IBM Z Server: Best In Class For Availability – Does Form Factor Matter?

A recent ITIC 2017 Global Server Hardware and Server OS Reliability Survey classified the IBM Z server as delivering the highest levels of reliability/uptime, delivering ~8 Seconds or less of unplanned downtime per month.  This was the 9th consecutive year that such a statistic had been recorded for the IBM Z Mainframe platform.  This compares to ~3 Minutes of unplanned downtime per month for several other specialized server technologies, including IBM POWER, Cisco UCS and HP Integrity Superdome via the Linux Operating System.  Clearly, unplanned server downtime is undesirable and costly, impacting the bottom line of the business.  Industry Analysts state that ~80% of global business require 99.99% uptime, equating to ~52.5 Minutes downtime per year or ~8.66 Seconds per day.  In theory, only the IBM Z Mainframe platform exceeds this availability requirement, while IBM POWER, Cisco UCS and HP Integrity Superdome deliver borderline 99.99% availability capability.  The IBM Mainframe is classified as a mission-critical resource in 92 of the top 100 global banks, 23 of the top 25 USA based retailers, all 10 of the top 10 global insurance companies and 23 of the top 25 largest airlines globally…

The requirement for ever increasing amounts of corporate compute power is without doubt, satisfying the processing of ever increasing amounts of data, created from digital sources, including Cloud, Mobile and Social, requiring near real-time analytics to deliver meaningful information from these oceans of data.  Some organizations select x86 server technology to deliver this computing power requirement, either in their own Data Centre or via a 3rd party Cloud Provider.  However, with unplanned downtime characteristics that don’t meet the seeming de facto 99.99% uptime availability metric, can the growth in x86 server technology continue?  From many perspectives, Reliability, Availability & Serviceability (RAS), Data Security via Pervasive Encryption and best-in-class Performance and Scalability, you might think that the IBM Z Mainframe would be the platform of choice?  For whatever reason, this is not always the case!  Maybe we need to look at recent developments and trends in the compute power delivery market and second guess what might happen in the future…

Significant Cloud providers deliver vast amounts of computing power and associated resources, evolving their business models accordingly.  Such business models have many challenges, primarily uptime and data security related, convincing their prospective customers to migrate their workloads from traditional internal Data Centres, into these massive rack provisioned infrastructures.  Recently Google has evolved from using Intel as its primary supplier for Data Centre CPU chips, including CPU chips from IBM and other semiconductor rivals.

In April 2016, Google declared it had ported its online services to the IBM POWER CPU chip and that its toolchain could output code for Intel x86, IBM POWER and 64-bit ARM cores at the flip of a command-line switch.  As part of the OpenPOWER and Open Compute Project (OCP) initiatives, Google, IBM and Rackspace are collaborating to develop an open server specification based on the IBM POWER9 architecture.  The OCP Rack & Power Project will dictate the size and shape or form factor for housing these industry standard rack infrastructures.  What does this mean for the IBM Z server form factor?

Traditionally and over the last decade or more, IBM has utilized the 24 Inch rack form factor for the IBM Z Mainframe and Enterprise Class POWER Systems.  Of course, this is a different form factor to the industry standard 19 Inch rack, which finally became the de facto standard for the ubiquitous blade server.  Unfortunately there was no tangible standard for a 19 Inch rack, generating power, cooling and other issues.  Hence the evolution of the OCP Rack & Power Standard, codenamed Open Rack.  Google and Facebook have recently collaborated to evolve the Open Rack Standard V2.0, based upon an external 21 Inch rack Form factor, accommodating the de facto 19 Inch rack mounted equipment.

How do these recent developments influence the IBM Z platform?  If you’re the ubiquitous global CIO, knowing your organizations requires 99.99%+ uptime, delivering continuous business application change via DevOps, safeguarding corporate data with intelligent and system wide encryption, perhaps you still view the IBM Z Mainframe as a proprietary server with its own form factor?

As IBM have already demonstrated with their OpenPOWER offering, collaborating with Google and Rackspace, their 24 Inch rack approach can be evolved, becoming just another CPU chip in a Cloud (E.g. IaaS, Paas) service provider environment.  Maybe the final evolution step for the IBM Z Mainframe is evolving its form factor to a ubiquitous 19 Inch rack format?  The intelligent and clearly defined approach of the Open Rack Standard makes sense and if IBM could deliver an IBM Z Server in such a format, it just becomes another CPU chip in the ubiquitous Cloud (E.g. IaaS, Paas) service provider environment.  This might be the final piece of the jigsaw for today’s CIO as their approach to procuring compute power might be based solely upon the uptime and data security metrics.  For those organizations requiring in excess of 99.99% uptime and fully compliant security, there only seems to be one choice, the IBM Z Mainframe CPU chip technology, which has been running Linux workloads since 2000!

IBM z14: Pervasive Encryption & Container Pricing

On 17 July 2017 IBM announced the z14 server as “the next generation of the world’s most powerful transaction system, capable of running more than 12 billion encrypted transactions per day.  The new system also introduces a breakthrough encryption engine that, for the first time, makes it possible to pervasively encrypt data associated with any application, cloud service or database all the time”.

At first glance, a cursory review of the z14 announcement might just appear as another server upgrade release, but that could be a costly mistake by the reader.  There are always subtle nuisances in any technology announcement, while finding them and applying them to your own business can sometimes be a challenge.  In this particular instance, perhaps one might consider “Persuasive Encryption & Contained Pricing”…

When IBM releases a new generation of z Systems server, many of us look to the “feeds and speeds” data and ponder how that might influence our performance and capacity profiles.  IBM state the average z14 speed compared with a z13 increase by ~10% for 6-way servers and larger.  As per usual, there are software Technology Transition Offering (TTO) discounts ranging from 6% to 21% for z14 only sites.  However, in these times where workload profiles are rapidly changing and evolving, it’s sometimes easy to overlook that IBM have to consider the holistic position of the IBM Z world.  Quite simply, IBM has many divisions, Hardware, Software, Services, et al.  Therefore there has to be interaction between the hardware and software divisions and in this instance, IBM have delivered a z14 server that is security focussed, with their Pervasive Encryption functionality.

Pervasive Encryption provides a simple and transparent approach for z Systems security, enabling the highest levels of data encryption for all data usage scenarios, for example:

  • Processing: When retrieved from files and processed by applications
  • In Flight: When being transmitted over internal and external networks
  • At Rest: When stored in database structures or files
  • In Store: When stored in magnetic storage media

Pervasive Encryption simplifies and reduces costs associated when protecting data by policy (I.E. Subset) or En Masse (I.E. All Of The Data, All Of the Time), achieving compliance mandates.  When considering the EU GDPR (European Union General Data Protection Regulation) compliance mandate, companies must notify relevant parties within 72 hours of first having become aware of a personal data breach.  Additionally organizations can be fined up to 4% of annual global turnover or €20 Million (whichever is greater), for any GDPR breach unless they can demonstrate that data was encrypted and keys were protected.

To facilitate this new approach for encryption, the IBM z14 infrastructure incorporates several new capabilities integrated throughout the technology stack, including Hardware, Operating System and Middleware.  Integrated CPU chip cryptographic acceleration is enhanced, delivering ~600% increased performance when compared with its z13 predecessor and ~20 times faster than competitive server platforms.  File and data set encryption is optimized within the Operating Systems (I.E. z/OS), safeguarding transparent and optimized encryption, not impacting application functionality or performance.  Middleware software subsystems including DB2 and IMS leverage from these Pervasive Encryption techniques, safeguarding that High Availability databases can be transitioned to full encryption without stopping the database, application or subsystem.

