Power > Systems Management > High Availability

SMBs and Their Business Partners Increasingly See the Value in PowerHA


Photo by David Bowman

Not too long ago, companies were more concerned about disaster recovery (DR) than business continuity—as if they were two different aspects of how businesses operate; but essentially, they’re one in the same. If a disaster occurs—whether it’s a system disk going down or a flooded data center—business comes to a halt, interrupting continuity.

Larger enterprises were the first to fully grasp this concept and took prudent steps to support it, using replication software and dedicated backup boxes, for example. Of course, these enterprises had the fiscal resources and IT departments to make sure this worked as planned.

"When you look at things from a number of perspectives, including cost, functionality and ease of use, PowerHA can be very beneficial even for small companies,”
says Keith Livingood, senior developer for Minnesota-based APi Group.

Without similar resources, small and midsized business (SMBs), on the other hand, would often cross their fingers and hope nothing horrible happened. If it did, they would have to rely on daily, weekly and monthly backup tapes—assuming they had them—and rush to an off-site location to restore their entire systems—a long, tedious and tense experience.

That’s rapidly changing, however, even for businesses that can’t afford or don’t want large IT departments to continuously monitor critical systems.

It’s due in part to the continuing evolution of the IBM PowerHA* solution, which doesn’t break the bank, require constant care or deploy as a mere afterthought. Rather, it’s highly integrated at the hardware level.

As a result, DR and business resiliency have become one, and PowerHA technology offers SMBs a way to do what the big guys have been doing for years—now affordably and largely hands-off.

 

A Wild Situation

One company investing in business continuity and DR is the Minnesota-based APi Group, headquartered in New Brighton.

As Keith Livingood, a senior developer and the organization’s only senior System i* administrator, simply puts it, “We can’t afford any unnecessary downtime, especially unplanned downtime. So other than a period right before our backup process, when we’re down for only about a half an hour, we’re up all the time. We have to be, because we have a U.K. office that’s six hours ahead of us and working by 1:00 in the morning, our time.”

The organization, which is a holding company for more than 35 other companies in the specialty construction and life-safety businesses, has locations in the U.K., Canada and throughout the U.S. It has annual revenues of around $1.5 billion.

Most of APi Group’s companies use a homegrown ERP application running on an IBM i POWER7* blade in a BladeCenter* chassis attached to an IBM XIV* Storage System in a storage-area network (SAN) environment. A similar blade hosts an instance of a third-party ERP system that, according to Livingood, is “used by around 20 users during the day.” The main ERP system handles several transactions, including job costing, payroll, accounts payable and accounts receivable.

“We’re up all the time. We have to be, because we have a U.K. office that’s six hours ahead of us and working by 1:00 in the morning, our time.”
—Keith Livingood, senior developer, APi Group

Due to the critical nature of this system, the company decided to deploy PowerHA technology on the primary blade, with backups being fed into a PowerHA-dedicated POWER6* system with onboard disk. It decided not to run PowerHA on the second blade because of the low level of transactions it processes.

“Because we were acquiring so many companies and bringing them into our computing fold, we thought it would be prudent to have a quick failover system in place in case of a disaster,” Livingood says. “If we didn’t have such a system, we might have to take tape off-site, start up another system and restore. That would be pretty wild.”

Which is why it was beneficial that APi Group had a PowerHA solution in place when its BladeCenter system lost power in July 2012. Although the POWER7 system was completely down, the company was able—thanks to the flexibility of PowerHA—to roll over to the POWER6 system, which then became its primary system.

Livingood was on vacation and golfing when his technical lead called to inform him of the situation. “They were scrambling a bit, so I told my technical lead, ‘Call IBM support, get to the PowerHA team and tell them you lost your production system and need to fail over.’ He did, and it was simply a matter of IBM support telling him which command to type in. That’s all they had to do.”

As Livingood further explains, “It takes only one command to move over to the other system. In our case, it took only 15 minutes, although we did our due diligence to ensure everything was running properly on the POWER6 system. As it turned out, everything was OK. With our old system, that might not have been the case. It was too complex, and we had limited knowledge about how best to use it.”

This DR-type situation meant the company was, in fact, resilient and able to get its core system back online in seemingly no time. And as far as its users were concerned, the actual system outage was only a minor inconvenience compared to the recovery time another DR solution might have involved.

“I don’t think they would have been able to come back online so quickly with their previous solution,” remarks Mike DuBois, chief operating officer and co-owner of the Minneapolis-based TSG Server & Storage, an IBM business partner that works with APi Group.

Jim Utsler, IBM Systems Magazine senior writer, has been covering the technology field for more than a decade. Jim can be reached at jjutsler@provide.net.


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