Tag Archives: TCO

Closing the gap on technology evolution

I recently saw a blog post by one of the Federal CIO’s. I can’t argue with their observations, though I think we may disagree on how to tackle the problem. That CIO is going to post their direction in future posts. I’m going to take a shot at my own direction in this post.

The following graph demonstrates that the US Government IT is falling behind Fortune 500 firms and way behind internet startups.
IT Curve acceptance
Federal CIO study graph

I remember having this debate with an IBM General Manager years ago when he was considering outsourcing some operating system components thinking that all programmers are created equal. There is a huge difference in maintaining a legacy of millions of lines of code vs. starting from scratch with something new. As important, starting over AND maintaining all the rules and regulations of the legacy, is also a very difficult proposition. It takes pre-existing knowledge for success.

This CIO faces a problem that is similar to many other businesses. It’s true for mainframes as it will be for Microsoft Windows and Linux systems in the future. There are millions of lines of “legacy code” in languages that are less popular today than they will be in the future. The inference is to move away from the legacy code toward a modern language where there are more skills available. As a factoid, there are more ARM chips in the market today than Intel chips. There are more applications being developed for iOS and Android than for Microsoft Windows and that’s way more than being developed for mainframes. So that might lead someone to believe that’s the programming model of this generation.  And as I’ve said in an earlier post, if your IT career began in the 1990’s and you hated mainframes, you were right….at that time….

But like everything, time changes things. IBM and vendor partners have dramatically changed what the mainframe was into a more modern computing environment. IBM spends over $1B in R&D for each generation of the mainframe that comes out about every two years now. I’m going to park that, for a moment, to go to another topic, that is more relevant to the skills discussion.

Patterns

Programming is about patterns. Patterns occur at a process level, in languages and in behaviors. There are three broader patterns at work here. Systems of Record, Engagement and Insight. I’ve written about that before, but Record deals with transaction processing, Engagement deals with the end user interface and Insight is about analytics. Most programming being done today is around systems of engagement – taking advantage of enhancements in smart phone, wearable tech (e.g. watches and fitness) and other devices that are the Internet of Things. GPS, accelerometer, touch, voice and biometrics are just a few of the advances that improve the human computer interface. The mainframe has avoided this programming area completely as a native interface. That makes complete sense. Ignored by many, though, is the fact that the mainframe has fully embraced leveraging those capabilities through interoperability and standard formats and protocols. They enable hybrid programming to reach out to those interfaces to simplify the deployment of systems of Record. In addition, they’ve integrated with Systems of Insight to enable real time analytics to be applied to traditional systems of Record to reduce risk.

This link will take you to a tremendous video about the z13 server and its ability to satisfy these new capabilities. Warning – it’s 30+ minutes long.

Where will the skills come from?

Another fear raised is that schools no longer teach “mainframe”. Perish the thought. While there are fewer “mainframe” schools than teach commodity system programming, there are a wealth of schools across the world that are part of IBM’s System z Academic Initiative. Checking their website, there are three in Maryland, close to the Federal government and very close to the agency head writing the blog. But you know, “you can’t trust the marketing” materials put out by a vendor. So I went to the Loyola College of Maryland, University of Maryland Eastern Shore (UMES) and Prince George County Community College web sites to see what they said about the IBM Academic Initiative. Honestly, the info I found was from 2011-13, other than Prince George which was up to date. So I reached out to the schools. UMES responded quickly.
“First and foremost, I would like to inform you that we are actively involved in the IBM Academic Initiative. Dr. Robert Johnson is the Chair of the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science is the lead person in the initiative. Further, they are currently in the process in moving into our new $100 million Engineering and Aviation Science Building which will significantly enhance our capabilities to support the initiative.”
Here’s a brochure for their program.

Most importantly, success is not a two-way street between IBM and the schools. It’s four way, including businesses/agencies and the students. The best schools will work with businesses to provide internships with students PRIOR to graduation. There is generally a very high (close to 50%) success rate in those students choosing full-time employment at the business they did an internship. I strongly encourage any business or agency concerned about future skills deployment to reach out to these schools and work directly with them. Experience shows that you’ll be very pleased with the results. UMES gave me their cell numbers if you’d like to reach out to me for a direct introduction.

Adopt New Technologies and dump the old?

The collective wisdom of the Federal CIO’s seems to point to new technologies as the “future” of programming. The referenced blog points to Uber, Siri and Facebook as examples of such applications and suggests they may be irrelevant in five years. (See Myspace as an example). New technologies grow up in a vacuum. There is no maintenance legacy. It doesn’t mean the legacy can’t work with them, though. A prior blog entry looks at 22 emerging technologies and their relationship to the mainframe and how hybrid computing can solve new business problems.

