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.

z/OS Workload Manager (WLM): Balancing Cost & Performance

A sophisticated mechanism is required to orchestrate the allocation of System z resources (E.g. CPU, Memory, I/O) to multiple z/OS workloads, requiring differing business processing priorities. Put very simply, a mechanism is required to translate business processing requirements (I.E. SLA) into an automated and equitable z/OS performance manager. Such a mechanism will safeguard the highest possible throughput, while delivering the best possible system responsiveness. Ideally, such a mechanism will assist in delivering this optimal performance, for the lowest cost; for z/OS, primarily Workload License Charges (WLC) related. Of course, the Workload Management (WLM) z/OS Operating System component delivers this functionality.

A rhetorical question for all z/OS Performance Managers and z/OS MLC Cost Managers would be “how much importance does your organization place on WLM and how proactively do you manage this seemingly pivotal z/OS component”? In essence, this seems like a ridiculous question, yet there is evidence that suggests many organizations, both customer and ISV alike, don’t necessarily consider WLM to be a fundamental or high priority performance management discipline. Let’s consider several reasons why WLM is a fundamental component in balancing cost and performance for each and every z/OS environment:

  • CPU (MSU) Resource Capping: Whatever the capping method (I.E. Absolute, Hard, Soft), WLM is a controlling mechanism, typically in conjunction with PR/SM, determining when capping is initiated, how it is managed and when it is terminated. Therefore from a dispassionate viewpoint, any 3rd party ISV product that performs MSU optimization via soft capping mechanisms should ideally consider the same CPU (E.g. SMF Type 70, 72, 99) instrumentation data as WLM. Some solutions don’t offer this granularity (E.g. AutoSoftCapping, iCap).
  • MLC R4HA Cost Management: WLM is the fundamental mechanism for controlling this #1 System z software TCO component; namely WLM collects 48 consecutive metric CPU MSU resource usage every 5 Minutes, commonly known as the Rolling 4 Hour Average (R4HA). In an ideal world, an optimally managed workload that generates a “valid monthly peak”, will fully utilize this “already paid for” available CPU MSU resource for the remainder of the MLC eligible month (I.E. Start of the 2nd day in a calendar month, to the end of the 1st day in the next calendar month). More recently, Country Multiplex Pricing (CMP) allows an organization to move workloads between System z server (I.E. CPC) structures, without cost consideration for cumulative R4HA peaks. Similarly, Mobile Workload Pricing (MWP) reporting will be simplified with WLM service definitions in z/OS 2.2. Therefore it seems prudent that real-time WLM management, both in terms of real-time reporting and pro-active decision making makes sense.
  • System z Server CPU Management: As System z server CPU chips evolve (E.g. CPU Chip Cache Hierarchy and Relative Nest Intensity), there are complementary changes to the z/OS Operating System management components. For example, HiperDispatch Mode delivers CPU resource usage benefit, considering CPU chip cache resources, intelligently allocating workload to as few logical processors as possible. It therefore follows that prioritization of workloads via WLM policy definitions becomes increasingly important. In this instance one might consider that CPU MF (SMF Type 113) and WLM Topology (SMF Type 99) are complementary reporting techniques for System z server design and management.

Since its announcement in September 1994 (I.E. MVS/ESA Version 5), WLM has evolved to become a fully-rounded and highly capable z/OS System Resources Manager (SRM), simply translating business prioritization policies into dynamic function, optimizing System z CPU, Memory and I/O resources. More recently, WLM continues to simplify the management of CPU chip cache hierarchy resources, while reporting abilities gain in strength, with topology reporting and the promise of simplified MWP reporting. Moreover, WLM resource management becomes more granular and seemingly the realm of possibility exists to “micro manage” System z performance, as and if required. Conversely, WLM provides the opportunity to simplify System z performance management, with intelligent workload differentiation (I.E. Subsystem Enclave, Batch, JES, USS, et al).

Quite simply, IBM are providing the instrumentation and tools for the 21st Century System z Performance and Software Cost Subject Matter Expert (SME) to deliver optimal performance for minimal cost. However, it is incumbent for each and every System z user to optimize software TCO, proactively implementing new processes and leveraging from System z functions accordingly.

Returning to that earlier rhetorical question about the importance of WLM; seemingly its importance is without doubt, primarily because of its instrumentation and management abilities of increasingly cache rich System z CPU chips and its fundamental role in controlling CPU MSU resource, vis-à-vis the R4HA.

Although IBM will provide the System z user with function to optimize system performance and cost, for obvious commercial reasons IBM will not reduce the base cost of System z MLC software. However, recent MLC pricing announcements, namely Country Multiplex Pricing (CMP), Mobile Workload Pricing (MWP) and Collocated Application Pricing (zCAP) provide tangible options to reduce System z MLC TCO. Therefore the System z user might need to consider how they can access real-time WLM performance metrics, intelligently combining this instrumentation data with function to intelligently optimize CPU MSU resource, managing the R4HA accordingly.

