IBM Z Solution Consumption License Charges (SCLC): A Viable R4HA Alternative?

In the same timeframe as the recent IBM z14 and LinuxONE Enhanced Driver Maintenance (GA2) hardware announcements, there were modifications to the Container Pricing for IBM Z mechanism, namely Solution Consumption License Charges (SCLC) and the Application Development and Test Solution.  Neither of these new pricing models are dependent on the IBM z14 GA2 hardware announcement, but do require the latest IBM z13, IBM z13s, IBM z14 or IBM z14 ZR1 servers and z/OS V2.2 and upwards for collocated workloads and z/OS V2.1 and upwards for separate LPAR workloads.

For many years, IBM themselves have attempted to introduce new sub-capacity software pricing models to encourage new workloads to the IBM Z server and associated z/OS operating system.  Some iterations include z Systems New Application License Charges (zNALC), Integrated Workload Pricing (IWP) and z Systems Collocated Application Pricing (zCAP), naming but a few.  The latest iteration appears to be Container Pricing for IBM Z, announced in July 2017, with three options, namely the aforementioned Application Development and Test Solution, the New Application Solution and Payments Pricing Solution.  This recent October 2018 announcement adapts the New Application Solution option, classifying it as the Solution Consumption License Charges (SCLC) mechanism.  For the purposes of this blog, we will concentrate on the SCLC mechanism, although the potential benefits of the Application Development and Test Solution for non-Production workloads should not be under estimated…

From a big picture viewpoint, z/OS, CICS, Db2, IMS and MQ are the most expensive IBM Z software products and of course, IBM Mainframe users have designed their environments to reduce software costs accordingly, initially with sub-capacity and then Workload Licence Charging (WLC) and the associated Rolling 4 Hour Average (R4HA).  Arguably CPU MSU management is a specialized capacity and performance management discipline in itself, with several 3rd party ISV options for optimized soft-capping (I.E. AutoSoftCapping, iCap, zDynaCap/Dynamic Capacity Intelligence).  IBM thinks that this MSU management discipline has thwarted new workloads being added to the IBM Z ecosystem, unless there was a mandatory requirement for CICS, Db2, IMS or MQ.  Hence this recent approach of adding new and qualified workloads, outside of the traditional R4HA mechanism.  These things take time and with a few tweaks and repairs, maybe the realm of possibility exists and perhaps the Solution Consumption License Charges (SCLC) is a viable and eminently usable option?

SCLC offers a new pricing metric when calculating MLC software costs for qualified Container Pricing workloads.  SCLC is based on actual MSU consumption, as opposed to the traditional R4HA WLC metric.  SCLC delivers a pure and consistent metered usage model, where the MSU resource used is charged at the same flat rate, regardless of hourly workload peaks, delivering pricing predictability.  Therefore, SCLC directly reflects the total workload cost, regardless of consumption, on a predictable “pay for what you use” basis.  This is particularly beneficial for volatile workloads, which can significantly impact WLC costs associated with the R4HA.  There are two variations of SCLC for qualified and IBM verified New Applications (NewApp):

  • The SCLC pay-as-you-go option offers a low priced, per-MSU model for software programs within the NewApp Solution, with no minimum financial commitment.
  • The SCLC-committed MSU option offers a saving of 20% over the pay-as-you-go price points, with a monthly minimum MSU commitment of just 25,000 MSUs.

SCLC costs are calculated and charged per MSU on an hourly basis, aggregated over an entire (SCRT) month.  For example, if a NewApp solution utilized 50 MSU in hour #1, 100 MSU in hour #2 and 50 MSU in hour #3, the total chargeable MSU for the 3-hour period would be 200 MSU.  Hourly periods continue to be calculated this way over the entire month, providing a true, usage-based cost model.  We previously reviewed Container Pricing in a previous blog entry from August 2017.  At first glance, the opportunity for a predictable workload cost seems evident, but what about the monthly MSU commitment of 25,000 MSU?

Let’s try and break this down at the simplest level, using the SCLC hourly MSU base metric.  In a fixed 24-hour day and an arbitrary 30-day month, there would be 720 single MSU hours.  To qualify for the 25,000 MSU commitment, the hourly workload would need to average ~35 MSU (~300 MIPS) in size.  For the medium and large sized business, generating a 35 MSU workload isn’t a consideration, but probably is for the smaller IBM Mainframe user.  The monthly commitment also becomes somewhat of a challenge, as a calendar month is 28/29 days, once per year, 30 days, four times per year and 31 days, seven times per year.  This doesn’t really impact the R4HA, but for a pay per MSU usage model, the number of MSU hours per month does matter.  One must draw one’s own conclusions, but it’s clearly easier to exceed the 25,000 MSU threshold in a 31-day month, when compared with a 30, 29 or 28 day month!  From a dispassionate viewpoint, I can’t see any reason why the 20% discount can’t be applied when the 25,000 MSU threshold is exceeded, without a financial commitment form the customer.  This would be a truly win-win situation for the customer and IBM, as the customer doesn’t have to concern themselves about exceeding the arbitrary 25,000 MSU threshold and IBM have delivered a usable and attractive pricing mechanism for the desired New Application workload.