Let’s consider one of the new, cool tech referenced: Uber. I happen to have a chauffeur’s license (a story for another time) and am very familiar and active with Livery legislation. The Uber mobile application is actually very simple and easy to recreate. What makes them successful is their business model and practices. They hire drivers as contractors, therefore no tax consequences for Uber. They avoid the bureaucracy of Livery laws.

There is a state law that enables the New York City Taxi and Livery Commission (T&LC) to regulate who and what can be operated within the boroughs. This is for the “safety and comfort of passengers”. However, it’s big money. Medallions, per cab, have cost up to $750,000 just to put a car on the street and the T&LC limits the number of medallions. Cars from outside the T&LC are not allowed to make more than one stop in the city. They cannot pick up a passenger at an airport if they dropped them off more than 24 hours ago. The T&LC have 250+ officers in unmarked vehicles that follow and intimidate non-T&LC livery vehicles in the city. I witnessed a stretch limo being impounded by the T&LC when an upstate Livery firm dropped off the passengers returning from a NYC funeral at a NYC restaurant before traveling north. The second stop was illegal. In any event, other states (CT and NJ) got upset with this bureaucracy. They lobbied and a Federal law resulted to allow reciprocal rights to other states to operate without joining the T&LC. But upstate Livery can’t participate. The NY Assembly and Senate have had to modify laws to create T&LC’s in neighboring jurisdictions to allow reciprocal rights in NYC locations. Rockland, Nassau and Westchester counties have T&LC’s now. This is the third year that Dutchess and Ulster have legislation to enable reciprocal rights up for a vote. The NY Assembly has passed their legislation, but the NY Senate hasn’t. Last year, they decided to wait on Dutchess and Ulster until they figured out how to allow Uber  and Lyft to operate in NYC exempt from the T&LC bureaucracy. That legislation has now been created and will be voted on soon.

T&LC makes revenue on selling taxi medallions and collecting tax on fares. Uber & Lyft disrupt those economics. The livery vehicles pay $3000 per year for insurance. Uber/Lyft cut deals with insurance companies to lower that to $600/year to make them more competitive. The drivers must also have personal insurance on the cars when a fare isn’t present.  Laws are now being enacted to allow “Transportation Network Companies”  (TNC as they generically refer to Uber and Lyft) to get “fair access” to markets in NY without this bureaucracy. I’ve developed an app which will qualify the “local” livery company to operate as a TNC to reduce their costs and in turn, reduce the cost to consumers…will the government allow that? Will the Dutchess and Ulster laws pass? This is more about big money, venture capital and paid lobbyist getting to the legislative leaders, than the small livery companies trying to stay in business. We’ll see if the legislation and the bureaucracy will enable the small livery services to morph into a mini-Uber. The legislation enables the Commissioners of Insurance and Motor Vehicles to regulate the “TNC” businesses. The legislation doesn’t prescribe how that will be managed nor how much it will cost. By the way, did you notice that the legislation for Uber includes a lighted icon in the front and rear of the car to identify it? That’s as much for passenger safety as it is to make it easier for the T&LC police to pull over the cars if the legislation doesn’t pass. Not much likelihood of that, though, given the amount of money changing hands in Albany.

Long story short – Uber is more about business processes than it is about new applications.

Past Technology Evolution Examples

Going back to the graph, there is much to learn from prior experiences of the Fortune 500 and government agencies introducing new technology.

Learn from the Fortune 500 – the good:

Benefits processing: Hewitt Assoc and Fidelity continuously advance their capabilities. They provide integration with employer payroll systems. They have up to the minute accuracy of consumer records. They provide immediate access to Accruals and eligibility. They’ve adopted web and mobile technologies as Systems of Engagement, including biometric security authentication.

Claims processing: Travelers Insurance has historically reduced IT and people expense 10% annually while improving response times. Claims agents leverage mobile technology for accidents and disasters as input to “legacy” systems.

Learn from the government – the good:

The FBI and VA leverage mainframe virtualization to avoid IT costs of millions of dollars over commodity systems, while improving security, resilience and service level agreements. They run the same code in a different container with a superior operations model and lower costs.

All of the above use Hybrid technology which includes the mainframe.