Arguably IBM had to deliver this type of security functionality for its top tier z Systems customers, as inevitably they would be impacted by compliance mandates such as GDPR.  Conversely, the opportunity to address the majority of external hacking scenarios with one common approach is an attractive proposition.  However, as always, the devil is always in the detail, and given an impending deadline date of May 2018 for GDPR compliance, I wonder how many z Systems customers could implement the requisite z14 hardware and related Operating System (I.E. z/OS) and Subsystem (I.E. CICS, DB2, IMS, MQ, et al) .upgrades before this date?  From a bigger picture viewpoint, Pervasive Encryption does offer the requisite functionality to apply a generic end-to-end process for securing all data, especially Mission Critical data…

Previously we have considered the complexity of IBM z Systems pricing mechanisms and in theory, the z14 announcement tried to simplify some of these challenges by building upon and formalizing Container Pricing.  Container Pricing is intended to greatly simplify software pricing for qualified collocated workloads, whether collocated with other existing workloads on the same LPAR, deployed in a separate LPAR or across multiple LPARs.  Container pricing allows the specified workload to be separately priced based on a variety of metrics.  New approved z/OS workloads can be deployed collocated with other sub-capacity products (I.E. CICS, DB2, IMS, MQ, z/OS) without impacting cost profiles of existing workloads.

As per most new IBM z Systems pricing mechanisms of late, there is a commercial collaboration and exchange required between IBM and their customer.  Once a Container Pricing solution is agreed between IBM and their customer, for an agreed price, an IBM Sales order is initiated, triggering the creation of an Approved Solution ID.  The IBM provided solution ID is a 64-character string representing an approved workload with an entitled MSU capacity, representing a Full Capacity Pricing Container used for billing purposes.

Previously we considered the importance of WLM for managing z/OS workloads and its interaction with soft-capping, and this is reinforced with this latest IBM Container Pricing mechanism.  The z/OS Workload Manager (WLM) enables Container Pricing using a resource classified as the Tenant Resource Group (TRG), defining the workload in terms of address spaces and independent enclaves.  The TRG, combined with a unique Approved Solution ID, represents the IBM approved solution.  As per standard SCRT processing, workload instrumentation data is collected, safeguarding that this workload profile does not directly impact the traditional peak LPAR Rolling Four-Hour Average (R4HA).  The TRG also allows the workload to be metered and optionally capped, independent of other workloads that are running collocated in the LPAR.

MSU utilization of the defined workload is recorded by WLM and RMF, subsequently processed by SCRT to subtract the solution MSU capacity from the LPAR R4HA.  The solution can then be priced independently, based on MSU resource consumed by the workload, or based upon other non-MSU values, specifically a Business Value Metric (E.g. Number of Payments).  Therefore Container Pricing is much simpler and much more flexible than previous IBM collocated workload mechanism, namely IWP and zCAP.

Container Pricing eliminates the requirement to commission specific new environments to optimize MLC pricing.  By deploying a standard IBM process framework, new workloads can be commissioned without impacting the R4HA of collocated workloads, being deployed as per business requirements, whether on the same LPAR, a separate LPAR, or dispersed across multiple LPAR structures.  Quite simply, the standard IBM process framework is the Approved Solution ID, associating the client based z/OS system environment to the associated IBM sales contract.

In this first iteration release associated with the z14 announcement, Container Pricing can be deployed in the following three solution based scenarios:

  • Application Development and Test Solution: Add up to 3 times more capacity to existing Development and Test environments without any additional monthly licensing costs; or create new LPAR environments with competitive pricing.
  • New Application Solution: Add new z/OS microservices or applications, priced individually without impacting the cost of other workloads on the same system.
  • Payments Pricing Solution: A single agreed value based price for software plus hardware or just software, via a number of payments processed metric, based on IBM Financial Transaction Manager (FTM) software.

IBM state z14 support for a maximum 2 million Docker containers in an associated maximum 32 TB memory configuration.  In conjunction with other I/O enhancements, IBM state a z14 performance increase of ~300%, when compared with its z13 predecessor.  Historically the IBM Z platform was never envisaged as being the ideal container platform.  However, its ability to seamlessly support z/OS and Linux, while the majority of mission critical Systems Of Record (SOR) data resides on IBM Z platforms, might just be a compelling case for microservices to be processed on the IBM Z platform, minimizing any data latency transfer.

Container Pricing for z/OS is somewhat analogous to the IBM Cloud Managed Services on z Systems pricing model (I.E. CPU consumption based).  Therefore, if monthly R4HA peak processing is driven by an OLTP application, or any other workload for that matter, any additional unused capacity in that specific SCRT reporting month can be allocated for no cost to other workloads.  Therefore z/OS customers will be able to take advantage of this approach, processing collocated microservices or applications for a zero or nominal cost.

County Multiplex Pricing (CMP) Observation: The z14 is the first new generation of IBM Z hardware since the introduction of the CMP pricing mechanism.  When a client first implements a Multiplex, IBM Z server eligibility cannot be older than two generations (I.E. N-2) prior to the most recently available server (I.E. N).  Therefore the General Availability (GA) of z14, classifies the z114 and z196 servers as previously eligible CMP machines.  IBM will provide a 3 Month grace period for CMP transition activities for these N-3 servers, namely z114 and z196.  Quite simply, the first client CMP invoice must be submitted within 90 days of the z14 GA date, namely 13 September 2017, no later than 1 January 2018.

In conclusion, Pervasive Encryption is an omnipresent z14 function integrated into every data lifecycle stage, which could easily be classified as Persuasive Encryption, simplifying the sometimes arduous process of classifying and managing mission-critical data.  As cybersecurity becomes an omnipresent clear and present danger, associated with impending and increasingly punitive compliance mandates such as GDPR, the realm of possibility exists to resolve this high profile corporate challenge once and for all.

Likewise, Container Pricing provides a much needed simple-to-use framework to drive MSU cost optimization for new workloads and could easily be classified as Contained Pricing.  The committed IBM Mainframe customer will upgrade their z13 server environment to z14, as part of their periodic technology refresh approach.  Arguably, those Mainframe customers who have been somewhat hesitant in upgrading from older technology Mainframe servers, might just have a compelling reason to upgrade their environments to z14, safeguarding cybersecurity challenges and evolving processes to contain z/OS MLC costs.

z Systems Software & Applications Currency: MQ Continuous & as a Service Delivery Models

In a rapidly-moving technology environment where DevOps is driving innovation for the rapid delivery of applications, are there any innovations for the related z Systems infrastructure (E.g. z/OS, CICS, DB2, IMS, MQ, WebSphere AS) that can deliver faster software and indeed firmware updates?

In April 2016, IBM announced MQ V9.0, delivering new and enhanced capabilities facilitating a Continuous Delivery and support model.  The traditional Long Term Support release offers the ubiquitous collection of aggregated fix-packs, applied to the delivered MQ V9.0 function.  The new Continuous Delivery release delivers both fixes and new functional enhancements as a set of modification-level updates, facilitating more rapid access to functional enhancements.

Form a terminology viewpoint, the Continuous Delivery (CD) support model, introduces new function and enhancements, made available by incremental updates within the same version and release.  Additionally, there will also be a Long Term Support (LTS) release available for deployments that require traditional medium-long term security and defect fixes only.  Some might classify such LTS fixes as Service Pack or Level Set patching.  The Continuous Delivery (CD) support approach delivers regular updates with a short-term periodic frequency for customers wanting to exploit the latest features and capabilities of MQ, without waiting for the next long term support release cycle.  In terms of timeframe, although there is no fixed time period associated with a CD or LTS release, typically CD is every few months, while LTS releases are every two years or so.  In actual IBM announcement terms, the latest MQ release was V9.0.3 in May 2017, meaning four MQ V9.0.n release activities in a ~13 Month period, approximately quarterly…

The benefits of this CD support model are obvious, for those organizations who consider themselves to be leading-edge or “amongst the first”, they can leverage from new function ASAP, with a modicum of confidence that the code has a good level of stability.  Those customers with a more cautious approach, can continue their ~2 year software upgrade cycle, applying the LTS release.  As always with software maintenance, there has never been a perfect approach.  Inevitably there will by High Impact or PERvasive (HIPER) and PTF-in Error (PE) PTF requirements, as software function stability is forever evolving.  Therefore, arguably those sites leveraging from the latest function have always been running from a Continuous Delivery software maintenance model; they just didn’t know when and how often!