Workload X-Ray (WLXR) from zIT Consulting simplifies WLM performance reporting, enabling users to drill down into the root cause of performance variances in a very fast and easy way. WLXR assists in root cause problem determination by zooming in, starting from a high level overview, going right down to detailed Service Class performance information, such as the Performance Index (PI), showing potential bottleneck situations during peak time. Any system overhead considerations are limited, as WLXR delivers meaningful real time information on a “need to know” basis.

A fundamental design objective for WLXR is data reduction, only delivering the important information required for timely and professional workload management. Straight to the point information instead of data overload, sometimes from a plethora of data sources (E.g. SMF, System Monitors, et al). WLXR incorporates the following easy-to-use functions:

  • Simplified Data Collection & Storage: Minimal system overhead TCP/IP based agents periodically (E.g. 5, 15, 60 Minutes) collect CPU (Type 70) and WLM (Type 72) data. Performance data is stored centrally in near real-time, building a historical repository with intelligent analytics for meaningful information presentation.
  • Intelligent GUI Based Information Presentation: Meaningful decision based reports and graphs detailing CPU (E.g. MSU, R4HA, Weight) and WLM (E.g. Service Class, Performance Index, Response Time, Transaction Workflow) resource usage. A drill-down design provides a granularity of data presentation, for Management Summary to 3rd Level Technical Diagnostics use.
  • Corporate Identity Branding: A modular template design, allowing for easy corporate identity branding, with flexibility to easily add additional reports, as and if required.

Without doubt, WLM is a significant z/OS System Resources Management function, simplifying the translation of business workload requirements (I.E. Service Level Agreement) into timely and proactive allocation of major System z hardware resources (I.E. CPU, Memory, I/O). This management of System z resources has been forever thus for 20+ years, while WLM has always offered “software cost control” functionality, working with the various and evolving CPU capping techniques. What might not be so obvious, is that there is a WLM orientated price versus performance correlation, which has become more evident in the last 5 years or so. Whether Absolute Capping, HiperDispatch, Mobile Workload Pricing, Country Multiplex Pricing or evolving Soft Capping techniques, the need for System z users to integrate z/OS MLC pricing considerations alongside WLM performance based management is evident.

Historically there was not a clear and identified need for a z/OS Performance/Capacity Manager to consider MLC costs in their System z server designs. However, there is a clear and present danger that this historic modus operandi continues and there will only be one financial winner, namely IBM, with unnecessarily high MLC charges. Each and every System z user, whether large or small, can safeguard the longevity of their IBM Mainframe platform by recognizing and deploying proactive and current System z MLC cost management processes.

All too often it seems that capping can be envisaged as punitive, degrading system performance to reduce System z MLC costs. Such a notion needs to be consigned to history, with a focussed perspective on MSU optimization, where the valuable and granular MSU resource is allocated to the workload that requires such CPU resource, with near real-time performance profiling. If we perceive MSU optimization to be R4HA based and that IBM are increasing WLM function to assist this objective, CPU capping can be a benefit that does not adversely impact performance. As previously stated, once a valid R4HA peak has occurred, that high MSU watermark is available for the remainder of the MLC billing period. Similarly at a more granular level, once a workload has peaked and its MSU usage declines, the available MSU can be redirected to other workloads. With the introduction of Country Multiplex Pricing, System z users no longer need to concern themselves about creating a higher R4HA peak, when moving workloads between System z servers.

Quite simply, from the two most important perspectives, performance and cost optimization, WLM provides the majority of functionality to assist System z users get the best performance for the lowest cost. Analytics based products like Workload X-Ray (WLXR) assist this endeavour, analysing WLM data in near real-time from a performance and MLC cost perspective. It therefore follows that if this important information is also available for sophisticated MSU optimization solutions, which consider WLM performance (E.g. zDynaCap, zPrice Manager), then proactive performance and cost management follows. It’s hard to envisage how a fully-rounded MSU optimization decision can be implemented in near real-time, from an MSU optimization solution that does not consider WLM performance metrics…

System z MLC Pricing Increases: Look After The Pennies…

Recently IBM announced ~4% price increases in z/OS Monthly License Charges (MLC) for selected Operating System and Middleware software programs and associated features. Specifically, price increases will apply to the VWLC, AWLC, EWLC, AEWLC, PSLC, FWLC and TWLC pricing metrics. Notably, SDSF price increases will be ~20% with Advanced Function Printing (AFP) product price increases of ~13-24%. In a global economy where inflation rates for The USA and Western Europe are close to 0%, one must draw one’s own conclusions accordingly. Lets’ not forget that product version changes typically have an associated price increase. From a contractual viewpoint, IBM only have to provide 90 days advance notice for such price changes, in this instance, IBM provided 150+ days advanced notice.