Learn from the government – the bad:

Marine Corps – hosted by an IT supplier that gouges them on mainframe costs – three times the amount if they hosted it themselves. The IT supplier takes floor space, energy and cooling costs for an entire data center and only bills to the mainframe users. The IT group claims: Commodity systems wouldn’t be affordable if they were “taxed” with those costs. That’s why understanding the Total Cost of Ownership is a critical success factor when considering mainframe vs. commodity system costs. Unfortunately, regulations are in place that mandate that the Marine Corps use that particular IT Supplier. Other groups have bucked that policy to save money.

US Postal Service was not competitive with package tracking vs UPS and FedEx. They realized they needed to add new applications and wanted modern programming to do it. It included new engagement systems at the delivery vehicles via mobile technology. ….that’s the good. The bad – they spent $100’s of millions on redundant “commodity” IT infrastructure and copied key data and applications from the mainframe in order to host the new applications, while leaving the mainframe running. Testing and benchmarking have demonstrated that adding the new applications to the existing mainframes would have avoided millions in costs and operations complexity, while simplifying the architecture and improving SLA’s. With package shipping volumes increasing annually, they’ve continued to upgrade the mainframe each year. They are just spending too much overall. While they collaborate between the systems by moving data, they could save more if they shared the data in real-time.

Prescription for change

While a prescription for change is forth coming in the CIO’s future blogs, let’s hypothesize some changes for their benefit.

Modernization of the development environment

Rational tools – They move the mainframe application development to commodity systems. This moves 80% of the development off the mainframe to reduce IT costs. They provide tools to modernize and document the “legacy” applications and simplify their maintenance. They provide seamless test to the mainframe and other platforms of deployment choice. One large business has 1000 Java developers for commodity systems, 400 Cobol programmers for the mainframe and 50 developers familiar with Java and Cobol to enable hybrid programming and integration. All use the same Rational development front end. From a skills perspective, the mainframe development can now look and feel exactly the same as development on commodity systems. This eases the skills and knowledge requirements to start.

Language modernization:

Cobol Copybooks – the means to define data structures – are now sharable with web services and those services  can launch from Cobol. More on that in a moment.

Chip Speed

The System z13 server runs dual core 5GHz processors. Benchmarks show that Java runs faster here than any other platform. The video referenced earlier provides specifics. With direct access to databases and files, business applications can have better performance than other architectures. With fault tolerance and an improved hardware and software security architecture, the result is a very price competitive hosting environment for new workloads.

Risk and Fraud analytics

Financial services businesses are doing real-time analytics in the middle of their System of Record transaction programs to assess risk and avoid fraud. Leveraging the Copybook capability, they can call out to leverage the 1000+ processors in the IBM Data Analytics Accelerator (IDAA – formerly Netezza) that have been tied into the mainframe to speed time to resolve.

Callsign – a biometric authentication and fraud prevention technology, can leverage a modern smart phone to identify the owner/user of the device before they actually answer a challenge – which could be a finger print, facial recognition or voice. Using the accelerometer in the phone, the GPS and pressure points on the touch pad, along with historic behavior patterns, Callsign can tell by the way a person is holding a phone if it’s the original user or someone else before offering them the authentication challenge. This type of technology can be used at kiosks in regional/branch offices to enroll users and make sure they are the real person requesting later service. No need for a card. A unique user id is sufficient to provide authentication. True, many low-income users/beneficiaries may not have smart phone capability. Alternative mechanisms can be deployed for challenge/response authentication. But, maybe providing a low-cost device to beneficiaries for this purpose, a more modern version of the “RSA token devices”,  might reduce overall costs for low-income users. Watch this space. One of the Callsign customers, a large credit card processing bank, is calling out to Callsign from a “legacy” mainframe transaction program to authenticate that the real customer is at the point of sale or ATM device requesting service. Compare that to an experience I had recently. Visiting 500 miles from home, I went to a big box department store and paid with a valid credit card. Everything was good, but the transaction was denied. I then used a debit card, same bank, same credit card service, but used my pin code. The transaction was approved. As I walked out of the store, I got a call from the credit card provider asking me if I just attempted to use the card. They restored my card to service immediately. Use of the Callsign capability eliminates the human intervention, lowers my embarrassment and speeds transaction processing.

Going a step further, Callsign runs on Amazon Web Services (AWS) or a private cloud today. This is a distributed connection to the transaction systems calling out to it. There are about 15 “risk tests” that can be done, but typically just three can be done and the results fed back to make a risk decision in the time allowed for a transaction to complete. We’ve hypothesized that if Callsign was running on a mainframe, with a memory connection to the transaction programs, that 10 risk tests could be done on the mainframe and maintain the service level agreement of the “legacy” transaction programs. Stay tuned for future updates in this pace.

