Tip

To outsource or not to outsource

One of the big decisions companies face when making an investment in e-commerce is whether to set up their own infrastructure or outsource part of this nitty-gritty work to a hosting provider. AS/400 shops making this decision need to carefully consider how they're going to work with a hosting provider.

A hosting provider is a company that builds data centers capable of running storefronts and handling online transactions. They rent the centers' space, machines, Internet connections and expertise to online merchants. Increasingly, those hosting providers are subsidiaries of or joint ventures that involve telecommunications companies, which see this as a value-added service that leverages their existing investment in the Internet backbone.

What makes it tricky for AS/400 shops is when they want to set up a co-location deal. That means the hosting provider houses and runs the hardware supplied by the merchant, promising to keep the machine up and running, secure and connected to the Internet.

But with the Internet's roots in the Unix world, a hosting provider's experience may be grounded more in Unix or WinTel platforms than in OS/400. AS/400 owners would be better off to keep the AS/400 in-house and co-locate an Internet appliance, such as Compaq Computer Corp.'s TaskSmart, says Dan Posner, president of Boca Raton, Fla.-based Tech Management Solutions, Inc. Then, you set up an infrastructure where the AS/400 feeds data into the appliance.

"If you're physically going to put an AS/400 in a co-location facility," Posner says, "you have to see a psychiatrist, because you're out of your mind. There is nobody at a co-location facility that can tell you what an AS/400 looks like, let alone how to go in there and do something."

Because the staff at the hosting provider is unlikely to have AS/400 expertise, you face several problems, Posner explains. Who is going to make backups? An Internet appliance doesn't need backups; all the data is dynamic and cached in memory or on disk. How do you guarantee security of those backup tapes? You don't want someone "borrowing" your proprietary data. How easily can you get a repair technician in to fix any problems with the machine? These are secure, hardened facilities; they don't let just anybody inside. If the AS/400 needs regular maintenance or rebooting, which is a sophisticated process, do you want someone doing it who is reading the instructions from the manual for the first time?

All in all, trusting your AS/400 to the staff at a co-location facility is a bad idea, Posner stresses. "They haven't got a clue."

Written by Amy Helen Johnson, a contributing editor in Seattle, Wash.


This was first published in May 2000

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