Price increases are inevitable and as always, it’s better to be proactive as opposed to reactive to such changes. As always, the old proverbs always make good sense and in this instance, “look after the Pennies and the Pounds will look after themselves”! This periodic IBM price increase is inevitable, but is not the underlying issue for controlling System z software costs. For many years, since 1994 to be precise, when IBM introduced Parallel Sysplex License Charges (PSLC), the need for IBM Mainframe users to minimize MSU usage has been of high if not critical importance. Nothing has changed in this 20+ year period and even though IBM might have introduced Sub-Capacity and specialty engines to minimize chargeable MSU usage, has each and every System z user optimized their MSU usage? Ideally this would not be a rhetorical question, rather being a “Golden Rule”, where despite organic CPU capacity increases of ~10% per annum, a System z environment could maintain near static IBM MLC software costs.

I have written several blog entries and presented on this subject matter over the years, for example:

The simple bottom line is that System z MLC software accounts for ~20-35% of the overall System z TCO, typically being the #1 expenditure item. For that reason alone, it’s incumbent for each and every System z user to safeguard they have the technical and commercial skills in place to manage this cost item, not as an afterthought, but inbuilt into each and every System z process, from application design, through to that often neglected afterthought, application tuning.

Many System z organizations might try to differentiate between a nuance of System and Application tuning, but such a “not my problem” type attitude is not acceptable and will be imposing a significant financial burden on each and every organization.

A dispassionate and pragmatic approach is required for optimizing System z CPU usage. In this timeframe, let’s examine the ~20% SDSF price increase. IBM will quite rightly state that in conjunction with their z/OS 2.2 release, there are significant SDSF product function advancements, including zIIP offload, REXX interoperability and increased information delivery. However are such function improvements over and above the norm and not expected as a Business As Usual (BAU) product improvements, which should be included in the Service & Support (S&S) or Monthly License Charges (MLC) paid for software?

In October 2013 I wrote a blog entry; Mainframe ISV Software: Is Continuous Product Improvement Always Evident? The underlying message was that an ISV should deliver the best product they can, for each and every release, without necessarily increasing software costs. In this particular instance, the product was an SDSF equivalent, namely (E)JES, which many years ago delivered all of the function incorporated in SDSF for z/OS 2.2, but for a fraction of the cost…

As of 1 November 2015, IBM will start billing cycles for Country Multiplex Pricing (CMP), which requires the October 2015 version of SCRT, namely V23R10. A Multiplex is defined as a collection of all System z servers in one country, measured as one System z server for software sub-capacity reporting. Sub-Capacity program utilization peaks across the Multiplex will be measured, as opposed to separate peaks by System z servers. CMP also provides the flexibility to move and run workloads anywhere with the elimination of Sysplex aggregation pricing rules.

Migrating to CMP is focussed on CPU capacity growth and flexibility going forward. Therefore System z users should not expect price reductions for their existing workloads upon CMP deployment. Indeed there are CMP deployment considerations. A CMP MSU baseline (base) needs to be established, where this MSU Base and associated MLC Base Factor is established for each sub-capacity MLC product and each applicable feature code. These MSU and MLC bases represent the previous 3 Month averages reported by SCRT before commencing CMP. Quite simply, to gain the most from CMP, the System z user must safeguard that their R4HA for each and every MLC product is optimized, before setting the CMP baseline, otherwise CMP related cost savings going forward are likely to be null.

From a very high-level management viewpoint, we must observe that IBM are a commercial organization, and although IBM provide mechanisms for controlling cost going forward, only the System z user can optimize System z MLC cost for their organization. Arguably with CMP, Soft-Capping isn’t a consideration, it’s mandatory.

Put very simply, each and every System z user can safeguard that they look after the Pennies (Cents) and the Pounds (Euros, Dollars) will look after themselves by paying careful attention to System z MLC software costs. Setting a baseline of System z MLC costs is mandatory, whether for the first time, or to set a new baseline for CMP deployment. Maintaining or lowering this System z MLC cost baseline should or arguably must be the objective going forward, even when considering 10% organic CPU growth, each and every year. System z decision-makers and managers must commit to such an objective and safeguard the provision of adequately skilled personnel to optimize such a considerable TCO cost line item (I.E. MLC @ ~20-35% of System z TCO). In an ecosystem with technical resources including DBA, Systems Programmer, Capacity Planner, Application Personnel, Performance Tuning, et al, why wouldn’t there be a specialist Software Cost Manager?

Let’s consider how even an inexperienced System z user can maintain a baseline of System z MLC costs, even with organic CPU capacity growth of 10% per annum:

  • System z Server Upgrade: Higher specification CPU chips or Technology Transition Offering (TTO) pricing metrics deliver 10%+ cost per MSU benefits.
  • System z Specialty Engines: Over time, more and more application workload can be offloaded to zIIP processors, with no sub-capacity MLC software charges.
  • System z Software Version Upgrades: Major subsystems such as CICS, DB2, IMS, MQSeries and WebSphere deliver opportunity to lower cost per MSU; safeguard such function exploitation.
  • Application Tuning: Whether SQL, COBOL, Java, et al, or the overall I/O subsystem, safeguard that latest programming techniques and I/O subsystem functions are exploited.
  • New Application Deployment: As and when possible, deploy new or convert existing workloads to benefit from the optimal MLC pricing metric; previously zNALC, nowadays zCAP.
  • Technical & Commercial Skills Currency: Safeguard personnel have the latest System z software pricing knowledge, ideally from an independent 3rd party such as Watson & Walker.

