There are two secrets to success for any cloud or any service provider. First, get the best people, ones that understand people, business, and technology. Second, automate everything that can be automated because that is the only way the business will be able to scale and not collapse under the weight of the expense of – and difficulty in – hiring the next batch of people to grow the business.
A third thing might be hire people who can constantly automate themselves out of a job, but who also find new and valuable jobs to do.
To be a managed services provider in the IBM i space, you have to have the right tools and here at Focal Point Solutions, we are quite proud of the fact that we have integrated a whole bunch of different tools and created some new ones that allow us to manage large numbers of IBM i systems and logical partitions, with deep monitoring and alerting and the expertise to see things going wrong before they actually do. No, we are not going to tell you specifically what tools we have and how we integrate them to give us something that very closely approximates that mythical “single pane of glass” that people have been chasing after for decades. But we do want to talk about what we do, why we do it, and how it can help your IBM i shop as you balance the needs of application development against the needs of system administration and all that entails in these complicated times.
Something has got to give, and it will, sooner or later. And companies will always choose retaining and focusing on application development over managing infrastructure. We bet our company on this belief, and we are willing to bet yours on it, too. That’s how strong our conviction is in what we do and what you will need, either now or sometime in the not so distant future.
One of the important distinctions in the tools behind our managed services is that it includes people – very knowledgeable experts, in fact. Our system administrators follow scripts to check the health of each system under our management several times a day. In a way, we are looking for trouble so we can find it and fix it proactively, not reactively. Or, to be funny, we are the trouble that trouble does not want to run into. . . .
In that vein, we have a continually evolving set of monitoring, alerting, and automation tools, and in fact we are in the middle of upgrading and enhancing some of them as we speak. Just to brag a bit: One of our performance monitoring tools, called LPAR2RRD, is being upgraded at our behest with more reporting capabilities and analytics to help us do a better job of managing logical partitions on Power Systems running IBM i, AIX, and Linux.
This reporting is becoming increasingly important to auditors, who don’t just want to know that your data and applications are stable and secure, but you are proactively making sure that it stays that way. Our monitoring stack can generate reports daily, weekly, monthly, annually – whatever you need – above and beyond the typical monitoring and alerting that happens in real time.
We can also keep an eye on high availability clusters and disaster recovery offsite systems to ensure that either logical replication or hardware-based storage replication – using any of the tools commonly employed in the Power Systems base, we can do it all – are properly configured and ready to do a failover if necessary.
The most important thing about our managed services tooling is that it has flexibility and customization built in. And that is not because we are nice guys, but because that is the nature of the need of the Power Systems market, which is about as diverse as it gets. Every company is unique – we have one customer that has dozens of different JD Edwards suite release and version levels running at the same time on their IBM i partitions – and therefore we have to use custom tooling to deliver custom services. That particular company had 15 people monitoring those JD Edwards ERP suites, and now with our help, they are down to two people having to do that management job.
Everybody wants something a little different, and that is fine by us. We built that into what we do from the beginning.
We tend to focus on the operating system level downwards, but we can look up into the application stack, too. We can monitor when jobs are running too long, or start late, or don’t start at all because in a lot of cases, there is a cascading affect. When one thing stalls, it causes many other things that are dependent on it to stall. So we can configure our monitoring to make sure stuff happens when it is supposed to, and fix it when it doesn’t.
What you ultimately need to know is this: When you need us, we are ready to help.
Andrew Johnson is chief technology officer and David Fahrenkrug is chief information officer at Focal Point Solutions Group.