Of all the major IBM z Systems subsystems to introduce this new software support model first, clearly the role of MQ dictates that for many reasons, primarily middleware and interoperability based, MQ needs a Continuous Delivery (CD) model.

At this stage, let’s remind ourselves of the important role that MQ plays in our IT infrastructures.  IBM MQ is a robust messaging middleware solution, simplifying and accelerating the integration of diverse applications and business data, typically distributed over multiple platforms and geographies.  MQ facilitates the assured, secure and reliable exchange of information between applications, systems, services, and files.  This exchange of information is achieved through the sending and receiving of message data through queues and topics, simplifying the creation and maintenance of business applications.  MQ delivers a universal messaging solution incorporating a broad set of offerings, satisfying enterprise requirements, in addition to providing 21st century connectivity for Mobile and the Internet of Things (IoT) devices.

Because of the centralized role that MQ plays, its pivotal role of interconnectivity might be hampered by the DevOps requirement of rapid application delivery, for both planned and unplanned business requirements.  Therefore even before the concept of MQ Continuous Delivery (CD) was announced in April 2016, there was already talk of MQ as a Service (MQaaS).

As per any major z Systems subsystem, traditionally IBM MQ was managed by a centralized messaging middleware team, collaborating with their Application, Database and Systems Management colleagues.  As per the DevOps methodology, this predictable and centralized approach, does no lend itself to rapid and agile Application Development.  Quite simply an environment management decentralization process is required, to satisfy the ever-increasing speed and diversity of application design and delivery requests.  By definition, MQ seamlessly interfaces with so many technologies, including but not limited to, Amazon Web Services, Docker, Google Cloud Platform, IBM Bluemix, JBoss, JRE, Microsoft Azure, Oracle Fusion Middleware, OpenStack, Salesforce, Spark, Ubuntu, et al.

The notional concept of MQ as a Service (MQaaS), delivers a capability to implement self-service portals, allowing Application Developers and their interconnected Line of Business (LOB) personnel to drive changes to the messaging ecosystem.  These changes might range from the creation or deletion of a messaging queue to the provision of a highly available and scalable topology for a new business application.  The DevOps and Application Lifecycle Management (ALM) philosophy dictates that the traditional centralized messaging middleware team must evolve, reducing human activity, by automating their best practices.  Therefore MQaaS can increase the speed at which the infrastructure team can deliver new MQ infrastructure to their Application Development community, while safeguarding the associated business requirements.

MQ provides a range of control commands and MQ Script Commands (MQSC) to support the creation and management of MQ resources using scripts.  Programmatic resource access is achievable via MQ Programmable Command Format (PCF) messages, once access to a queue manager has been established.  Therefore MQ administrators can create workflows that drive these processes, delivering a self-service interface.  Automation frameworks, such as UrbanCode Deploy (UCD), Chef and Puppet functions can be used to orchestrate administrative operations for MQ, to create and manage entire application or server environments.  Virtual machines, Docker containers, PureApplication System and the MQ Appliance itself can be used alongside automation frameworks to create a flexible and scalable ecosystem, for delivering the MQaaS infrastructure.

Integrating the MQ as a Service concept within your DevOps and Application Lifecycle Management process delivers the following benefits:

  • Development Agility: Devolving traditional MQ administration activities to Application and Line of Business personnel, allows them to directly provision or update the associated messaging resources. This optimizes the overall process, while DevOps processes facilitates the requisite IT organization communication.
  • Process Standardization: Enabling a self-service interface to Application and Line of Business personnel delivers a single entry point for messaging configuration changes. This common interface will leverage from consistent routines and workflows to deploy the necessary changes, enforcing standards and consistency.
  • Personnel Optimization: Self-service interfaces used by Application and Line of Business personnel allow them to focus on core application requirements, primarily messaging and Quality of Service (QoS) related. In such an environment, the background process of performing the change is arbitrary, timely change implementation is the most important factor.
  • Environment Interoperability: An intelligent and automated self-service interface allows for dynamic provisioning of systems and messaging resources for development and testing purposes. This automation can simplify the promotion of changes throughout the testing lifecycle (E.g. Development, Test, Quality Assurance, Production, et al).  As and when required, such automation can provide capacity-on-demand type changes, dynamically scaling an application, as and when required, to satisfy ever-changing and unpredictable business requirements.

In conclusion, DevOps is an all-encompassing framework and one must draw one’s own conclusions as to whether software update frequency timescales will reduce for major subsystems such as CICS, DB2, IMS and even the underlying Operating System itself, namely z/OS.  Conversely, the one major z Systems subsystem with so many interoperability touch points, namely MQ, is the obvious choice for applying DevOps techniques to underlying subsystem software.  For MQ, the use of a Continuous Delivery (CD) software support model safeguards that the latest new function and bug fix capability is delivered in a timely manner for those organizations striving for an agile environment.  Similarly, the consideration of devolving traditional MQ systems administration activities, via intelligent, automated and self-service processes to key Application and Line of Business personnel makes sense, evolving a pseudo MQaaS capability.

System z DevOps & Application Lifecycle Management (ALM) Integration: Evolution or Revolution?

From an IT viewpoint, seemingly the 2010’s decade will be dominated by the digital data explosion, primarily fuelled by Cloud, Mobile and Social Media data sources, while intelligent and timely if not real-time Analytics are required to process this vast and ever-growing data source.  Who could have imagined just a decade ago that the Mobile Phone, specifically Smartphone would be the de facto computing device, although some might say, only for a certain age demographic?  I’m not so sure, I encounter real-life and day-to-day evidence that a Smartphone or tablet can also empower the older generation to simplify their computer usage and access.  From a business perspective, Smartphones have allowed geographically dispersed citizens gain access to Banking facilities for the first time; Cloud allows countless opportunities for data sharing and number crunching for collaborative scientific, health, education and anything else a human being might conceive activities.  The realm of opportunity exists…

When thinking of the bigger picture, we somehow have to find a workable and seamless balance that will integrate the dawn of business computing from the 1960’s to these rapidly moving 21st Century requirements.  When considering which came first, the data or the application, I always think the answer is really simple; the data came first, but I have been wrong before!  What is without doubt, the initial requirement for a business application was to automate data processing and the associated medium-term waterfall (E.g. n-nn Months) application development process is now outdated.  As of 2017, today’s application needs to leverage from this vast and rich digital data source, to identify and leverage new business opportunities, increasingly unplanned and therefore rapid application delivery is required.  For example, previously I wrote about this subject matter in the zAPI: System z Deployment Into The API Economy blog entry.

From an IT perspective, one of the greatest achievements in the 21st Century is collaboration, whether technology based, leveraging from a truly interconnected (E.g. Internet Protocol/IP) heterogeneous computing environment, or personnel based, with IT teams collaborating in a more open and timely manner, primarily via DevOps.  This might be a better chicken and egg analogy; which came first, the data explosion or an IT ecosystem that allowed such a digital data explosion?

There are a plethora of modern-day application development tools that separate the underlying target deployment server from the actual application developer.  Put another way, today’s application developer ideally works from a GUI display via an Eclipse-based Integrated Development Environment (IDE) interface, creating code using rapid and agile development techniques.  From an IBM System z perspective, these platforms include Compuware Topaz Workbench, IBM Developer for z Systems (IDz AKA RDz) and Micro Focus Enterprise Developer, naming but a few.  Therefore when considering the DevOps framework, these excellent Eclipse-based IDE products provide solutions for the Dev part of the equation; but what about the Ops part?