The definition of a New Application workload is forever thus, based upon a qualified and verified workload by IBM, assigned a Solution ID for SCRT classification purposes, integrating CICS, Db2, MQ, IMS or z/OS software.  Therefore existing workloads, potentially classified as legacy will not qualify for this New Application status, but any application re-engineering activities should consider this lower price per MSU approach.  New technologies such as blockchain could easily transform a legacy application and benefit from New Application pricing, while the implementation of DevOps could easily transform non-Production workloads into benefiting from the Application Development and Test Solution Container Pricing mechanism.

In conclusion, MSU management is a very important discipline for any IBM Z user and any lower cost MSU that can be eliminated from the R4HA metric delivers improved TCO.  As always, the actual IBM Z Mainframe user themselves are ideally placed to interact and collaborate with IBM and perhaps tweak these Container Pricing models to make them eminently viable for all parties concerned, strengthening the IBM Z ecosystem and value proposition accordingly.

How to Connect Mobile Workloads to System z

Despite potential security concerns, primarily data encryption and multiple-factor authentication related, mobile transactions continue to increase their share of the market, accounting for up to half of online transactions. Mobile payments now account for 30%+ of all global online transactions as of Q3 2015, continuing the upward trend experienced for the last several years. Although there are global differences in mobile transaction adoption, all global locations are experiencing rapid growth in mobile transaction adoption. Furthermore, as a general rule of thumb, seemingly ~66% of mobile transactions originate from a smartphone, a ~2:1 ratio when compared with tablet devices. Therefore it seems highly probable that smartphone originated mobile transactions will become the de facto standard for online transactions…

For System z users, the majority of their TCO continues to be IBM MLC software related and seemingly the realm of possibility exists for retail operations to reduce IBM MLC TCO as a result of modernizing their business for this mobile transaction phenomenon. Recognizing the security, scalability and transaction ability of the System z platform, why wouldn’t it be the ideal platform for mobile transactions? Furthermore, deploying mobile workloads that can take advantage of modern low cost System z pricing metrics, namely System z Collocated Application Pricing (zCAP) and Mobile Workload Pricing (MWP) for z/OS, could substantially reduce IBM MLC TCO. In theory, existing legacy applications might become somewhat static in nature, as mobile transactions replace existing traditional transaction mechanisms. Therefore the cost per business transaction reduces, potentially significantly.

So, just how easy is it to connect mobile transactions to the System z platform?

z/OS Connect is a software function engineered to leverage from the Liberty Profile for z/OS, acting as an enabler of connectivity between the mobile environment (client) and the System z platform (host). Put another way, z/OS Connect exposes System z assets for mobile and cloud workloads. Quite simply z/OS Connect delivers JSON (JavaScript Object Notation) and REST (REpresentational State Transfer) functionality to leverage from existing z/OS subsystems (E.g. CICS, IMS, Batch, et al). These traditional System z transaction systems (E.g. CICS, IMS) often integrated with DB2, are repositories for vast amounts of business transactions and data. There is no incremental cost for z/OS Connect usage, being packaged with WebSphere Application Server (WAS), CICS and IMS software products.

z/OS Connect provides a discovery function allowing developers to query services that have been configured for a z/OS Connect instance. A single z/OS Connect REST call returns a list of all configured services and another REST call will return the details of a given service. Importantly, developers only need to know the REST API service and associated JSON requirements to achieve this mobile device to System z interoperability; they do not need to know the underlying CICS or IMS subsystem. z/OS Connect incorporates a data conversion function that maps JSON to the host (I.E. CICS or IMS) data format requirement. Put really simply, when a request is received, z/OS Connect converts the data for CICS or IMS subsystem processing and when a response is produced, z/OS Connect converts the data back to JSON.

From a security viewpoint, standard or bespoke code can be used for control before and after a request is processed, identified as an interceptor. For Security, the calling user identity can be checked against defined roles, determining if they have authority to use z/OS Connect or the configured service. On z/OS the security interface is SAF, supplemented by an External Security Manager (ESM), namely ACF2, RACF or TopSecret. For Audit, request information can be logged via SMF for later analysis. Information about each request is logged, including timestamp, bytes processed, response time and USERID.

To summarize, z/OS Connect is designed to simplify the integration of mobile systems and z/OS assets. Delivering a consistent front-end interface for mobile systems via REST and JSON, z/OS Connect seamlessly integrates with WAS, CICS and IMS subsystems for data processing. In theory, a developer could code a mobile workload application, with no knowledge of the System z platform.

In conclusion, it seems we have to accept the adoption of the smartphone device for processing an ever increasing amount of online transactions. The realm of possibility exists that online transactions (click) will continue to displace traditional and legacy (brick) transactions. Therefore as businesses evolve to accommodate mobile transactions, they should strive to reduce their IBM MLC TCO accordingly, delivering JSON and REST applications that can leverage from optimal cost z/OS MLC software, primarily via the zCAP and MWP pricing mechanisms. z/OS Connect is one such option that simplifies the timely delivery of mobile workload applications.

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.