In conclusion, as householders we have the opportunity to optimize our cost expenditure, choosing and switching between various major cost items such as financial, utility and vehicle products. As System z users, we don’t have that option, only IBM provide System z servers and associated base architecture, namely the most expensive MLC software products, z/OS, CICS, DB2, IMS and WebSphere/MQ. However, just as we manage our domestic budgets, reducing power usage, optimizing vehicle TCO and getting more bang from our buck for financial products various, we can and must deliver this same due diligence for our System z MLC TCO. With industry averages of ~$500-$1000 per MSU for z/OS MLC software and associated annual expenditure measured in many millions, why wouldn’t any System z user look to deliver 10%+ cost per MSU optimization, year-on-year for their organization?

Clearly the cost of doing nothing in this instance, is significant, measured in magnitudes of millions, each and every year. Hence for System z MLC TCO optimization, looking after the Pennies is more than worthwhile, while the associated benefit of the Pounds, Euros or Dollars looking after themselves is arguably priceless.

IBM System z PartnerWorld Solution Development Evolution

Currently there are in excess of 2,300 companies delivering solutions for IBM System z listed in the IBM Global Solutions Directory. Considering the number of global System z customers, currently estimated as ~4,000, this is quite a good ratio! It’s also evidence of the significant ability of this System z ecosystem to deliver innovation and support to said customer base. Maybe we should consider how these System z solution delivery businesses develop and maintain their software, hardware and service offerings…

Obviously to develop, support and enhance an IBM Mainframe software or hardware product, access to an IBM Mainframe is a mandatory requirement. In the 1980’s, procuring an IBM Mainframe was an expensive undertaking, hence the number of IBM Mainframe IHV (Hardware) or ISV (Software) partners was limited. Therefore we should not overlook the evolution that has taken place in the last 25 years or so, delivering the significant, diverse, innovative and global System z ecosystem in place today.

In the early 1990’s the IBM Advanced Workstations Systems Division (AWS) worked on delivering complete compatibility with existing IBM Mainframe operating systems and software, delivering this function in the S/390 Processor Card. Later iterations of this S/390 Processor Card offered plug compatibility with RISC and PC server architectures, packaged as R/390 and P/390 servers respectively. In essence these R/390 and P/390 server solutions delivered “A Mainframe In A Box”. Put another way, the entire IBM Mainframe infrastructure including CPU, Memory, I/O Subsystem, Consoles, Disk, Tape, Networking Interfaces, et al, were all contained within the one PC or RISC based server footprint. Some of the software modules we might be familiar with for delivering this functionality are AWSDISK, AWSPRINT and AWSTAPE, where the respective function is denoted by the module name.

Therefore with the R/390 and P/390, subsequently followed by the S/390 Integrated Server and then MP3000, low cost access to IBM Mainframe servers was possible. However, let’s not forget that in conjunction with hardware compatibility, low cost access to existing IBM Mainframe operating systems and software was also required. This software access was delivered by the Application Developers Controlled Distributions (ADCD), incorporating a package of the majority of IBM Operating System and supporting subsystem program products. Therefore, once a business proved its intentions in developing a software or hardware solution for the IBM Mainframe, they gained very low cost access to said IBM Mainframe software. Without doubt, the innovation of the S/390 Processor Card and Application Developers Controlled Distributions (ADCD) resources, allows the System z community to benefit from the related ecosystem in place today.

This IBM Mainframe emulation capability provided the opportunity for other 3rd party supplier to deliver x86 servers that supported the IBM PartnerWorld for Developers (PWD) ADCD initiative. For example, FLEX-ES from Fundamental Software.

Currently, IBM deliver the System z Personal Development Tool (zPDT) for ADCD access, while many ISV’s and IHV’s now actually deploy an official IBM System z server, for example, zBC12, as the cost of Mainframe servers has reduced substantially in the last decade or so. Optionally, recognizing the virtualization capabilities of System z and higher speed network access, System z development can now be achieved remotely. The System z Remote Development Program (zRDP) for z/OS, z/VM and z/VSE provides qualified partners with remote access to supported generally available and supported operating systems and software products. Additionally, IBM has built a number of Innovation centres globally (I.E. Africa & Middle East, Asia Pacific, Europe, Latin America, North America), facilitating the possibility for System z innovation with local resources.

An example of the diversity and innovation of the System z ecosystem is the SVA zHosting concept, allowing an IBM PartnerWorld for Developers (PWD) member and/or Independent Software Vendor (ISV) the ability to port existing or install new development environments into a local fully certified IBM System z Mainframe data centre, in this case, located in Germany.