In a collaborative world, where we all work together, from an Application Lifecycle Management (ALM) perspective, IT Operations are a key part of application delivery and management.  Put simply, once code has been created, it needs to be packaged (E.g. Compile, Link-Edit, et al), tested (E.g. Unit, Integration, System, Acceptance, Regression, et al) and implemented in a Production environment.  We now must consider the very important discipline of Source Code Management (SCM), where from a System z Mainframe perspective, common solutions are CA Endevor SCM, Compuware ISPW, IBM SCLM, Micro Focus ChangeMan ZMF, et al.  Once again, from a DevOps perspective, we somehow have to find a workable and seamless balance that will integrate the dawn of business computing from the 1960’s to these rapidly moving 21st Century requirements.  As previously discussed the Dev part of the DevOps framework is well-covered and straightforward, but perhaps the Ops part requires some more considered thought…

Recently Compuware have acquired ISPW (January 2016) to supplement their Topaz Workbench and Micro Focus acquired ChangeMan ZMF (May 2016) to complement their Micro Focus Enterprise Developer solution.  IBM IDz offers out-of-the-box integration for the IBM Rational Team Concert, CA Endevor SCM and IBM SCLM tools.  Clearly there is a significant difference between Source Code Management (SCM) for Distributed Systems when compared with the System z Mainframe, but today’s 21st century business application will inevitably involve interconnected platforms and so a consistent and seamless SCM process is required for accurate and timely application delivery.  In all likelihood a System z Mainframe user has been using their SCM solution for several decades, evolving processes around this solution, which was never designed for Distributed Systems SCM.  Hence the major System z Application Development ISV’s have acquired SCM products to supplement their core capability, but is it really that simple?  The simple answer is no!

Traditionally, for Application Development activities we deployed the Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC), limited to software development phases, including requirements, design, coding, testing, configuration, project management and change management.  Modern software development processes require real-time collaboration, access to centralized data repository, cross-tool and cross-project visibility, proactive project monitoring and reporting, to rapidly develop and deliver quality software.  This requirement is typically classified as Application Lifecycle Management (ALM).

The first iteration of ALM, namely ALM 1.0 was wholly unsuccessful.  Application Development teams were encouraged to consider the value of point solutions for task management, planning testing, requirements, release management, and other functions.  Therefore ALM 1.0 became just a set of tools, where the all too common question for the Application Development team was “what other tool can we use”!

ALM 2.0 or ALM 2.0+ can be considered as Integrated Application Lifecycle Management or Integrated ALM, where all the tools and their users are synchronized with each other throughout the application development stages.  This integration ensures that every team member knows the Who, What, When, and Why of any changes made during the development process, eradicating arduous, repetitive, manual and error prone activities.  The most important lesson for the DevOps team in a customer environment is to concentrate on the human perspective.  They should ask “how do we want our teams to work together and collaborate” as opposed to asking an Application Development ISV team, “what ALM tools do you have”.  Inevitably the focus will be ISV based, as opposed to customer based.  As per the recent Compuware and Micro Focus SCM acquisition history demonstrates, these tools by definition, were never fully integrated from their original inception…

If the customer DevOps teams collaborate and formulate how they want to work together, an ALM evolution can take place in a timely manner, maintaining investment in previous technologies, as and if required.  Conversely, a revolutionary approach is the most likely outcome for the System z Mainframe user, if looking to the ISV for a “turn-key” ALM solution.  By definition, an end-to-end and turn-key ALM solution from one ISV is not possible and in fact, not desirable!  Put another way, as a System z user, do you really want to write off several decades investment in an SCM solution, for another competitive solution, which will still require many other tools to provide the Integrated ALM capability you require?  As always, balance and compromise is the way forward…

If the ubiquitous System z Application Development ISV were to develop their first software product today, it would inevitably be a DevOps and ALM 2.0+ compatible product, allowing for full integration with all other Application Development tools, whether System z Mainframe or Distributed Systems orientated.  Of course that is not the reality.  It seems somewhat disingenuous that the System z Application Development ISV would ask a potential customer to write-off their several decades investment in a SCM technology, when said ISV has just acquired such a technology!  Once again, this is why the customer based Application Development teams must decide how they want to collaborate and what ALM and DevOps tools they want to use.

Seemingly a pragmatic solution is required, hence the ALM 2.0+ initiative.  If an ISV could develop an all-encompassing DevOps and ALM 2.0+ end-to-end Application Development solution for all IT platforms, they would probably become one of the most popular and biggest ISV’s in a short time period.  However, this still overlooks the existing tools that customer IT organizations have used for many years.  Hence, the pragmatic way forward is to build an open DevOps and ALM 2.0+ solution that will integrate with all other Application Development lifecycle tools, whether market place available, or not!  HPE Application Lifecycle Management (ALM) and Quality Centre (QC) is one such approach for Distributed Systems, but what about the System z Mainframe?

IKAN ALM is an ALM 2.0+ and DevOps architected solution that is vendor and platform agnostic.  Put another way, IKAN ALM can operate in single or multiple-vendor mode.  In all likelihood, single vendor mode is unlikely, as there are many efficient Application Development tools in the marketplace.  However, the single most compelling feature of IKAN ALM is its open framework and interoperability with other ALM technologies.  As previously stated, we might consider source code development as the Dev side of the DevOps framework.  IKAN ALM will interface with these technologies, while its core functionality concentrates on the Ops side of the DevOps framework.  Therefore from an Application Lifecycle Management (ALM) viewpoint, the IKAN ALM solution starts where versioning systems end, with an objective of optimizing the entire software engineering process.

IKAN ALM offers a uniquely integrated web-based Application Lifecycle Management platform for both Agile and traditional software development teams.  It combines Continuous Integration and Lifecycle Management, offering a single point of control, delivering support for build and deploy processes, approval processes, release management and software lifecycles.  From a pragmatic and common-sense viewpoint, typically organizations want to continue working with their preferred tools in their preferred environment.  Being ALM 2.0+ compliant, IKAN ALM fully integrates with any versioning tool and any issue tracking tool, providing ALM reports across repositories.  Therefore IKAN ALM offers an evolutionary approach, allowing an organization to leverage from timely ALM benefits, without risk and without the need for displacing any existing technologies.  Over time, should the organization wish to displace older legacy ALM software products, they could so, leveraging from the stand-alone or multiple vendor flexibility of the IKAN ALM solution.

IKAN ALM incorporates ready to use solutions and processes for multiple environments.  These solutions include ALM 2.0+ compliant processes and the necessary scripts to automate the integration with a specific environment, including but not limited to CA Endevor (SCM), CollabNet, HPE ALM/Quality Centre (QC), Oracle Warehouse Builder (OWB), SAP, et al.

The IKAN ALM central server is an open framework web application responsible for User Authentication and Authorization, User Interface Processing, Distributed Version Repository Management and Scheduling Code Builds.  The IKAN ALM agents perform the application build and install functions.

The data repository is an open central database where all administrative data and the audit trail history are stored.  IKAN ALM communicates with the repository using standard JDBC interfaces.  The required JDBC drivers are installed along with the product.  The repository can reside in any RDBMS system, including IBM DB2/UDB, Informix, Microsoft SQL Server, MySQL, Oracle, et al.

Source code is always stored in a Version Control Repository.  IKAN ALM integrates with all the typical versioning systems including Apache Subversion, CVS, Git, Microsoft Visual SourceSafe (VSS), IBM Rational ClearCase (UCM & LT), Serena PVCS Version Manager, et al.  The choice of IDE often drives the choice of the Version Control System (VCS), where organizations can have more than one operational VCS.  IKAN ALM is a solution that provides a unique process control over all versioning systems present in the organization.  IKAN ALM stores each build result within its central server filesystem, labelling the source accordingly in the associated versioning system, guaranteeing a correct source-build relationship.

IKAN ALM safeguards Authentication & Authorization interacting with the organizations security deployment (E.g. Active Directory, LDAP, Kerberos, et al) via the Java Authentication and Authorization Service (JAAS) interface.

IKAN ALM audits any changes (E.g. Who, What, Why, When, Approver, et al), orchestrating the various components and phases of Application Lifecycle Management, delivering an automated workflow to drive a continuous flow of activity throughout the development lifecycle, efficiently coordinating and optimizing application development changes.

In an environment with ever increasing mandatory regulatory compliance requirements, IKAN ALM simplifies the processes for delivering such compliance.  As per the IKAN ALM Build, Deploy, Lifecycle and Approval Management framework, compliance for industry standard regulations (E.g. CMM, ITIL, Sarbanes-Oxley, Six Sigma, et al) is delivered via a reliable, repeatable and auditable process throughout the development life cycle.

