyer's Guide  and represents three varieties. Specialist ASPs provide a single application or a group of closely related ones. Vertical ASPs focus on applications for a specific vertical market. Enterprise ASPs provide a spectrum of applications useful for a wide range of businesses.

Cloud Computing Resources for IBM i

Abacus Solutions

IBM "i" in the Cloud

IT Infrastructure Management Services

IBM "i" in the Cloud is a hardware/software/services package that delivers a cloud computing environment to IBM i shops with a minimum of disruption.

 

Abacus also provides cloud computing and remote IT infrastructure management services, including assessments, maintenance, and business continuity services.

 

ABC Services

Managed IT Services

ABC offers remote IT management services, including help desk, network monitoring, software supports, and audits.

 

Able-One Systems

Cloud Computing

Able-One's cloud-related offerings include consulting for creating or using a cloud environment, business continuity services, and virtualization services.

 

Aktion Associates

Intacct Cloud Financial Management and Accounting

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.

 

Availability Solutions Group (ASG)

HA/DR/Testing Services

ASG offers cloud-based high-availability, disaster-recovery, and HA/DR testing services.

 

CAS Severn

Virtualization Solutions

CAS Severn offers virtualization and cloud-environment consulting, virtual infrastructures, and virtual-appliance deployment for application backup and performance improvement.

 

Champion Solutions Group

Virtualization and Cloud Computing Services

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

VPN-Cubed Datacenter Connect

VPN-Cubed Datacenter Connect is a set of hardware devices that helps customers control networking in cloud environments.

 

Connectria

Cloud Server for the IBM i

Custom Hosting

 

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.

 

Custom 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.

 

Contemporary Computer Services, Inc. (CCSI)

Managed Services

CCSI provides cloud-based network-management and other IT services.

 

Corent Technology

Multi-Tenant Server

Multi-Tenant Server helps service providers transform Web apps written in Java to SaaS offerings.

 

CPS Technology Solutions

CPS iSeries Hosting

CPS iSeries Hosting includes application hosting, software testing environments, and disaster recovery services using CPS servers.

 

Databalance

High Availability Services

Netherlands-based Databalance offers high-availability services via the cloud.

 

Datanational Corporation

System Management

Datanational offers hosting services for IBM i ERP, MES, warehousing, EDI, e-business, and email applications.

 

Data Storage Corporation

SafeData Cloud

SafeData Cloud offers cloud-based storage for IBM i, AIX, and Windows applications.

 

DPS

DPS SureSource Hosting

SureSource Hosting provides Power Systems-hosted distribution applications.

 

EVault

Cloud Backup Services and Recovery

EVault's cloud-related services include server/desktop/laptop backup and recovery, disaster recovery, and offsite data replication.

 

Evolution Systems

Evo iCloud

Australian company Evolution Systems' cloud offering provides hosting platforms for your company's custom software applications.

 

First National Technology Solutions

iSeries and AS/400 Outsourcing

First National offers remote hosting, backup, software upgrade, change management, and other services for companies with i servers.

 

First Option

iSeries Hosting

iSeries Watchdog

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.

 

Fiserv

Software Solutions

Fiserve offers multiple financial and customer-management solutions on an SaaS basis.

 

IBM Corporation

IBM developerWorks Cloud Computing

IBM SmartCloud Enterprise

IBM Smart Cloud Entry for Power Systems

IBM Virtual Loaner Program

Smart Cloud Services and Technologies for the Enterprise

 

IBM's developerWorks Web site provides a forum and advice on cloud computing issues for programmers.

 

IBM SmartCloud Enterprise is IBM's "infrastructure as a service" offering and includes server, storage, and network monitoring.

 

IBM Smart Cloud Entry for Power Systems is a private cloud deployable on Power Systems. It features a self-service portal, virtualized image management, administrative controls, and automatic collection of usage metrics.

 

IBM's Virtual Loaner Program lets companies use the cloud without an IBM i by offering remote access to IBM hardware, including Power Systems running AIX, IBM i, and Linux OSes.

 

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.

 

Infor

Infor10 CloudSuite

Infor delivers its CRM, ERP, asset-management, workforce-management, and other applications on an SaaS basis.

 

iTech Solutions Group

iTech Solutions Vault

Solutions Vault, powered by EVault's technology, offers cloud-connected backup and recovery services. iTech also provides remote hosting and management services.

 

JDA Software Group

JDA Cloud Services

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.

 

Kaavo

IMOD

IMOD is a cloud-management software product that automates deployment and service-level management across public, private, and hybrid clouds.

 

Key Information Systems

Business Continuity

Key provides business continuity and virtualization services in a cloud environment.

 

LANSA

aXes-Cloud

LANSA's aXes-Cloud provides browser interfaces for legacy IBM i application software to help facilitate conversion to a cloud-computing environment.

 

Lawson, an Infor Company

Lawson Cloud Computing

Lawson offers its ERP software application on an SaaS basis.

 

Legato Technologies

IBM System i Services

Legato provides a range of remote hosting and operations-outsourcing services.

 

Logicalis

Cloud Computing

Logicalis' consulting services include advice on setting up cloud-computing environments.

 

Logicalis UK

Cloud 'Compute as a Service' for IBM Power7

Logicalis UK provides remote hosting, system monitoring, cloud-migration readiness assessments, and support for AIX and Linux environments on POWER7 systems.

 

Maxava

Cloud HA

Maxava offers its disaster-recovery and high-availability services on a cloud basis. Clients can replicate data and objects, transaction by transaction, to a shared (virtualized) or private IBM i server anywhere. The maxView widget gives users realtime notification of replication state and the maxView manager lets cloud providers monitor multiple customers concurrently.

 

Mainline Information Systems

Cloud Computing

Mainline's cloud-computing services include application server virtualization, IT-as-a-Service, enhanced disaster recovery, and consulting.

 

Meridian IT

Cloud Solutions

Meridian incorporates remote hosting, HA/DR, and managed private clouds as part of their service offerings.

 

MindSHIFT

Managed Hosting

MindSHIFT servers can host applications from IBM i, Linux, UNIX, and Windows systems.

 

NSPI

iSeries Services

NSPI's service offerings include shared hosting, remote systems monitoring/management, and HA/DR for servers running IBM i, AIX, Linux, and Windows.

 

RZKH

Services

Denmark-based RZKH provides remote data-center operations services for SMBs.

 

Sage North America

Cloud Solutions

Sage offers its accounting, human resources, enterprise resource planning (ERP), and other applications for IBM i on an SaaS basis.

 

SAP

Enterprise Resource Planning

SAP makes its ERP applications available on an SaaS basis.

 

Sonasoft

Virtualization

Sonasoft provides virtual server disaster recovery solutions.

 

Symmetry Corporation

i in the Sky

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 an SaaS basis. It also includes disaster recovery services for these scenarios and related consulting services.

 

Tributary Systems

Storage Director

Storage Director attaches to IBM i servers as if it were a tape library and integrates backup/recovery/storage services for any attached i servers via the Internet.

 

Wipro Infocrossing

Managed Cloud

Managed Servers

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 Corporation

Xerox Cloud Infrastructure as a Service for Intel and Midrange

Xerox's Cloud Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) Midrange 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.

 

 

John Ghrist

John Ghrist has been a journalist, programmer, and systems manager in the computer industry since 1982. He has covered the market for IBM i servers and their predecessor platforms for more than a quarter century and has attended more than 25 COMMON conferences. A former editor-in-chief with Defense Computing and a senior editor with SystemiNEWS, John has written and edited hundreds of articles and blogs for more than a dozen print and electronic publications. You can reach him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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