In conclusion, as other IT technologies have evolved, IBM have provided a cost-efficient environment, encouraging and maintaining the IBM System z Mainframe ecosystem. Firstly in the 1990’s with full emulation for RISC and PC based servers and more latterly in the 21st Century with remote access. This low cost access to full System z capability, safeguards that the System z ecosystem remains significant, current, diverse, while the realm of possibility for innovation exists.

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…

CICS: The Best Enterprise Transaction Server & So Much More…

In one form or another, CICS has been available since the mid-1960’s, just about as long as the IBM Mainframe server that recently celebrated its 50th anniversary, released in 1964.  From a deployment viewpoint, 90%+ of Fortune 500 companies deploy CICS, primarily for its robust and often unbeatable ability to deliver sub-second response times for numerous application transactions.  Whether a large or small IBM Mainframe user, CICS delivers an enterprise class solution for a myriad of business types and arguably at one time or another, nearly every committed IBM Mainframe installation has implemented CICS.

In the past few decades I have encountered many failed IBM Mainframe migration projects and more often than not, the primary reason for platform migration failure was the inability of the target platform to deliver consistent sub-second transaction response times for a plethora of mission critical business applications.  Similarly, it often follows that if a non-Mainframe environment has been heavily configured to handle the CICS transaction workload, it often fails with the subsequent batch processing, suffering from significantly elongated elapsed times.

CICS has its foundations as an enterprise class transaction server, capturing data input for subsequent storage and retrieval in Database Management Subsystems, but let’s not forget, CICS can do so much more…

Let’s not forget, in 2001 CICS Transaction Server (TS) 2.1 for z/OS introduced the foundation for web services support, and a capability for CICS transactions to be invoked via HTTP requests.  There have been numerous enhancements since, too many to mention, which have evolved CICS into a fully-rounded family of solutions, allowing for cradle to grave application design and delivery.  However, let’s just take some time to review what CICS TS Version 5 has delivered, and how this might benefit the 21st Century business.

Recognizing the IBM defined Cloud, Analytics, Mobile, Social & Security (CAMSS) initiative, CICS is integral to such a business facing initiative, primarily from a Cloud interoperability viewpoint.

The CICS V5.2 Application Server has a capability to host multiple applications and multiple versions of the same application, simultaneously, primarily due to the substantial increase of platform scalability.  Similarly, a heterogeneous code environment offers application development personnel a single environment to work seamlessly with Java and other legacy languages, such as COBOL, C/C++, PL/I, et al.

Combining this heterogeneous code environment with Cloud enablement allows for new application version deployment, without a requirement to disable or remove the previous version from Production processing.  Regardless of the underlying application source code base, end users can access an application without service interruption, as they transition to the new application version.  Similarly, user workloads can be seamlessly redirected to a previous working version of application code, presuming new version errors.

The CICS V5.2 application server delivers a powerful hosting environment for all business applications, new or old.  Application Development teams can provision applications for design and testing within a “real life working” infrastructure, removing the application when testing is complete, or promoting said application ASAP, for mission critical business usage.  This delivers a significant business improvement in application availability, minimizing service downtime.  Therefore, applications stay as current and relevant as possible, reducing the risk of business service outages, delivering better and consistent end user experiences.

As per the IBM zSeries Mainframe heritage, a standard resilience feature of the CICS V5.2 Application Server is an inherent capability to perform, even in the event of a problem scenario.  Cloud enablement delivers a clustering capability, which handles both system and application level failure scenarios.  Seamless and timely problem resolution dictates less down time, delivering more business availability, instilling a high sense of confidence in end users and consumers alike.

Noting the Security aspect of the IBM CAMSS initiative and the ever present cybersecurity risk to us all, CICS Application Server also delivers on this front.  Safeguarding that application enhancements can be brought online ASAP and securely, CICS V5.2 Application Server seamlessly integrates with various security software and languages, including the latest WebSphere Application Server (WAS) Liberty Profile, allowing for the portability of Java Enterprise Edition Web applications.  Enhanced security capabilities also include Java Naming and Directory Interface (JNDI), Bean Validation, JDBC Type 2 Data Sources and the Java Transaction API (JTAPI).  SSL support incorporated within the Liberty JVM server HTTP listener is extended to support key certificates stored in System Authorization Facility (SAF) key rings, delivering SSL server authentication.

Like it or not, Cloud computing is a rapidly evolving technology, where the Cloud is integrating increasingly more applications and associated services, delivering cost savings and scalability accordingly.  Of course, for true enterprise class scalability and cost efficiency, arguably the IBM zSeries Mainframe is an ideal platform for Cloud technologies.  Therefore with some slightly modified thinking, organizations can deploy Cloud based solutions and benefit from application promotion benefits, especially with a technology such as CICS.

