IBM Mainframe: Workload License Charges (WLC) Pros & Cons

It is estimated that less than half of eligible IBM Mainframe customers deploy the VWLC pricing mechanism, which in theory, is the lowest cost IBM software pricing metric.  Why?  In the first instance, let’s review the terminology…

Workload License Charges (WLC) is a monthly software license pricing metric applicable to IBM System z servers running z/OS or z/TPF in z/Architecture (64-bit) mode.  The fundamental ethos of WLC is a “pay for what you use” mechanism, allowing a lower cost of incremental growth and the potential to manage software cost by managing associated workload utilization.

WLC charges are either VWLC (Variable) or FWLC (Flat).  Not all IBM Mainframe software products are classified as VWLC eligible, but the major software is, including z/OS, CICS, DB2, IMS and WebSphere MQ, where these products are the most expensive, per MSU.  What IBM consider to be legacy products, are classified as FWLC.  More recently a modification to the VWLC mechanism was announced, namely AWLC (Advanced), strictly aligned with the latest generation of zSeries servers, namely zEC12, z196 and z114.  For the smaller user, the EWLC (Entry) mechanism applies, where AEWLC would apply for the z114 server.  There is a granular cost structure based on MSU (CPU) capacity that applies to VWLC and associated pricing mechanisms:

Band MSU Range
Base 0-3 MSU
Level 0 4-45 MSU
Level 1 46-175 MSU
Level 2 176-315 MSU
Level 3 316-575 MSU
Level 4 576-875 MSU
Level 5 876-1315 MSU
Level 6 1316-1975 MSU
Level 7 1976+ MSU

Put simply, as the MSU band increases, the related cost per MSU decreases.

IBM Mainframe users can further implement cost control by specifying how much MSU resource they use by deploying Sub-Capacity and Soft Capping techniques.  Defined Capacity (DC) allows the sizing of an LPAR in MSU, and so said LPAR will not exceed this MSU amount.  Group Capacity Limit (GCL) extends the Defined Capacity principle for a single LPAR to a group of LPARs, and so allowing MSU resource to be shared accordingly.  A potential downside of GCL is that is one LPAR of the group can consume all available MSU due to a rogue transaction (E.g. loop).

Sub-Capacity software charges are based upon LPAR hardware utilization, where the product runs, measured in hourly intervals.  To smooth out isolated usage peaks, a Rolling 4-Hour Average (R4HA) is calculated for each LPAR combination, and so software charges are based on the Monthly R4HA peak of appropriate LPAR combinations (I.E. where the software product runs) and not based on individual product measurement.

Once a Defined Capacity LPAR is deployed, this informs WLM (Workload Manager) to monitor the R4HA utilization of that LPAR.  If the LPAR R4HA utilization is less than the Defined Capacity, nothing happens.  If the LPAR R4HA utilization exceeds the Defined Capacity, then WLM signals to PR/SM and requests that Soft Capping be initiated, constraining the LPAR workload to the Defined Capacity level.

If a user chooses a Sub-Capacity WLC pricing mechanism, they will be required by IBM to submit a monthly Sub-Capacity Reporting Tool (SCRT) report.  Monthly WLC invoices are based upon hourly utilization metrics of LPAR hardware utilization, where the software product executes.  The cumulative R4HA and bottom line WLC billing metric is calculated for each product and associated LPAR group and not based on individual product measurement.

Bottom Line: From a Soft Capping viewpoint, the customer only pays for WLC software based upon the Defined Capacity (DC) or Rolling 4-Hour Average (R4HA), whichever is the lowest.  So whether a customer uses Soft Capping or not, in all likelihood, there will be occasions when their workload R4HA is lower than their zSeries server MSU capacity.

So, at first glance, VWLC seems to provide a compelling pricing metric, based upon Sub-Capacity and a pay for what you use ethos, and so why wouldn’t an IBM Mainframe user deploy this pricing metric?

The IBM Planning for Sub-Capacity Pricing (SA22-7999-0n) manual states “For IBM System z10 BC and System z9 BC environments, and z890 servers, EWLC pricing is the default for z/OS systems, and Sub-Capacity pricing is always the best option.  For IBM zEnterprise 114, environments, AEWLC pricing is the default for z/OS systems, and Sub-Capacity pricing is always the best option.  For IBM zEnterprise 196, System z10 EC and System z9 EC environments, and other zSeries servers, Sub-Capacity pricing is cost-effective for many, but not all, customers.  You might even find that Sub-Capacity pricing is cost effective for some of your CPCs, but not others (although if you want pricing aggregation, you must always use the same pricing for all the CPCs in the same sysplex)”.