Clearly any IT organization can benefit from a fully integrated ALM 2.0+ solution, by enforcing and safeguarding the ALM process is repeatable, reliable and documented.  Regardless of the development team headcount size, ALM releases key people from repetitive and less interesting tasks, allowing them to focus on delivering today’s Analytics based, Cloud, Mobile and Social applications.  A fully integrated ALM 2.0+ solution such as IKAN ALM allows for simplified legacy environment modernization, while simultaneously allowing for experimentation and improvement of all environments alike, both legacy and new.

In conclusion, savvy organizations will safeguard that their Application Development and Operations teams collaborate as per the DevOps framework and decide how they want to implement processes for their environment and more importantly, their business.  This focus should avoid any notion of asking the ubiquitous Application Development ISV, “which tools we should use”!  Similarly, recognizing the integration foundation of ALM 2.0+ will eliminate any notion to displace existing technologies and processes, unless absolutely required.  The need for agile, rapid and quality source code development and delivery is obvious, as is the related solution, which is inevitably pragmatic, evolutionary and multiple vendor tool based.

Optimize Your System z ROI with z Operational Insights (zOI)

Hopefully all System z users are aware of the Monthly Licence Charge (MLC) pricing mechanisms, where a recurring charge applies each month.  This charge includes product usage rights and IBM product support.  If only it was that simple!  We then encounter the “Alphabet Soup” of acronyms, related to the various and arguably too numerous MLC pricing mechanism options.  Some might say that 13 is an unlucky number and in this case, a System z pricing specialist would need to know and understand each of the 13 pricing mechanisms in depth, safeguarding the lowest software pricing for their organization!  Perhaps we could apply the unlucky word to such a resource.  In alphabetical order, the 13 MLC pricing options are AWLC, AEWLC, CMLC, EWLC, MWLC, MzNALC, PSLC, SALC, S/390 Usage Pricing, ULC, WLC, zELC and zNALC!  These mechanisms are commercial considerations, but what about the technical perspective?

Of course, System z Mainframe CPU resource usage is measured in MSU metrics, where the usage of Sub-Capacity allows System z Mainframe users to submit SCRT reports, incorporating Monthly License Charges (MLC) and IPLA software maintenance, namely Subscription and Support (S&S).  We then must consider the Rolling 4-Hour Average (R4HA) and how best to optimize MSU accordingly.  At this juncture, we then need to consider how we measure the R4HA itself, in terms of performance tuning, so we can minimize the R4HA MSU usage, to optimize cost, without impacting Production if not overall system performance.

Finally, we then have to consider that WLC has a ~17-year longevity, having been announced in October 2000 and in that time IBM have also introduced hardware features to assist in MSU optimization.  These hardware features include zIIP, zAAP, IFL, while there are other influencing factors, such as HyperDispatch, WLM, Relative Nest Intensity (RNI), naming but a few!  The Alphabet Soup continues…

In summary, since the introduction of WLC in Q4 2000, the challenge for the System z user is significant.  They must collect the requisite instrumentation data, perform predictive modelling and fully comprehend the impact of the current 13 MLC pricing mechanisms and their interaction with the ever-evolving System z CPU chip!  In the absence of such a simple to use reporting capability from IBM, there are a plethora of 3rd party ISV solutions, which generally are overly complex and require numerous products, more often than not, from several ISV’s.  These software solutions process the instrumentation data, generating the requisite metrics that allows an informed decision making process.

Bottom Line: This is way too complex and are there any Green Shoots of an alternative option?  Are there any easy-to-use data analytics based options for reducing MSU usage and optimizing CPU resources, which can then be incorporated into any WLC/MLC pricing considerations?

In February 2016 IBM launched their z Operational Insights (zOI) offering, as a new open beta cloud-based service that analyses your System z monitoring data.  The zOI objective is to simplify the identification of System z inefficiencies, while identifying savings options with associated implementation recommendations. At this juncture, zOI still has a free edition available, but as of September 2016, it also has a full paid version with additional functionality.

Currently zOI is limited to the CICS subsystem, incorporating the following functions:

  • CICS Abend Analysis Report: Highlights the top 10 types of abend and the top 10 most abend transactions for your CICS workload from a frequency viewpoint. The resulting output classifies which CICS transactions might abend and as a consequence, waste processor time.  Of course, the System z Mainframe user will have to fix the underlying reason for the CICS abend!
  • CICS Java Offload Report: Highlights any transaction processing workload eligible for IBM z Systems Integrated Information Processor (zIIP) offload. The resulting output delivers three categories for consideration.  #1; % of existing workload that is eligible for offload, but ran on a General Purpose CP.  #2; % of workload being offloaded to zIIP.  #3; % of workload that cannot be transferred to a zIIP.
  • CICS Threadsafe Report: Highlights threadsafe eligible CICS transactions, calculating the switch count from the CICS Quasi Reentrant Task Control Block (QR TCB) per transaction and associated CPU cost. The resulting output identifies potential CPU savings by making programs threadsafe, with the associated CICS subsystem changes.
  • CICS Region CPU Constraint: Highlights CPU constrained regions. CPU constrained CICS regions have reduced performance, lower throughput and slower transaction response, impacting business performance (I.E. SLA, KPI).  From a high-level viewpoint, the resulting output classifies CICS Region performance to identify whether they’re LPAR or QR constrained, while suggesting possible remedial actions.

Clearly the potential of zOI is encouraging, being an easy-to-use solution that analyses instrumentation data, classifies the best options from a quick win basis, while providing recommendations for implementation.  Having been a recent user of this new technology myself, I would encourage each and every System z Mainframe user to try this no risk IBM z Operational Insights (zOI) software offering.

The evolution for all System z performance analysis software solutions is to build on the comprehensive analysis solutions that have evolved in the last ~20+ years, while incorporating intelligent analytics, to classify data in terms of “Biggest Impact”, identifying “Potential Savings”, evolving MIPS measurement, to BIPS (Biggest Impact Potential Savings) improvements!

IBM have also introduced a framework of IT Operations Analytics Solutions for z Systems.  This suite of interconnected products includes zOI, IBM Operations Analytics for z Systems, IBM Common Data Provider for z/OS and IBM Advanced Workload Analysis Reporter (IBM zAware).  Of course, if we lived in a perfect world, without a ~20 year MLC and WLC longevity, this might be the foundation for all of our System z CPU resource usage analysis.  Clearly this is not the case for the majority of System z Mainframe customers, but zOI does offer something different, with zero impact, both from a system impact and existing software interoperability viewpoint.

Bottom Line: Optimize Your System z ROI via zOI, Evolving From MIPS Measurement to BIPS Improvements!

DB2: Internal Subsystem Security vs. External Security Manager (ESM)?

With the ever increasing requirement for regulatory compliance and the clear and present danger associated with cybersecurity attacks, isn’t now the best time to safeguard your organizations most important asset, namely business data?  Various industry analyst quotes state that ~80%+ of Mainframe data resides in databases and associated data sources and ~80%+ of global corporate data originates or resides on IBM Mainframes.  Depending on your viewpoint, rightly or wrongly DB2 is the most pervasive of database subsystems, offering two mechanisms for security, either internal subsystem or External Security Manager (ESM) based via ACF2, RACF or Top Secret.  When DB2 was first released in 1983, Mainframe security was in its infancy and perhaps even an afterthought, and so implementing internal DB2 security might have been the typical approach for many years.  Some several decades later, asking that age old rhetorical question; what is the best security solution for my mission critical and priceless data?  I’m not sure it is a rhetorical question, the answer is patently obvious, external security!