The NSA has proven that leveraging a Google like search capability can help stop attacks. Why not use web crawling software to look for fraud and overpayments? Leveraging online obituary information, an insurance company or benefits providers could determine if a person has died and no longer eligible for services. In addition, it can predict the services that may be available to the survivors of that person. This can speed up time to deploy payments to their survivors. These web crawlers can feed a data warehouse searching for fraud but also feed real-time systems to avoid fraud for new transactions.

Collaboration is necessary to move forward:

Education: partnerships between vendors, businesses/agencies and schools is necessary to create the next generation of IT professionals (programmers and operations) as well as to update the skills of existing personnel.

Operations: Today, fiefdoms around individual architectures or administrative domains exist that create/foster conflict and drive up IT costs. Not everyone is going to get along. Organizational politics and budgets have as much to do with fiefdoms as anything. Leveraging the Rational developer example, where a small group of people have some hybrid responsibility, can lead to breakthroughs in processing schemes.

Legislation: Where necessary, this can be valuable to enable a leap toward something new that will provide value and reduce costs.

Summary

There is no right or perfect answer to any IT decision. As the saying goes and leading to an unintended consequence: “Throwing the baby out with the bathwater” isn’t necessarily a good approach. Leveraging a hybrid computing, operational and development environment can make a large shift toward leveraging “modern” application models. Happy programming!

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If you started with computers in the 1990’s and hated mainframes – you were right

Wow, I said it. It’s hard to admit for some of my peers, but looking back, there is a lot of truth to that sentiment. I’m not talking about traditional transaction processing used for insurance claims, point of sale, ATM’s, travel reservations, etc. That’s where money is being made and continues to be made, with many businesses leveraging mainframes as their System of Record.

No, that’s meant for folks that were and are  interested in client/server deployments. Folks that wanted to use modern application development tools. Folks that wanted to incorporate multi-media and streaming into their workflows. These might be considered the System of Engagement today. Oh my goodness, the mainframe was not at all prepared to handle that work. Decisions were also made for departmental computers. Can you imagine a mainframe of that era in a closet? A closet? Where was the chilled water, the raised floor, the humongous air movers?

IBM_Main_9000

It was a traumatic change within IBM to begin the modernization of the platform and 1. keep it relevant to where it was having its “legacy” value (the prime objective) and 1A. make it relevant to capture new workloads. This was something tolerated, but not completely embraced at the IBM executive levels.  Ignoring the success of “desktop computing” and new business opportunities, I always felt that the mainframe sales mantra was kind of the opposite of the famous Star Trek line: To boldly go where we have already sold before. So the real goal appeared to be to keep our current mainframe customers happy.

The mainframe is a dinosaur. The mainframe is dead

There were voices, everywhere, saying the mainframe was dead, it’s a dinosaur. It chilled the hearts and minds of senior IBM executives too. There was a “new breed” of executive that wanted to look and grow new business lines, like the PC Server and Power Systems. Where did their funding come from? The profit of the mainframe. But as a result, mainframe R&D budgets were challenged. And even within the mainframe, as growth opportunities were considered, the development budget was spread even thinner across a wider variety of efforts. Some believed it was a cash cow, from which new opportunities should be funded. And then there were the mainframe believers that had to fight “the new status quo” to maintain their budgets. I could go on and on about these political battles inside IBM. There’s some TMZ quality stuff, but not what I want to discuss here.

Now, if you don’t want to read the story about what changes were made and how they were made, you can skip to the Summary of how bad it was and how good it has become.

The long road toward making the mainframe relevant to new workloads

Instead, I’d like to tell you about the changes that were made to make the platform relevant to new business opportunities. In the process, the positioning of the mainframe changed. It’s still a terrific System of Record, but now, unlike the 1990’s, it can be a viable System of Engagement for many functions, but not all. Because if I said all functions, I’d be lying every time I mentioned hybrid computing!

Let’s start with a big mainframe app that made the decision to go “all distributed” and never looked back. That hadas much to do with money as it did with technology.