There is a great presentation named Five Compelling Reasons for Creating a CICS Cloud that provides robust working examples of how to increase application availability, with real-life application development scenarios.

In conclusion, CICS continues to evolve and not only is it the best Enterprise Class Transaction Server, the family of CICS products including its Application Server deliver a 21st Century Cloud computing compatible platform, for the most demanding of business requirements.  Whether considering the IBM defined Cloud, Analytics, Mobile, Social & Security (CAMSS) initiative or the more traditional Reliability, Availability and Serviceability (RAS) attributes of the zSeries Mainframe server, the latest version of CICS facilitates:

  • Rapid Application Development: Agile methodologies for rapid development, irrespective of programming language (E.g. Java, COBOL, C/C++, PL/I, et al).
  • Seamless & Timely Application Deployment: More frequent application updates, minimizing downtime and associated cost, while leveraging from Cloud functionality, to deploy new applications, application enhancements or bug fixes, side-by-side with existing real-life Production workloads.

z13: A Digital Business Ready Solution?

As per the usual next generation zSeries Server release, IBM announced their latest evolution on 13 January 2015, namely the z13. IBM describe this platform as the most powerful and secure system ever built:

  • First system able to process 2.5 billion transactions per day, built for mobile economy
  • Makes possible real-time encryption on all mobile transactions at scale
  • First mainframe system with embedded analytics providing real time transaction insights 17X faster than compared competitive systems at a fraction of the cost

At first glance, feeds and speeds generally don’t enthuse the audience, but if we dig deeper and acknowledge other recent IBM developments incorporating Apple, Twitter and Data Analytics announcements, we perhaps can draw some better business-facing conclusions. IBM have a clearly defined Cloud, Analytics, Mobile, Social & Security (CAMSS) initiative, seemingly based upon the IDC 3rd platform defined as Social, Mobile, Analytics & Cloud (SMAC).

Industry analysts predict that in the next 3 years and by 2017, SMAC (CAMSS) expenditure will account for 25%+ of total enterprise software market revenue, doubling from ~12% in 2012. In simple terms, this new expenditure opportunity represents $100+ Billion revenue. We can imagine that all major ISV’s will be wanting their share of this market…

Whichever classification you choose, IBM CAMSS or IDC SMAC, IT infrastructures and associated investment currently are and certainly will be heavily influenced by this new world computing paradigm. Like it or not, an ability to perform a transaction anywhere (Mobile), keeping everything simple and networked (Social Media), real time prediction of future customer requirements (Analytics), available anywhere (Mobile), for an alleged fraction of the cost (Cloud), makes sense for the 21st Century business. Ignore this new technology evolution at your peril as it will impact each and every area of the IT enterprise and associated resources, primarily software and supporting hardware.

Did you notice the difference between the IBM classification and IDC? IDC have not considered Security to be a consideration factor worthy of acronym (SMAC) inclusion. In today’s world of cybersecurity, that might be somewhat of an oversight, but we must assume that IDC consider cybersecurity to be a consideration for all of the Analytics, Cloud, Mobile & Social aspects, which of course it is!

If we consider the relative merits of technology platforms from a security viewpoint, the IBM z13 delivers EAL5+ security certification, whereas other non-Mainframe platforms can only currently claim EAL4+ certification.

It is estimated that 55%+ of enterprise (mission critical) transactions are processed by the IBM Mainframe, but this is based on pre mobile workloads. It therefore makes commercial sense for IBM to safeguard their flagship platform not only maintains the existing IBM Mainframe customer base, but captures new and mobile centric workloads.

Having considered the business requirements for today’s IT business, let’s now classify the new features of the z13 platform:

  • Up to 40% more total system capacity compared to the zEC12.
  • Up to 10 terabytes (TB) of available Redundant Array of Independent Memory (RAIM) real memory per server.
  • Cryptographic performance improvements with new Crypto Express5S.
  • Economies of scale with simultaneous multithreading delivering more throughput for Linux and zIIP-eligible workloads.
  • Improved performance of complex mathematical models, perfect for analytics processing, with Single Instruction Multiple Data (SIMD).
  • IBM zAware cutting-edge pattern recognition analytics for fast insight into system health extended to Linux on z Systems.
  • A reduction in elapsed time for I/O-bound batch jobs with new FICON Express16S versus FICON Express8S.
  • Support for larger memory configurations planned to be supported on z/OS systems, which can be used to improve transaction response times, lower CPU costs, simplify capacity planning and ease deploying memory-intensive workloads. (The IBM z13 offers up to 10 TB memory.)
  • I/O service time improvement when writing data remotely using the new zHPF Extended Distance II.
  • Support for up to 256 coupling CHPIDs, which provides enhanced connectivity and scalability for a growing number of coupling channel types.
  • IBM Integrated Coupling Adapter (ICA SR), which offers greater short reach coupling connectivity than existing link technologies and enables greater overall coupling connectivity per IBM z13 than prior server generations.
  • Capability to extend z/OS workload management policies into the SAN fabric.
  • New rack-mounted Hardware Management Console (HMC), helping to save space in the data center.
  • Non-raised floor option, offering flexible possibilities for the data center.
  • Optional water cooling, providing the ability to cool systems with user-chilled water.
  • Optional high-voltage dc power, which can help IBM z Systems clients save on their power bills.
  • Optional top exit power and I/O cabling designed to provide increased flexibility.
  • New IBM z BladeCenter Extension (zBX) Model 004 in support of heterogeneous resources managed by IBM z Unified Resource Manager.

