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Cost, Simplicity Driving Cloud HA Adoption

Cost, Simplicity Driving Cloud HA Adoption
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October 9, 2017

Alex Woodie

In years past, the IBM i community has adopted high availability software at a slow but steady pace. But the cloud portion of this market is growing at a much faster rate, thanks to the lower costs and simpler setups that cloud-based high availability brings to customers.

Penetration of high availability software into the IBM i market is likely to hit 50 percent this year for the first time ever. That forecast can reasonably be made by looking at HelpSystems‘ 2017 IBM i Marketplace Survey, which showed a 2 percent jump in HA usage from 2015 to 2016, to 49 percent. If that pace of adoption continues, we should easily see HA in more than 50 percent of the IBM i market. But the pace could accelerate if the documented increase in interest around HA and security topics plays out, and even more so if the devastation of hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria have any impact.

By comparison, the growth of cloud-based HA, which is sometimes marketed as disaster recovery as a service (DRAAS), is growing about five times faster, IBM business partners say. “I think it’s growing faster than 10 percent,” says Ron Venzin, CEO of Focal Point Solutions Group, a managed service provider (MSP) that offers DRAAS and hosted HA services to IBM i shops around the country.

Focal Point is finding the resistance to using cloud-based services is rapidly melting away. “Three or four years ago, your progressive customers were saying, yes let me put this in the cloud,” Venzin tells IT Jungle. “What I’m starting to see is the cloud solutions being accepted much easier with less skepticism.”

The IBM i shops inquiring about DRAAS or hosted HA have a variety of backgrounds. Some of them have already used HA in their environment and are looking to have somebody else manage it for them, or they may have a backup appliance that has cloud components. Still others are completely new to HA and are now investigating it because the heard prices are falling. Some IBM i shops may install HA on their own gear anyway, but want the quote from the MSPs for leverage with their HA vendor.

How much can you save by going to the cloud? According to Venzin, IBM i shops adopting DRAAS or cloud HA can save 30 percent to 40 percent compared to running the HA software themselves.

“We had a customer that was going to spend somewhere around $480,000 to buy the equipment, do the software upgrade, and buy the software, and I think our number came in around $310,000” on a three-year basis, he says. “That was going to be a significant savings. They didn’t have to buy a box. They didn’t have to buy the licenses and all the other pieces and parts that they were going to have to buy.”

Those numbers jibe with what the folks at Maxava are seeing. Recently, the New Zealand software company analyzed what the average IBM i shop would pay for on-site HA and for hosted HA. The calculations showed the average HA customer over three years is “probably paying $7,000 to $8,000 per month,” says Maxava senior vice president Simon O’Sullivan. For the DRAAS model, the average was about $4,000 to $5,000 per month, which corresponds with a savings range of 28 percent to 50 percent.

“You have to consider everything,” O’Sullivan says. “You have to consider monitoring and management time and how many hours a week to check things on it. The bandwidth costs. Hardware costs. It’s easy just to look at the sticker price of the DR software and compare it but there’s a lot of other things that come into it.”

The DRAAS or hosted HA option eliminates many of those charges. “You’re not paying for a whole machine that you don’t need,” O’Sullivan says. “Then monitoring and management – that’s all done by us, the MSP. So you could say that DRAAS is the best model, and I think it’s the easiest model for the customer. They just sign a contract and it’s done.”

Maxava has positioned itself to capitalize on the changing economics of the cloud in several ways, including by working with MSP partners to use its HA software to support IBM i clients on their own clouds. But Maxava also built its own DRAAS offering that runs in data centers in New Zealand, Australia, London, and Atlanta. That cloud provides a “show home” to show Maxava’s partners how to develop a DRAAS, says Matthew Ashton, Maxava’s director of cloud and infrastructure services.

The cloud isn’t the best fit for everybody, Ashton acknowledges. “DRAAS doesn’t always work from a cost perspective,” Ashton says. “Some customers have an issue with compliance, where data for whatever reason needs to be kept within the network campus. And we get people from the EU who are very, very particular where the data goes.”

But for the bulk of the small and midsize business who don’t have a lot of European customers and who aren’t in the financial services or healthcare industries, cloud-based HA and DRAAS is quickly becoming the go-to option for better resiliency of IBM i data and applications.

“The discussions that we’re having . . . are very often DRAAS first,” Ashton says. “Customers with P5 or P10 machines are looking for DRAAS solutions because they don’t want the overhead of having that second machine. They don’t want the overhead of setting up a data center with all the networks.”

It’s a major trend that has also caught the eye of the dominant vendor in this space, Vision Solutions, which was recently acquired and merged with Syncsort and will soon take that as its name. While adoption of cloud-based HA and DRAAS is still relatively low compared to the total, the growth is higher, the company says.

In its recent 2017 State of Resilience report, Vision reported that about 22 percent of survey takers (including IBM i and open systems firms) were using DRAAS. “That’s very low compared to the total adoption,” director of product marketing, Becky Hjellming told IT Jungle earlier this year. “That’s something we’re going to watch, because if you look at industry analyst, they’re still predicting very strong growth in DRAAS over the next three years.”

Vision doesn’t host its own cloud offering, like its rival Maxava does, and instead relies on partners to handle the customer relationships. Vision has partnerships with many of the key players in the industry, including Focal Point, Connectria, MindSHIFT (now owned by Ricoh Americas Corporation), and Power Systems reseller giant Sirius.

“We continue to have a lot of conversations with partners,” Hjellming says. “They’re actively switching business models and out there looking for infrastructure as a service and expanding that to DR as a service. I do think we’ll continue to see people looking to that model, particular people who have never been in the cloud before.”

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