Conclusion: For all small Mainframe users qualifying for the EWLC (AEWLC) pricing metric, arguably this pricing mechanism is mandatory.  For the majority of larger Mainframe users, the same applies, although a granularity of adoption might be required.  IBM also have a disclaimer “Once you decide to use Sub-Capacity pricing for a specific operating system family, you cannot return to the alternative pricing methods for that operating system family on that CPC.  For example, once you select WLC you may not switch back to PSLC without prior IBM approval”.  However, the requisite contractual exit clause option does exist; the customer can switch back to the PSLC pricing metric.

Some IBM Mainframe users might object to a notion of Soft Capping, relying upon their tried and tested methodology of LPAR management via the number of CPs allocated and associated PR/SM Weight.  This is seemingly a valid notion and requirement, prioritizing performance ahead of cost optimization.

Conclusion: As previously indicated, with VWLC, SCRT invoices are generated upon a premise of the customer only pays for WLC software based upon the Defined Capacity (DC) or Rolling 4-Hour Average (R4HA), whichever is the lowest.  So the VWLC pricing mechanism should deliver a granularity of cost savings, typically higher for a Soft Capping environment.

Some IBM Mainframe users might just believe that nothing can match their Parallel Sysplex Licensing Charge (PSLC) mechanism, first available in the late 1990’s, which might be attributable to other 3rd party ISV’s who cannot and will not allow for their software to be priced on a Sub-Capacity basis.  In reality, adopting the VWLC pricing mechanism delivers ~5% cost savings when compared with PSLC, as indicated by the IBM Planning for Sub-Capacity Pricing Manual (SA22-7999-0n) and related Sub-Capacity Planning Tool (SCPT).

Conclusion: Adopting Sub-Capacity based pricing metrics can only be a good thing.  If your 3rd party ISV supplier doesn’t recognise Sub-Capacity pricing, whether MIPS or MSU based, perhaps you should consider your relationship with them.  Regardless, the z10 server was the last IBM Mainframe to incorporate the “Technology Dividend” solely based on faster CPU chips.  The lower cost WLC pricing metric is now only available with the AWLC and related (E.g. AEWLC) pricing metrics, as per the z196, z114 and zEC12 servers.

Some customers might state that there is a lack of function or granularity of policy definition for IBM supplied Soft Capping (E.g. DC, GCL) or Workload Management (WLM) techniques.  To some extent this is a valid argument, but wasn’t it forever thus with IBM function?  Sub-Capacity implementation is possible via IBM, as is Workload Management (WLM), Soft Capping or not, but should the customer require extra functionality, 3rd party software solutions are available.

The zDynaCap software solution from zIT Consulting delivers a “Capacity Balancing” mechanism, integrating with R4HA and WLM methodologies, but constantly monitoring MSU usage to determine whether CPU resource can be reallocated to Mission & Time Critical workloads, based upon granular customer policies.  The only guarantee in a multiple LPAR environment, for a Mission & Time Critical LPAR to receive all available MSU resource, Soft Capping or not, is to inactivate all other LPARs!  Clearly this is not an acceptable policy for any installation, and so a best endeavours policy applies for PR/SM DC, GCL and Weight settings.

Conclusion: z/OS workloads change constantly, whether the time of day (E.g. On-Line, Batch) or period of the year (E.g. Weekly, Monthly, Quarterly, Yearly) or just by customer demand (E.g. 24 Hour Transaction Application).  Therefore a dynamic MSU management solution such as zDynaCap is arguably mandatory, implementing the optimum MSU management policy, whether for purely performance reasons, safeguarding the Mission & Time Critical workload isn’t impacted by lower priority workloads, or for cost reasons, optimizing MSU usage for the best possible monthly WLC cost.

In conclusion, not considering and arguably not implementing z/OS VWLC related pricing mechanisms is impractical, because:

  • The VWLC and AWLC related pricing metrics deliver the lowest cost per MSU for eligible z/OS software
  • When compared with PSLC, VWLC related pricing mechanisms deliver conservative ~5% cost savings
  • A pay for what you use and therefore Sub-Capacity pricing mechanism, not the installed MSU capacity
  • If extra MSU policy management granularity is required, consider 3rd party software such as zDynaCap

Software cost savings are not just for the privileged; they’re for everyone!