The IBM Mainframe: A Several Year Hardware Refresh Cycle?

Typically a new generation of IBM Mainframe server is released every three years or so, along with a number of function and performance upgrades.  In 2003, IBM released their Mainframe Charter that included a statement:

IBM lowered MSU values incorporated in the z990 microcode by approximately 10 percent, resulting in IBM software savings for IBM zSeries software products with MSU-based pricing.  These reduced MSUs do not indicate a change in machine performance. Superior performance and technology within the z990 has allowed IBM to provide improved software prices for key IBM zSeries operating system and middleware software products.

This terminology was named by some as the “Technology Dividend” where put simply, when upgrading IBM Mainframe servers, users would benefit from a ~10%+ software price versus performance benefit.  However, the z10 server model was the last IBM Mainframe series that benefitted from this hardware CPU chip related performance benefit.  Subsequent IBM Mainframe models have compensated for this slowing of hardware performance increase, by compensating with AWLC and AEWLC pricing models.  Therefore, unless your business has an absolute need for the “latest and greatest” IBM Mainframe server hardware, the realm of possibility exists that your business can extend the useful and cost efficient lifetime of your IBM Mainframe asset beyond the typical three year period…

As we all know, with every IT platform, there is a strong correlation between server hardware and associated Operating System.  Arguably the IBM Mainframe server has the best compatibility attribute, where there are many server hardware and Operating System interoperability scenarios.  A recent Statement Of Direction (SOD) for z/OS states:

Going forward, IBM intends to make new z/OS and z/OSMF releases available approximately every two years. Such a schedule would be intended to provide you with sufficient time to plan for new releases and to leverage them for the most business value. In addition, beginning with z/OS Version 2, IBM plans to provide five years of z/OS support, with three years of optional, fee-based extended service (5+3) as part of the new release cadence. Beginning with z/OSMF Version 2, IBM also plans to provide five years of z/OSMF support. However, similar to z/OSMF Version 1, optional extended service is not planned to be available for z/OSMF Version 2.

In addition, in z/OS V2.1, IBM plans to further leverage enhancements in the current IBM mainframe servers and storage control units. z/OS V2.1 is planned to IPL only on System z9 and later servers. Also, z/OS Version 2 is planned to require 3990 Model 3 (3990-3), 3990 Model 6 (3990-6), and later storage control units.

In attempt to simplify this scenario, in theory an IBM Mainframe customer could benefit from 5 years z/OS Version 2 support, with an IBM z9 or newer server.  In addition, this support could be extended for a further 3 years, for an extended service fee.  Therefore, from a software support perspective, there are no tangible cost considerations for extending the asset life of an IBM Mainframe from a 3 to 5 year cycle.

We must then consider the End of Marketing (EOM), also known as Withdrawal From Marketing (WDFM) and End Of Service (EOS) life cycles for the IBM Mainframe Server (Hardware).  Once again, when compared to other non-Mainframe platforms, the IBM Mainframe Server demonstrates an arguably unparalleled support cycle, where in the last 20 years or more, an average of 4.2 years sales and service, supplemented by an additional average of 7.1 years additional service applies.  Once again, as per z/OS Operating System support, the realm of possibility exists for extending the typical 3 year hardware refresh cycle to 5 years or longer.

When considering IBM Mainframe server hardware provision and support, there is one subtle difference that is not necessarily obvious, especially for those organizations that refresh their IBM Mainframe server every 3 years or so.  Clearly and stating the obvious, only IBM or a highly certified IBM System z Business partner can supply a latest generation IBM System z server or field upgrade option.  Conversely, there are a higher number of certified organizations that can provide IBM Mainframe hardware support services, allowing for a competitive and healthy 3rd party market for these services.  Additionally these companies also maintain inventories of equipment and have access to Microcode and Firmware upgrades that offer a possibility for performing field upgrades of EOM/WDFM servers.  One such company with a longevity and good track record of providing these value-added IBM Mainframe services from The United Kingdom is Blue Chip Customer Engineering.  As per any other competitive market place, arguably each and every IBM Mainframe user might consider obtaining a comparative hardware support services quotation for their business, whether they’re using the current latest and greatest IBM System z server model, or a slightly older (E.g. 4-8+ Years) model.

In conclusion, there are always options for the cost savvy business to reduce costs.  In the IBM Mainframe environment, soft capping via standard IBM Defined Capacity (DC) or Group Capacity Limit (GCL) function is an option, intelligent soft capping via a 3rd party product such as zDynaCap might be an option, or leveraging from the latest Absolute Capping IBM feature also applies.  Moreover, exploring the 3rd party hardware support services market might prove to be a very simple and commercial exercise that could decrease IBM Mainframe TCO, while extending asset life accordingly.