RACF and DB2 security integration was introduced in 1997 with OS/390 2.4 and DB2 Version 6 and so a ~14 year period where DB2 internal security was the only option!  Personally, ~20 years ago I was involved with an internal DB2 to RACF security migration project, part of a larger Operating System, DB2 and indeed CICS upgrade.  Basically the DB2 DBA team stated “we would have never implemented internal DB2 security if the RACF option was available; can you migrate to RACF for us”?  The simple reality being that Security Management is not a core DBA skill and such a process is ideally delivered by a Subject Matter Expert (SME).  Of course, DB2 was somewhat straightforward ~20 years ago, as were its security features, but in the last ~20 years, DB2 has become more complex and enterprise wide, while I’m often surprised by the number of organizations I encounter, both small and large, still deploying internal DB2 security…

Recognizing a ~20 year longevity period of RACF security support for DB2, maybe even the most conservative of organizations might concede that the technology is proven and works?  From a business viewpoint, such a migration from DB2 internal to an External Security Manager (ESM) is the proverbial “no brainer”, because:

  • Subject Matter Expert (SME): Clearly all IBM Mainframe organizations now have dedicated security professionals who are ideally placed to implement enterprise wide security policies. A DB2 DBA is a highly skilled SME in their own discipline, most likely welcoming the migration of security from DB2 to ACF2, RACF or Top Secret.
  • Compliance: A plethora of industry regulations, including but not limited to GLB, SOX, PCI-DSS, et al, dictate that a hybrid of technical skills and business policy knowledge is required. This has generated a requirement for the executive level CISO role and associated security certifications (E.g. CISA, CISM, CISSP) for SME resources.
  • Auditability: From a board level CxO viewpoint, which technical resource would you want responsible for your security policy, the CISO/CIO and their security engineers or a DB2 DBA?
  • Hacking-Penetration Testing: Rightly or wrongly, rightly in my opinion, Penetration (Pen) Testing is a methodology to try and hack a system in order to highlight security vulnerabilities, supplementing the traditional periodic audit processes. Once again, high levels of security expertise are required for such activities.

From a technical viewpoint, what is the complexity of performing a DB2 internal to RACF external security migration?

From a DB2 viewpoint, internal security rules are stored in DB2 catalog tables with the SYSIBM.SYSxxxAUTH naming convention.  Therefore these data repositories can be processed with a simplistic DB2 to RACF security migration tool (RACFDB2).  As per any migration activity, Garbage In, Garbage Out (GIGO) applies, and this golden rule dictates the requirement for a collaborative team effort to execute a DB2 to RACF security migration process.  Of course, the most important resources will be the DB2 DBA(s) responsible for maintaining DB2 security and a RACF SME.  Between them, these 2 resources have all of the skills required to perform this migration process, if not the experience.

From a documentation viewpoint, there are several resources that can be referenced to simplify this process:

The purpose of this blog post is a “call to action”, for those sites still deploying DB2 internal security, to migrate to their External Security Manager (ESM), whether ACF2, RACF or Top Secret.  There are also options for the migration of internal DB2 security to CA ACF2 and Top Secret respectively.

As previously stated, the DB2 DBA will be ideally placed to review the existing internal DB2 security environment, performing any clean-up and rationalization before the actual migration process.  The initial pass of the migration process will inevitably produce a one:one (1:1) mapping of rules, generating numerous security definitions extraneous to requirements.  This is where the ACF2, RACF or Top Secret SME can collaborate with their DB2 DBA, applying grouping, masking and generic filters to vastly reduce and simplify the number of security definitions required.  As with any migration, perform on the lowest level non-Production environment first, apply the lessons learned, and use common sense, issuing warning messages for inadvertent security policy errors, as opposed to denying security access for Production migrations!  Therefore allowing for the smooth transition from DB2 internal to ESM based security.

In my opinion, each and every IBM Mainframe organization has the ability to initiate this DB2 internal to external ACF2, RACF or Top Secret migration project.  Leveraging from 3rd party organizations also makes sense and in no particular order, other than alphabetical, I would suggest IBM Global Services, millennia, RSM Partners or Vanguard.

In conclusion, the IBM System z External Security Manager (ESM), whether ACF2, RACF or Top Secret is an ever-evolving solution with highly advanced security functionality and the de facto central repository for IBM Mainframe security policy management.  From a Security Information & Event Management (SIEM) integration viewpoint, any IBM Mainframe security policy violations will be reported upon in near real-time, while being managed by IBM Mainframe security experts.  Without doubt, if DB2 was implemented before 1997, internal security would have applied, but there has been a ~20 year period where migration to the ACF2, RACF or Top Secret ESM could have happened.  If such a migration activity applies to your organization, I would hope it’s a high priority item, given the potential security risk and priceless value of your business data!

System z: I/O Interoperability Evolution – From Bus & Tag to FICON

Since the introduction of the S/360 Mainframe in 1964 there has been a gradual evolution of I/O connectivity that has taken us from copper Bus & Tag to fibre ESCON and now FICON channels.  Obviously during this ~50 year period there have been exponentially more releases of Mainframe server and indeed Operating System.  In this timeframe there have been 2 significant I/O technology milestones.  Firstly, in 1990, ESCON was part of the significant S/390 announcement (MVS/ESA), where migration to ESCON was a great benefit, if only for replacing the heavy and big copper Bus & Tag channels.  Secondly, even though FICON was released in the late 1990’s, in 2009 IBM announced that the z10 would be the last Mainframe server to support greater than 240 native ESCON channels.  Similarly IBM declared that the last zEnterprise server to support ESCON channels are the z196 and z114 servers.  Each of these major I/O evolutions required a migration philosophy and not every I/O device would be upgraded to support either native ESCON of FICON channels.  How did customers achieve these mandatory I/O upgrades to safeguard IBM Mainframe Server and associated Operating System longevity?

In 2009 it was estimated ~20% of all Mainframe customers were using ESCON only I/O infrastructures, while only ~20% of all Mainframe customers were deploying a FICON only infrastructure.  Similarly ~33% of z9 and z10 systems were shipped with ESCON CVC (Block Multiplexor) and CBY (Byte Multiplexor) channels defined, while ~75% of all Mainframe Servers had native ESCON (CNC) capability.  From a dispassionate viewpoint, clearly the migration from ESCON to FICON was going to be a significant challenge, while even in this timeframe, there was still use of Bus & Tag channels…

One of the major strengths of the IBM Mainframe ecosystem is the partner network, primarily software (ISV) based, but with some significant hardware (IHV) providers.  From a channel switch viewpoint, we will all be familiar with Brocade, Cisco and McData, where Brocade acquired McData in 2006.  However, from a channel protocol conversion viewpoint, IBM worked with Optica Technologies, to deliver a solution that would allow the support for ESCON and Bus & Tag channels to the FICON only zBC12/zEC12 and future Mainframe servers (I.E. z13, z13s).  Somewhat analogous to the smartphone where the user doesn’t necessarily know that an ARM processor might be delivering CPU power to their phone, sometimes even seasoned Mainframe professionals might inadvertently overlook that the Optica Technologies Prizm solution has been or indeed is still deployed in their System z Data Centre…

When IBM work with a partner from an I/O connectivity viewpoint, clearly IBM have to safeguard that said connectivity has the highest interoperability capability with bulletproof data exchange attributes.  Sometimes we might take this for granted with the ubiquitous disk and tape subsystem suppliers (I.E. EMC, HDS, IBM, Oracle), but for FICON conversion support, Optica Technologies was a collaborative partner for IBM.  Ultimately the IBM Hardware Systems Assurance labs deploy their proprietary System Assurance Kernel (SAK) processes to safeguard I/O subsystem interoperability for their System z Mainframe servers.  Asking that rhetorical question; when was the last time you asked your IHV for site of their System Assurance Kernel (SAK) exit report from their collaboration with IBM Hardware Systems Assurance labs for their I/O subsystem you’re considering or deploying?  In conclusion, the SAK compliant, elegant, simple and competitively priced Prizm solution allowed the migration of tens if not hundreds of thousands of ESCON connections in thousands of Mainframe data centres globally!

