When working with customers on renewing their IBM hardware or software maintenance, the question often comes up “are there alternatives to IBM maintenance”? Customers who have been with IBM maintenance for decades will have a history and trust with IBM only, while newer generations of IT leaders will look at what else is available in the marketplace.
The short answer to the question is yes, there are 3rd party hardware maintenance providers, however software maintenance for IBM hardware is only available from IBM.
Historically, IBM has been the gold standard for hardware maintenance. Their response was fast, efficient, and they fixed the problem “right the first time”. On the other hand, this level of service came with a premium price. In recent years, IBM has seen retiring service technicians and changing corporate structure. IBM continues to be better than most, but some customers question the price.
Enter “3rd party maintenance providers”. These are companies that offer a variety of hardware maintenance services to end-users. This can include products from IBM, HP, Dell, Cisco, Lenovo, and many others. These service companies promise the same or better-than-IBM maintenance at a lower cost – sometimes as much as 50% less than IBM. The risk to the end-user is whether these companies will deliver on the promise. IT directors are not in the habit of risking downtime, and maintenance costs are typically a budgeted item. However, with the increase in DR/HA planning, backup systems are often in place to handle unforeseen downtime on the production equipment. This means end-users can handle more production downtime, making lower-cost hardware maintenance more appealing.
Software maintenance is a different discussion. IBM (as well as other companies) mandates customers get software updates and fixes only from them (for example, only IBM). Say, you want to upgrade your IBMi operating system to the latest level. You would need to have a current “IBMi software subscription” to gain access to the updates. “Software subscription” is only available from IBM to end-users, and not by any other provider.
Our recommendation is a review of the customer IT infrastructure, and what are the maintenance needs. Due to the IBM software maintenance exclusivity, many customers are more satisfied with the IBM hardware/software combined maintenance contract in 1-year (or longer) increments. However, some customers prefer the savings in hardware maintenance costs over the single-contract convenience, and contract with a 3rd party maintenance provider for hardware while keeping software maintenance with IBM.
To reduce costs, IBM does offer options to limit the hardware maintenance coverage (for example, Monday-Friday 9×5). However, this option is not available for all hardware – many Power Systems servers only have 24×7 hardware maintenance available. 3rd party maintenance providers will often be much more flexible with available contract options.
If a customer has an old server no longer supported by IBM, our first recommendation is to update hardware. However, we do have customers who have servers no longer supported by IBM. In these cases, customers benefit from the 3rd party hardware maintenance providers, as these companies will often provide support for the old server abandoned by IBM. IBMi software updates are dependent on what operating system levels run on the old server, and whether IBM provides support for these levels. IBM has been known to provide “extended support” for older IBMi operating system levels. IBM will eventually completely discontinue the support, or the “extended support” gets too expensive to be of value to the end-user. If a customer server has reached “functional stability” (no longer updating software) on their old server, hardware maintenance may be all they need.
Some hardware has firmware updates – servers, tape drives, etc. End-users should consider whether this sort of update falls under hardware or software maintenance. In most cases, the firmware updates fall under hardware maintenance. However, there are scenarios where an equipment manufacturer offers a separate service for firmware updates. Knowing who provides your firmware update could avoid confusion and needless headache.
IBM regularly changes the available options or will accommodate specific requests, so reach out to Arbor Solutions to see how we can find a contract option that best fits your business needs. Contact us.
For further details on the IBM contract increments, see our blog Does IBM offer maintenance in “less than 1 year” increments?