Java: Is System z A Viable Server Platform?

As long ago as 1997, IBM integrated Java into their IBM Mainframe platform, in those days via the then flagship OS/390 Operating System. As with any new technology, perhaps the initial OS/390 Java integration offerings were not perfect, but some ~20 years later, a lot has changed…

In 2000, IBM Java SDK 1.3.1 delivered z/OS and Linux on z support, quickly followed by 64-bit z/OS support in 2003 via SDK 1.4. In 2004 Java Virtual Machine (JVM) and JIT (Just-In-Time) compiler technology support was provided, while Java code has always exploited IBM specialty engines, primarily zAAP initially and now via zIIP and the zAAP on zIIP capability. Put simply, IBM continues to invest aggressively in Java for System z, demonstrating a history of innovation and performance improvements, up to and including the latest z13 server.

So why should a 21st century business consider the System z platform for Java workloads?

Arguably the primary reason is a rapidly emerging requirement for the true 24*7*365 workload, which cannot accommodate a batch window, where Java is ideally placed to serve both batch and OLTP workloads. Put another way, the need to process batch work has not gone away, whereas a requirement to process batch work concurrently with OLTP services has emerged. Of course, traditionally the typical System z enterprise might have two sets of IT staff for OLTP and batch workloads, typically in the IT Support and Application Management teams, whereas via Java and a workload centric approach, separate batch and OLTP support personnel are not necessarily required.

For the System z platform, Java support has always been incorporated into the core architectural building blocks, namely z/OS, CICS, DB2, IMS, WebSphere, Batch Runtime, et al. Therefore there are no functional reasons why new applications or indeed existing applications cannot be engineered using the pervasive Java programming language and deployed on the System z platform.

Quite simply, Java is a critically important language for IBM System z. Java has become foundational for data serving and transaction serving, the traditional strengths of IBM System z. WebSphere applications written in Java and processing via System z, benefit from a key advantage through co-location. This delivers better response times, greater throughput and reduced system complexity when driving CICS, DB2 and IMS transactions.

Java is also critical for enabling next generation workloads in the IBM defined Cloud, Analytics, Mobile & Security (CAMS) framework. Cloud and mobile applications can access z/OS data and transactions via z/OS Connect and other WebSphere solutions, all inherently Java based. Java on System z also provides a full set of cryptographic functions to implement secure solutions. A key strength of Java applications is the ability to immediately benefit from the latest hardware performance improvements using the Just In-Time (JIT) compiler incorporated in the latest IBM Java SDK releases.

Let’s not forget, there are many other good reasons why Java might be considered as a viable application programming language:

  • Personnel Skills Availability: Java is typically ranked in the top 3 of most widely used programming languages; therefore personnel availability is abundant and cost efficient.
  • Application Code Portability: Recognizing Java bytecode and associated JVM functionality, no matter what the platform (E.g. Wintel, X86 Linux, UNIX, z/OS, Linux on System z, et al), the Java application code should process without consideration.
  • Application Tooling Support: Application Development tools have evolved to the point of true platform independence, where Application Programmers just create their code, they don’t necessarily know or sometimes care, where that code will execute. Let’s not forget the simplification of Java code for OLTP and batch workloads, reducing associated IT lifecycle support costs.
  • TCO Efficiencies: Simplified Application Development and deployment reduces associated cost, while reducing implementation time for mission-critical workloads. Java exploitation of the zAAP (zAAP on zIIP) safeguards low software costs and optimized processing times (I.E. Sub-Capacity specialty engines run at full speed).

With the announcement of the zEC12 server, notable Java enhancements included:

  • Hardware Transaction Memory (HTM) – Better concurrency for multi-threaded applications
  • Run-Time Instrumentation (RI) – Innovation of a new hardware facility designed for managed runtimes
  • 2 GB Page Frames – Improved performance targeting 64-bit heaps
  • Pageable 1 MB Large Pages (Flash Express) – Better versatility of managing memory
  • New Software Hints/Directives – Data usage intent improves cache management; Branch pre-load improves branch prediction
  • New Trap Instructions – Reduce implicit bounds/null checks overhead

In summary, System z users can expect up to 60% throughput performance improvement amongst Java workloads measured with zEC12 and the IBM Java 7 SR3 SDK.

IBM z13 and the IBM Java 8 SDK deliver improved Java performance, including Single Instruction Multiple Data (SIMD) vector engine, Simultaneous Multi-Threading (SMT) and improved CP Assist for Cryptographic Function (CPACF). Delivering up to 2X improvement in throughput-per-core for security-enabled applications and up to 50% improvement for other generic applications.

Other z13 Java functional and performance improvements include:

  • Secure Application Serving – Application serving with Secure Socket Layers (SSL) will exploit the new Java 8 Clear Key CPACF and SIMD vector instructions for string manipulation. An additional 75% performance improvement for Java 8 on z13 with SMT versus Java 8 on zEC12.
  • Business Rules Processing – Business rules processing with Java 8 takes advantage of the SIMD vector instructions and SMT for zIIP specialty engines on z13 to achieve significant improvements in throughput-per-core. An additional 37% performance improvement from z13 SMT zIIPs with Java 8 versus Java 8 on zEC12.
  • Specific z/OS Java 8 Exploitation of z13 SIMD – Java 8 exploits the new z13 SIMD vector hardware instructions for Java libraries and functions. These SIMD vector hardware instructions on z13 for improved performance, where specific idioms/operations were improved by between 2X and 60X. Performance benefits for real life Java applications will be dependent on how frequently these idiom/operations are used.

In conclusion, the IBM commitment to Java on System z is clearly evident and the cost, performance and security proposition becomes compelling on the latest zEC12 and z13 Mainframe servers. The pervasive deployment of Java as a universal IT programming language dictates that programmer availability will never be an issue, and platform independence dictates that Java applications can be created and processed on any platform. Let’s not forget, the strong single thread performance and I/O scalability of System z as a significant differentiator when comparing Java performance on any IT platform.

Moreover, as always, perhaps the business dictates what platform is the most suitable for business applications. The evolution to a combined OLTP and batch workload for the 21st Century 24*7*365 mission critical business application, ideally places Java as an eminently viable programming language. Therefore there is no requirement to reengineer any existing System z application, or to find an alternative platform for new business functions. As always, the System z Mainframe platform should never be overlooked…