With such a rich heritage of providing a valuable solution to the global IBM Mainframe install base, whether the smallest or largest, what would be next for Optica Technologies?  Obviously leveraging from their expertise in FICON channel support would be a good way forward.  With the recent acquisition of Bus-Tech by EMC and the eradication of the flexible MDL tapeless virtual tape offering, Optica Technologies are ideally placed to be that small, passionate and eminently qualified IHV to deliver a turnkey virtual tape solution for the smaller and indeed larger System z user.  The Optica Technologies zVT family leverages from the robust and heritage class Prizm technology, delivering an innovative family of virtual tape solutions.  The entry “Virtual Tape In A Box” zVT 3000i provides 2 FICON channel interfaces and 4 TB uncompressed internal RAID-5 disk space, seamlessly interfacing with all System z supported tape devices (I.E. 3490, 3590) and processes.  A single enterprise class zVT 5000-iNAS node delivers 2 FICON channel interfaces, NFS storage capacity from 8TB to 1PB in a single frame with standard deduplication, compression, replication and encryption features.  The zVT 5000-iNAS is available with multi-node configuration support for additional scalability and resiliency.  For those customers wishing to deploy their own choice of NFS or FC storage subsystem, the zVT 5000-FLEX allows such connectivity accordingly.

In conclusion, sometimes it’s all too easy to take some solutions for granted, when they actually delivered a tangible and arguably priceless solution in the evolution of your organizations System z Mainframe server journey from ESCON, if not Bus & Tag to FICON.  Perhaps the Prizm solution is one of these unsung products?  Therefore, the next time you’re reviewing the virtual tape market place, why wouldn’t you seriously consider Optica Technologies, given their rich heritage in FICON channel interoperability?  Given that IBM chose Optica Technologies as their strategic partner for ESCON to FICON migration, seemingly even IBM might have thought “nobody gets fired for choosing…”!

zHyperLink: Just Another System z DASD I/O Function Enhancement?

Over the last several decades or so the IBM Mainframe platform has delivered several new technologies that have dramatically improved the performance of disk (DASD) I/O performance.  Specifically the deployment of ESCON as the introduction to Fibre Optical channels, followed by EMIF for channel sharing and reduced I/O protocol, superseded by FICON and most recently zHPF.  All of these technologies have allowed for ever larger amounts of data to be processed by the System z server and the adoption of Geographically Dispersed Parallel Sysplex (GDPS) implementations for business continuity reasons.  Ultimately mission critical data and decisions are facilitated by applications and sub-second response times for these transactions is expected.  Some might say that we’re always running to stand still from a performance perspective when implementing the latest System z technologies?

In reality, today’s 21st Century mission-critical application is not just capturing and storing customer data, it’s doing so much more, attempting to make informed business decisions for a richer customer experience!  Historically a customer transaction would be on a one-to-one basis (E.g. ask for a balance query), whereas today, said transaction might generate more data for the customer, potentially offering them a new or enhanced product.  In theory, this informed and intelligent transaction processing delivers a richer experience for the customer and potentially new revenue opportunities for the business.

For several years IBM have integrated the Cloud, Analytics, Mobile, Social & Security (CAMSS) initiative into their product offerings, recognising that a business transaction can originate from the cloud or a mobile device, potentially via a Social Media platform, require rich processing via real-time analytics, while requiring the highest levels of security.  Of course, one must draw one’s own conclusions, but maintaining sub-second or ultra-fast transaction response times, with this level of CAMSS complexity requires significant performance enhancements.  To deliver such ultra-fast response times requires the DASD I/O subsystem to maintain the highest levels of performance, aligned with the latest System z server platform…

In January 2017 IBM issued a Statement of Direction (SoD) and associated FAQ for their zHyperLink technology.  zHyperLink is a new short distance mainframe link technology designed for up to 10 times lower latency than zHPF.  zHyperLink is intended to accelerate DB2 for z/OS transaction processing and improve active log throughput.  IBM intends to deliver field upgradable support for zHyperLink on the existing IBM DS8880 storage subsystem.  zHyperLink technology is a new mainframe attach link.  It is the result of collaboration between DB2 for z/OS, the z/OS operating System, IBM System z servers and the DS8880 storage subsystem to deliver extreme low latency I/O access for DB2 for z/OS applications.  zHyperLink technology is intended to complement FICON technology, accelerating those I/O requests that are typically used for transaction processing.  These links are point-to-point connections between the System z CEC and the storage system and are limited to 150 meter distances.  These links do not impact the z Architecture 8 channel path limit.

From a DB2 I/O service performance perspective viewpoint, at short distances, a native FICON or zHPF originated I/O typically requires 300 Microseconds (μs) for a simple I/O operation.  The coupling facility for z Systems typically can read or write 4K of data in in under 8 Microseconds.  zHyperLink technology will provide a new short distance link from the mainframe to storage to read and write data up to 10 times faster than FICON or zHPF; reducing DB2 I/O service times to an anticipated 20-30 Microseconds.

In conclusion, with a promise of 10 times faster processing, as per its fibre optic channel technology predecessors, particularly EMIF and zHPF, zHyperLink is a revolutionary DASD I/O function and not just another DASD I/O subsystem function enhancement.  At this stage, the deployment of zHyperLink functionality is restricted to DB2 and the IBM DS8880 storage subsystem, while we eagerly await compatibility support from EMC and HDS accordingly.  Moreover, as per the evolution of zHPF, we hope for the inclusion of other I/O workloads to benefit from this paradigm changing I/O response time technology.

Finally, as always, the realm of possibility always exists for each and every System z DASD I/O subsystem to be monitored and tuned on a proactive and 24*7*365 basis.  Although all of this DASD I/O performance data has always been and still is captured by RMF (CMF) data, intelligent processing of this data requires an ever evolving Performance Management process and arguably an intelligent software solution (E.g. IntelliMagic Direction Disk Magic or Technical Storage Easy Analyze Disk Mainframe) to provide meaningful information and business decisions from ever increasing amounts of RMF (CMF) data.  In November 2016 ago I delivered the DASD I/O Performance Management Is Easy? session at the UK GSE Annual 2016 meeting accordingly…

System z Batch Optimization: Another Pipes Option?

Over the last 20 years or so I have encountered many sites looking for solutions to streamline their batch processing, only to find that sometimes they are their own worst enemy, because their cautious Change Management approach means they will not change or even recompile COBOL application source, unless absolutely forced to do so.  Sometimes VSAM file tuning is the answer, sometimes identifying the batch critical path, and on occasion, finding that key file or database that is processed on several or more occasions, which might benefit from parallelism is the answer.

BatchPipes was first introduced with MVS/ESA, allowing for data (E.g. BSAM, QSAM) to be piped between several jobs, allowing concurrent job processing, reducing the combined elapsed time of the associated job stream.  BatchPipes maintains a queue of records that are passed between a writer and reader.  The writer adds records to the back of a pipe queue and the reader processes them from the front.  This record level processing approach avoids any potential data set serialization issues when attempting to concurrently write and read records from the same physical data set.

The IBM BatchPipes feature has evolved somewhat and BMC have offered similar functionality with their initial Data Accelerator and Batch Accelerator offering, subsequently superseded by MainView Batch Optimizer Job Optimizer Pipes.  It seems patently obvious that to derive the parallelism benefit offered by BatchPipes, the reader and writer jobs need to be processed together.  For many, such a consideration has been an issue that has eliminated any notion of BatchPipes implementation.  Other considerations include a job failure in the BatchPipes process, where restart and recovery might include several jobs, as opposed to one.  Therefore widespread usage of BatchPipes has been seemingly limited.

The first step for any BatchPipes consideration is identifying whether there is any benefit.  IBM provide a BatchPipes SMF analysis tool to determine the estimated time savings and benefits that can be achieved with BatchPipes.  This tool reads SMF record types 14, 15 and 30 (Subtypes 1, 4 and 5) to analyse data set read and write activity, reconciling with the associated processing job.  As an observation, sometimes a data source might have a different data set name, be both permanent and temporary, while consuming significant I/O and CPU resource for processing.  Such data source reconciliation can easily be achieved, as the record and associated I/O count for such a data source is the same, for entire data set processing operations.  The analysis tool will identify the heavy I/O jobs and be a great starting point for any analysis activities.

UNIX users will be very familiar with the concept of pipes, where a UNIX pipeline is a sequence of processes chained together by their standard streams, where the output of each process (stdout) feeds directly as input (stdin) to the next one.  Wouldn’t it be good if there was a hybrid approach to BatchPipes, using a combination of standard z/OS and extended UNIX Systems Services (USS)?

