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.

System z: I/O Interoperability Evolution – From Bus & Tag to FICON

Since the introduction of the S/360 Mainframe in 1964 there has been a gradual evolution of I/O connectivity that has taken us from copper Bus & Tag to fibre ESCON and now FICON channels.  Obviously during this ~50 year period there have been exponentially more releases of Mainframe server and indeed Operating System.  In this timeframe there have been 2 significant I/O technology milestones.  Firstly, in 1990, ESCON was part of the significant S/390 announcement (MVS/ESA), where migration to ESCON was a great benefit, if only for replacing the heavy and big copper Bus & Tag channels.  Secondly, even though FICON was released in the late 1990’s, in 2009 IBM announced that the z10 would be the last Mainframe server to support greater than 240 native ESCON channels.  Similarly IBM declared that the last zEnterprise server to support ESCON channels are the z196 and z114 servers.  Each of these major I/O evolutions required a migration philosophy and not every I/O device would be upgraded to support either native ESCON of FICON channels.  How did customers achieve these mandatory I/O upgrades to safeguard IBM Mainframe Server and associated Operating System longevity?

In 2009 it was estimated ~20% of all Mainframe customers were using ESCON only I/O infrastructures, while only ~20% of all Mainframe customers were deploying a FICON only infrastructure.  Similarly ~33% of z9 and z10 systems were shipped with ESCON CVC (Block Multiplexor) and CBY (Byte Multiplexor) channels defined, while ~75% of all Mainframe Servers had native ESCON (CNC) capability.  From a dispassionate viewpoint, clearly the migration from ESCON to FICON was going to be a significant challenge, while even in this timeframe, there was still use of Bus & Tag channels…

One of the major strengths of the IBM Mainframe ecosystem is the partner network, primarily software (ISV) based, but with some significant hardware (IHV) providers.  From a channel switch viewpoint, we will all be familiar with Brocade, Cisco and McData, where Brocade acquired McData in 2006.  However, from a channel protocol conversion viewpoint, IBM worked with Optica Technologies, to deliver a solution that would allow the support for ESCON and Bus & Tag channels to the FICON only zBC12/zEC12 and future Mainframe servers (I.E. z13, z13s).  Somewhat analogous to the smartphone where the user doesn’t necessarily know that an ARM processor might be delivering CPU power to their phone, sometimes even seasoned Mainframe professionals might inadvertently overlook that the Optica Technologies Prizm solution has been or indeed is still deployed in their System z Data Centre…

When IBM work with a partner from an I/O connectivity viewpoint, clearly IBM have to safeguard that said connectivity has the highest interoperability capability with bulletproof data exchange attributes.  Sometimes we might take this for granted with the ubiquitous disk and tape subsystem suppliers (I.E. EMC, HDS, IBM, Oracle), but for FICON conversion support, Optica Technologies was a collaborative partner for IBM.  Ultimately the IBM Hardware Systems Assurance labs deploy their proprietary System Assurance Kernel (SAK) processes to safeguard I/O subsystem interoperability for their System z Mainframe servers.  Asking that rhetorical question; when was the last time you asked your IHV for site of their System Assurance Kernel (SAK) exit report from their collaboration with IBM Hardware Systems Assurance labs for their I/O subsystem you’re considering or deploying?  In conclusion, the SAK compliant, elegant, simple and competitively priced Prizm solution allowed the migration of tens if not hundreds of thousands of ESCON connections in thousands of Mainframe data centres globally!

With such a rich heritage of providing a valuable solution to the global IBM Mainframe install base, whether the smallest or largest, what would be next for Optica Technologies?  Obviously leveraging from their expertise in FICON channel support would be a good way forward.  With the recent acquisition of Bus-Tech by EMC and the eradication of the flexible MDL tapeless virtual tape offering, Optica Technologies are ideally placed to be that small, passionate and eminently qualified IHV to deliver a turnkey virtual tape solution for the smaller and indeed larger System z user.  The Optica Technologies zVT family leverages from the robust and heritage class Prizm technology, delivering an innovative family of virtual tape solutions.  The entry “Virtual Tape In A Box” zVT 3000i provides 2 FICON channel interfaces and 4 TB uncompressed internal RAID-5 disk space, seamlessly interfacing with all System z supported tape devices (I.E. 3490, 3590) and processes.  A single enterprise class zVT 5000-iNAS node delivers 2 FICON channel interfaces, NFS storage capacity from 8TB to 1PB in a single frame with standard deduplication, compression, replication and encryption features.  The zVT 5000-iNAS is available with multi-node configuration support for additional scalability and resiliency.  For those customers wishing to deploy their own choice of NFS or FC storage subsystem, the zVT 5000-FLEX allows such connectivity accordingly.

In conclusion, sometimes it’s all too easy to take some solutions for granted, when they actually delivered a tangible and arguably priceless solution in the evolution of your organizations System z Mainframe server journey from ESCON, if not Bus & Tag to FICON.  Perhaps the Prizm solution is one of these unsung products?  Therefore, the next time you’re reviewing the virtual tape market place, why wouldn’t you seriously consider Optica Technologies, given their rich heritage in FICON channel interoperability?  Given that IBM chose Optica Technologies as their strategic partner for ESCON to FICON migration, seemingly even IBM might have thought “nobody gets fired for choosing…”!