As we all know, Moore’s Law had to end sometime soon and this is true for System z CPU chips. The zEC12 CPU was often claimed to be the fastest commercial processor, with a 32nm core and a 5.5 GHz rating. The z13 chip runs a 22 nm core at a 5 GHz, at first glance ~10% slower than the zEC12. The new z13 chip delivers a ~10% performance increase, due to advances in core design, with better branch prediction and pipelining in the core. Noteworthy, is the slightly slower clock speed of the z13 chip, reducing heat output, probably signifying that ~5 GHz is the ceiling for CPU chips in the near future.

However, for z13, the doubling of performance still apples for many other resources:

  • Cryptographic coprocessors performance (~2*)
  • Channel speed (~2*)
  • I/O bandwidth (~2*)
  • Memory/Cache performance (~2*)
  • Memory capacity (~3*)

Once again, classifying these technological advances in terms of mobile business, the z13 delivers real-time encryption of mobile transactions, protecting transaction data, delivering consistent response times for a quality customer experience. Overall, IBM claims the z13 delivers a potential for ~36% better response time, ~61% better throughput and ~17% lower cost per mobile transaction.

A major and subtle change introduced with the z13 is Simultaneous MultiThreading (SMT). SMT allows 2 active instruction streams per core, each dynamically sharing the core’s execution resources. SMT will be available in IBM z13 for workloads running on the Integrated Facility for Linux (IFL) and the IBM z Integrated Information Processor (zIIP).

Each software Operating System/Hypervisor has the ability to intelligently drive SMT in a way that is best for its unique requirements. z/OS SMT management consistently drives the cores to high thread density, in an effort to reduce SMT variability and deliver repeatable performance across varying CPU utilization, thus providing more predictable SMT capacity. z/VM SMT management optimizes throughput by spreading a workload over the available cores until it demands the additional SMT capacity.

From a capacity planning and performance measurement viewpoint, just a slight note of caution. Although the z13 CPU chip delivers increased CPU capacity, the raw speed is slower and there are considerations for SMT. A former IBM staffer, Bob Rogers has written a great article on this SMT subject matter, which should be on your reading list!

In conclusion, the z13 announcement is another step forward for zSeries Mainframes. If you consider this announcement as just another next generation zSeries Mainframe announcement, you’re not treating your business or yourself with the respect they deserve. Instead, please consider this z13 announcement as an evolution from an enterprise solution delivery viewpoint. Primarily, consider the 21st century business keywords, in no particular order, of Analytics, Cloud, Mobile, Social & Security.

IFL – A Cost Efficient zSeries Platform?

In September 2000, IBM introduced the Integrated Facility for Linux (IFL) processor, a specialty engine for and some might say dedicated to running the Linux Operating System.  At the time of this announcement, companion software named S/390 Virtual Image Facility for Linux was introduced to assist in the rapid deployment of IFL configurations, especially for non-Mainframe personnel.  However, this product was quickly discontinued, in favour of the standard z/VM Operating System, which is not difficult to learn and can accommodate hundreds if not thousands of zLinux images.

Today, the IFL is still a processor dedicated to Linux workloads on IBM System z servers.  The IFL is supported by z/VM virtualization and the Linux operating system.  The IFL cannot run other IBM operating systems.  The competitively priced IFL processor is a CPU capacity enabler, exclusively for Linux workloads.  Linux deployment (I.E. SUSE & Red Hat) on IFL’s can reduce expenses in the areas of operational efforts, energy, floor space and especially software.

The IFL provides the following functions and benefits:

  • The IBM Enterprise Linux Server is a dedicated System z Linux server, comprised of only IFL processors
  • No additional IBM software charges for traditional (E.g. z/OS, CICS, DB2, WebSphere, et al) environment
  • Performance improvement for Linux workloads with each successive generation of IFL and System z technology
  • Linux workload on the IFL does not result in increased IBM software charges for traditional System z operating systems and middleware
  • Same functionality as a General Purpose processor on a System z server
  • HiperSockets can be used for communication between Linux images, or Linux and other operating system images on the same System z system
  • z/VM virtualization and most IBM Linux middleware products, plus most vendor software products are priced per processor (core) according to the System z IBM International Program License Agreement (IPLA).  IPLA products have a one-time-charge (OTC) and an annual (optional) maintenance charge, called Subscription & Support
  • Supported by the current z/VM virtualization and IBM Wave for z/VM software versions
  • Always a full capacity processor, independent of the capacity of the other processors in the server
  • Orderable as a System z hardware feature. The number of orderable IFL features varies by the server model and configuration
  • Designed to operate asynchronously with other General Purpose processors
  • Managed by PR/SM in logical partition with dedicated or shared processors. The implementation of an IFL requires a Logical Partition (LPAR) definition, where following normal LPAR activation procedure, LPAR defined with an IFL cannot be shared with a general purpose processor.