With z/OS 2.2, JES2 introduced new functions to facilitate the scheduling of dependent batch jobs.  These functions comprise Job Execution Control (JEC) and can be utilized by making use of the new JOBGROUP and related Job Control Language (JCL) statements.  The primary goal of JEC is to provide an easy-to-use control mechanism, allowing complex batch jobs to be processed in inter-related constituent pieces.  Presuming that these constituent pieces can be run in parallel, improved throughput can be achieved by exploiting the concurrency functions provided by JEC.

UNIX named pipes can be used to pass data between simultaneously executing jobs, where the UNIX pipe can either be temporary or permanent.  One or more processes can connect to a UNIX named pipe, write to it, and read from it, as and when required.  Unlike most types of z/OS UNIX files, data written to a named pipe is always appended to existing data rather than replacing existing data.  Therefore, the STOR command is equivalent to the APPE command when UNIXFILETYPE=FIFO is configured.  This UNIX pipe facility, managed by the JES2 JEC functions can be leveraged to provide benefit for multiple step job processing and concurrent job processing, with the overall benefit of a reduction in overall batch stream elapsed time.

In conclusion, the advancement in JES2 JEC processing simplifies the batch scheduling and restart configuration processing, while the usage of UNIX named pipes leverages from existing z/OS USS functionality, safeguarding good performance using a tried and tested process.

Finally, returning full circle to my initial observation of Change Management considerations when performing batch optimization initiatives; recently I worked with a customer I visited in 2001, where they considered and dismissed BatchPipes Version 2.  We piloted this new UNIX pipe facility in Q4 2016, in readiness for their Year End processing, where they finally delivered a much needed ~2 Hour reduction in their ~9 Hour Critical Path Year End batch process.  Sometimes patience is a virtue, assisted by a slight implementation tweak…

The Software Defined Mainframe (SDM): An Alternative Approach?

Some consider the IBM Mainframe to be the last bastion of proprietary computing platforms, for obvious reasons, namely the CPU server architecture and the single manufacturer, IBM.  The historical and legacy ability of said IBM Mainframe to transform Data Processing into Information Technology and still participating in the Digital Era is without doubt.  However, for many, the complicated and perceived ultra-expensive world of software pricing generate concern, largely based upon Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt (FUD), which might have generated years if not decades of under investment for those organizations with an IBM Mainframe.

Having worked with the IBM Mainframe for 35+ years, I have gained a knowledge that allows cost optimization and contemporaneous usability, which given the importance of the IBM Mainframe platform to IBM from a revenue viewpoint, will safeguard that the IBM Mainframe will have a long future.  However, the last decade or so has seen a rapid evolution in Open Source, DevOps, Enterprise Class Support for Distributed Platforms, Mobile and Cloud computing, et al, potentially generating an opportunity for the global IBM Mainframe user base to once again consider the platforms value proposition…

Let’s consider this server platform choice from a business viewpoint.  On the one hand, there are the well versed market statements, where 80%+ of corporate data resides or originates from IBM Mainframes, while IBM Mainframes enable 70%+ of global commercial transactions, et al.  In recent times there are global businesses, leveraging from the cloud or Linux Open Source technologies, to run their business.  For instance, Netflix reportedly runs its media on demand business via the Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud, while said platform is facilitating a Data Centre reduction of 34 to 4 for General Electric (GE).  There are many other such “early adopters” of this commodity infrastructure provision opportunity, including Capital One, Hertz and Juniper, naming but a few.

Quite simply, the power of Mobile processors, primarily ARM and supporting software ecosystem empower each and every potential consumer with a palm sized smart computing platform, while the power and supporting software ecosystem of x86 processors, generate an environment for each and every global business, mature or not even launched, to deliver an eminently usable and scalable IT Infrastructure for their business model.

Of course, the IBM Mainframe can do this, it always has been at the forefront of IT architectures and always will be, but for the “naysayers”, its perceived high acquisition and running costs are always an easy target.  As somebody much cleverer than I once said, timing is everything, and we’re now encountering a “golden sunset” for those Mainframe Baby Boomers, just like myself, that will retire in the next decade or so.  Recently I was talking with a large IBM Mainframe customer, who stated “we’re going to lose 1500 years of IBM Mainframe experience in the next 10 years, how can you replace that resource easily”?  Let’s just think about that metric; ~50 people with an average of ~30 years’ experience, but of course, they will all retire in a short time frame!  You must draw your own conclusions as to that conundrum, how do you replace that level of experience?

In conclusion, no matter what IBM deliver from an IBM system z viewpoint, there is no substitute for experience and skill and no company, especially IBM has an answer to skills provision.  In the last 10-20 years, Outsourcing or Managed Services has provided an alternative approach for some companies, but even this option has finite resource.  If we consider the CFO viewpoint, where the bottom line is the only true financial metric, it’s easy to envisage a situation where many companies consider an alternative to the IBM Mainframe platform, both from a cost and viability viewpoint.  As a lifelong IBM Mainframe champion and as previously stated, there will always be a solution for safeguarding the longevity and viability of the IBM mainframe for any Medium to Large sized business.  However, now is the time to act, embrace the new Open Source, DevOps and Hybrid Cloud opportunities, to transition from a Baby Boomer to Millennial Mainframe workforce!

Is there an alternative approach and what is the Software Defined Mainframe (SDM)?

Put simply, SDM is a technology from LzLabs enabling the migration of mission-critical workloads from legacy IBM Mainframe environments to x86 Linux platforms.  Put another way, LzLabs have developed a managed software container that provides enterprises with a viable way to lift and shift applications from IBM Mainframes into Red Hat Linux or Cloud environments.  From my first glance, the primary keyword here is container; there was a time where the term container might have been foreign to the System z Mainframe, but with LinuxONE and zVM, Docker and KVM are now commonplace and accepted functions.  The primary considerations for any platform migration would include:

  • Seamless Migration: The LzLabs Software Defined Mainframe (SDM) ensures the key capabilities of screen handling, transaction management, recovery and concurrency are preserved without changes to the applications. LzOnline is capable of processing thousands of online customer transactions per second using commercial off-the-shelf hardware.
  • Major Subsystem Compatibility: The LzLabs Software Defined Mainframe (SDM) safeguards 100% compatibility with existing job control syntax, and also enables job submission via network connected nodes that support conventional job entry protocols. LzBatch provides a full spool capability that enables output to be managed and routed in familiar ways. Use of conventional job submission models, with standard job control, also means existing batch scheduling can operate with minimal changes.  Other solutions include LzRelational for Relational Database Management System (RDBMS) support and LzSecure, an authentication and authorization subsystem using security rules migrated from the incumbent IBM Mainframe platform.
  • Application Code Stability: An innovative approach that avoids the requirement to recompile or rewrite legacy COBOL or PLI application source code. Leveraging from functionality delivered by Cobol-IT and Eranea, a simple and straightforward process to convert and potentially modernize existing application source code to Java.

The realm of possibility exists and there are likely to be a number of existing IBM Mainframe users that find themselves with challenges, whether retiring workforce or back level application code based.  The Software Defined Mainframe (SDM) solution provides them with a potential option of simplifying a transition process, with seemingly minimal risk, while eradicating any significant dependence on another Distributed Systems platform supplier, during the arduous application source and data migration process.

From my viewpoint, I hope that this innovative LzLabs approach is a wake-up call for IBM themselves, who continue to deliver a strategic Enterprise Class System z platform, with all of its long term challenges, primarily cost based and the intricate and over complicated sub-capacity software pricing structure.  Without doubt, any new workload can easily be accommodated for low cost via the recent LinuxONE offering, but somewhere along the line, IBM perhaps overlooked a number of Small to Medium sized customers, who once might have used entry level or plug-compatible platforms, including and not limited to S/390 Integrated Server, MP3000, FLEX-ES zFrame, T3 Liberty, et al.  Equally from a dispassionate viewpoint, I welcome the competition of the LzLabs Software Defined Mainframe (SDM) offering and I would encourage all CIO and indeed other CxO personnel to consider the merits of this solution.