Cloud hosting your iSeries – AS/400 is it a good idea?

Author Ralph Smith, President EdaptIT.com

Let’s face it, if you are running part or all of your business on an iSeries (or AS/400 depending on how long you have been doing this), you are used to high system availability. When you arrive at work each day you expect your staff to be able to login to your ERP, Accounting, CRM, or other system. That reliability is one less thing you have to worry about, and shouldn’t have to worry about.

As for me there is something comforting about walking into the data room, hearing the hum of the server, seeing the lights on the control panel, and knowing everything is as it should be. I started working on hardware in 1989, and have been a security officer since 1995. I can reload an OS, apply the PTF’s configure the network connections, restore a system from the backup, fix a sticky drive, add disk and memory, and on and on. I have in the past had to rebuild a server overnight so no one missed a beat.

How can I consider putting that into the hands of another company?

The reality is the world has changed. Internet speed, connectivity and reliability, coupled with VPN security has improved exponentially over the years and is at the point where mission critical applications can be supported. Even point to point circuit costs have dropped significantly offering another viable option. Of course that is not the only consideration, but it has certainly changed things dramatically.

The Pros

Staffing

Finding skilled staff that you can afford has become a real problem for mid size companies.  When you are competing with industry giants like FedEx or Astra Zeneca, or a whole host of other Fortune 100 companies, it is hard to match their compensation packages. That means your current staff is likely stretched thin and it hampers their ability to work on growth initiatives. Freeing them up from any day to day responsibilities would give them more time to work on things to help the business remain competitive.

Would your team benefit from offloading the server maintenance to the cloud?

Backups

One of my clients recently told me he has been bringing home the backup tapes for years and recently he keeps forgetting. In cloud hosted solutions typically backups are done on a virtual disk array. This means they run more quickly and they restore more quickly, plus no more tapes to go bad. Combined with offsite backups and the removal of human error you have a much more reliable disaster recovery plan.

Another benefit is that the backups stored in the virtual disk array are all available so you can quickly access a previous backup without having to locate the tape.

Do you have an adequate back up and recovery process?

System Resources

Cloud solutions use virtual machines where the amount of processor and disk are allocated from the larger pool. From the developer perspective it works identically to a stand alone box, but allows for additional resources to be added easily, and in some cases without even having to IPL.

With many clients I find that they have been running the same system for so long that they don’t have a lot of extra capacity. In the virtual server environment additional storage, memory and CPWs are much more cost effective.

Is your machine in need of an upgrade?

Software and Licensing

A few years ago I got a call from a friend to help a company running their payroll system on the AS/400. They were on version V4R0. The machine had been running non-stop since somewhere around 2000 and the twinax adapter for the console had gone bad. I replaced the card and removed a 1/4 sheet of dust off of the motherboard, and it kept right on going.

In a cloud solution the OS and Development tools licences are included without user restrictions. They also keep the system current. There is nothing wrong with running on a version that meets the business need, but there is so much more functionality available today that may add value to your business with a more current implementation.

Unlike Microsoft IBM keeps the OS and tools backwards compatible so upgrading rarely causes any issues.

How old is your OS? Should it be upgraded?

New Features

One of my clients, planning their move to the cloud, is on V5R2. They have to provide reports to their clients on certain activities. Today they print the reports on greenbar and mail them. Once they are moved to the cloud we are going to install the Zend Server lamp stack and create a custom reporting module allowing each client to login and view their reports online.

monthly sales report

Here is a sample report from my iSeries application.

In addition to reporting the integrated webserver allows you to easily integrate things like Virtual Credit Card terminals.

How much time and money would you save with real time online reports?

Would your sales reps benefit from the ability to take a credit card on the spot? Check inventory? Place orders?

Cost

Last but not least, cost. In a cloud scenario the cost of things like maintenance, software licensing, the data center, backup and recovery, etc. are distributed across all the virtual machines. This significantly reduces the cost per client.

I researched every iSeries hosting company I could find before switching myself and found them to range anywhere from 30% – 70 less than direct ownership. That can mean anywhere from $5000 to $20,000 or more in saving each year for a small system. Not to mention the fact that I got more resources and no licensed user restrictions.

The best company I found was Source Data Products, not only did they offer the best pricing, but they only host iSeries servers. Their team specializes in the platform and have proven to be the kind of experts you can rely on. Every other company I spoke with offered iSeries hosting as a part of their larger hosting business. Best of all, when I called Source Data I was able to speak to a person and not a machine.

If you are interested check out their website https://www.source-data.com/ and read some of the case studies and customer testimonials. They are the real deal.

Would your company benefit from reducing the cost of ownership of your iSeries?

The Cons

Migration

The prospect of migrating to a new machine is always unpleasant, and is the most difficult part of the process. Once you provide a full system save your machine is created as an exact duplicate of your current one. Of course by the time this is complete weeks have gone by so you will need to take a new backup and either send the save files via FTP or overnight a tape to get your data current.

A well planned migration can minimize the downtime to overnight or a weekend depending on your capabilities.

Connectivity

Prior to the migration, connectivity to the server will be set up and tested. As mentioned there are a number of ways to accomplish that depending on your infrastructure and security requirements.

However if the internet access to your facility goes out, then you can have employees who are unable to work until it is restored. The solution to that is having a backup connection through a different provider, that uses separate facilities.

Years ago we had a call center with DS3 circuits coming from 2 different telecom providers. A backhoe cut through the fiber loop and took out both of them. The next week we contracted with a third provider who had their own fiber to our location.

Internal Resistance

Most people don’t like change and will come up with any excuse to keep things the way they are. I think part of the problem is terminology. I used to be surprised how many people would hear the word cloud and their eyes gloss over. The fact is what we are really talking about is a server in another data center.

I submit that everyone uses a “Cloud” service and most of them don’t even know it. Whether it is Google or Yahoo mail, or they store their precious pictures/files on iCloud, Google Drive, Drop Box, etc. We have been using cloud services since the internet began.

In today’s economy every business needs every competitive advantage they can get. Every dollar saved, and any reliable way to improve productivity needs to be considered. The funny thing is that often the key technologist is the obstacle not management. Again that comes with the prospect of change.

It is a common tale where the one or two staff people who do all the iSeries work complain endlessly about having too much to do. Yet they resist things that will lighten their workload possibly because they like being needed or worry about job security, when in fact their talents could better serve the health and growth of the company if they had more time to focus on enhancing the application.

I am not saying that every company needs to switch to cloud hosting. However today it makes more sense than it ever did before.

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