There will always be the debate as to which processor and associated server type (E.g. x86, POWER, SPARC) is the most cost efficient, but there is no doubt that the ability to accommodate hundreds if not thousands of zLinux instances in one zServer environmental (E.g. Power, Cooling, Floor Space, et al) friendly footprint, with software pricing per core is worthy of consideration.

Adoption for zLinux has been steady and especially in the emerging territories where it’s not unusual for zSeries deployments to be totally zLinux (I.E. IBM Enterprise Linux Server) based.  Moreover, the majority of large and traditional IBM Mainframe users (I.E. z/OS) have installed at least one IFL, if only to evaluate the z/VM and zLinux offering.  Many have deployed the IFL and associated zLinux solution for business requirements.

Therefore, if one of the major cost benefit features of IFL is optimized software costs; can the IFL processor be considered for other workloads, originating from the traditional zSeries (I.E. z/OS) environments?

Proximal Systems Corporation (PSC) is a company with a solution that transparently offloads data processing from IBM Mainframes to Distributed Systems, with an objective of reducing software cost, while maintaining or improving performance.  The company name is derived from the concept of bringing disparate computing systems into close proximity, functionally speaking, providing totally seamless and transparent interoperability.  The result is a unified computing complex within which various tasks can be easily migrated between systems to their most cost efficient operating environment, while still being able to interoperate as if they were all hosted together on the same system.

The PSC Proxy Coupling Technology allows for a CPU orientated task to be offloaded from one system to another by means of an associated proxy task, which has an identical interface as the task to be offloaded, but delegates the majority of the processing to an offloaded task on another system.  The primary objective of this function are for the cost savings and/or performance improvements that might be delivered by migrating tasks to systems that are able to execute those tasks more efficiently.

The fact that the proxy task maintains the same interface as the application being replaced is crucial; as many past Mainframe migration projects have failed due to insurmountable interoperability problems between the Mainframe and Distributed Systems servers (I.E. Windows, Linux, UNIX, et al).  Proxy Coupling Technology offers a solution to this long-standing challenge.  In theory, this allows for the transparent offload of a traditional z/OS workload (E.g. Sort) from General Purpose (GP) processors, to a less expensive (E.g. IFL) alternative…

In the first instance, the Proxy Coupling Technology offloads General Purpose CPU workload associated with the z/OS sort (I.E. CA Sort, DFSORT, Syncsort) function, to another platform (E.g. IFL).  For IFL based implementations, HyperScokets are utilized to transfer data at memory speeds from the z/OS task to zLinux on the IFL, where the sort operation completes, while the resulting z/OS task and associated data are maintained, as per normal.  From an IFL viewpoint, Ahlsort software performs the sort operation, being a sort solution that maintains compatibility with the majority of z/OS sort function (I.E. Control Card Syntax).  Therefore, this is a transparent implementation, where the only consideration is how much CPU capacity is required for the offload function (E.g. IFL, x86).  The benefits are reduced z/OS MSU usage for the sort function, which can be quite significant, as most business data (E.g. Database Offloads, Customer Orientated, et al) is sorted on a daily if not more frequent basis.

Just as IBM introduced the zAAP on zIIP capability, which allowed some customers to more easily justify a specialty engine (I.E. zIIP), combining workloads to exploit the full capability of the specialty engine; in theory the same ethos applies with the Proxy Coupling Technology.  For the avoidance of doubt, workloads that can be processed on an IFL, such as z/OS sort tasks, can assist in delivering higher Return On Investment (ROI) levels for the IFL, for example:

  • Reduced z/OS WLC MSU usage (I.E. Sort function offload) and associated software costs savings
  • IFL processors run at Full Speed and do not add to traditional workload (I.E. z/OS) software costs
  • Utilize any spare IFL CPU resource not used, releasing General Purpose CPU resource for other work

In conclusion, the Proxy Coupling Technology offers a proposition that is similar to the IBM philosophy of reducing z/OS software costs via specialty engines.  Seemingly to date, primarily only the zIIP and zAAP specialty engines were available to optimize CPU usage for z/OS workloads.  Offloading CPU cycles and thus MSU workload to IFL makes sense, utilizing a cost efficient and indeed a full power CPU engine, where for cost reasons, maybe the majority of z/OS customers don’t deploy the “highest” derivative of General Purpose CPU engine available to them.  On the face of it, the realm of possibility exists for other workloads to benefit from z/OS to IFL CPU offload, following sort, which seems to make sense as the first workload to utilize this solution.