Dassault never looks back. Goodbye mainframe

Dassault System’s CATIA application – a CAD/CAM – engineering modeling/rendering application.  They were charging $8K a user for the MVS version. Each user had a specially built 3270 Graphics Adaptor for model renderings on a “green screen”.2250Graphics

There were so many instructions required to do the renderings that each terminal had it’s own hardware interface. At the time, there were only 4096 interfaces (called Unit Control Blocks – UCB) on the system. As more engineers created modern airplanes, the customers had to buy more systems, which were not cheap to acquire, nor operate. Ultimately, the z/OS operating system eliminated the constraint on the number of UCBs, which would have greatly helped CATIA customers, but had the added benefit of helping all customers when Parallel Sysplex was introduced later.

CATIA grew bored with the proprietary 3270 GA box as their graphics rendering device. They wanted color and simpler graphics.CATIA-14X-actuators-135x90

This is just what the UNIX community was demonstrating. So they created a new product, based on AIX. They thought the UNIX based version should charge about $10K a seat. Some cooler graphics were worth the price, but not too far off the current customer price. They did a market study. They found other UNIX based engineering programs were getting about $25K a seat  And those systems were selling well. What a profit margin! So they decided to charge $22K a seat, in order to undercut their competitors.  They also yelled from the rooftops “the mainframe is dead” in order to transition to the new model, but more importantly, the new revenue and profit stream. What was surprising to me was that Dassault was partially owned by IBM. My job was to talk to the “chief yeller” and convince them of the “new mainframe strategy” which was still vapor ware, from their perspective. All requests to stay on the mainframe fell on deaf ears, and rightfully so, in hindsight.

SAP tells IBM what’s wrong with the mainframe

A “big mainframe” app that transitioned to commodity systems was from SAP, which was mainly a bunch of ex-IBMers that had a really good idea. SAP R/2  was created with a mainframe back end application and database server which also drove the green screen terminal front ends.
SAP R/3, the next major version,  was a “client/server” app that was all about the end user experience (GUI) and commodity server deployment models. It didn’t run on the mainframe when it first came out. SAP was one of the voices bragging about the “death of the mainframe” in order to transition customers to their new product. It took years of negotiations and modernization of the mainframe infrastructure and pricing changes for SAP R/3 to “return” to the mainframe, but it was only a partial return….The Database, entirely, and then the data access methods and some of the applications. The presentation layer has expanded beyond the desktop into mobile and web services. The original application programming language remains the same, though it has been augmented with Java.

Let’s peel the onion and look into modernization specifically for SAP R/3. In my opinion, it was that application, or better stated, that company that forced IBM to change the mainframe. IBM wanted new workloads. Here was a big one that took business away…Let’s win it back.

Network Performance and System Integrity

First, client/server was based on the internet and local area networks. They were rapidly transitioning to TCP/IP hosted networks – an open network. IBM was still stuck on SNA, it’s proprietary network that was actually a de facto industry standard as most systems could interoperate with it. Today, SNA applications can run over TCP/IP….it’s about layering, but that’s too detailed. An implementation of TCP/IP for MVS is created. Check the box. Done. Well, wait a minute…how well does it perform, SAP asks. It takes about 186,000 instructions to send a small chunk of data out and receive the acknowledgement of successful delivery. By contrast, it takes AIX about 18,000 instructions to do the same. So MVS is about 10 times slower communicating with TCP/IP than other platforms. Well, no it’s not. The SAP R/3 application is very chatty. The application server makes a network connection to the database server on the mainframe. For each end user request that ends up making a database call, there are actually 26 send/receive pairs for each transaction. So the overall pathlength is 260 times worse than AIX for a single SAP transaction. At the mainframe hardware and software price levels, that isn’t going to sell well. I also made a joke of this at the time. What’s Lassie, RinTinTin, Benji and TCP/IP on MVS?

Three movie stars and a dog. Drum roll please. This was a bad situation. Unfortunately, this joke lasted several years. A lot of effort went into looking at alternative implementations.

Anytime there is a network, data must move from one system to another system. In a terminal environment, such as a 3270 screen update, it might only be 100 bytes of data get transmitted. But a video could be millions of bytes. IBM, from it’s outset, has been historically great at creating architectures. Some architectures have layers of functionality. Communications or networking architectures are famous for the seven layer diagram,

Osi-Layer-Modelwhere each layer has an architectural purpose. Application layer, transport layer, session and network layers being a subset. IBM has an image processing application originally developed for medical records called Imageplus. The performance of image processing (and later streaming) over the network, because of the rigidity and adherence to the layers of architecture by the original code base, was horrendous. The physical image was COPIED TWELVE times, once for each layer and a few times within the application, as it traveled through the operating system. Eventually, the networking software was modified so that it could copy the data from the application buffers directly to the transmission wires after a quick test of the applications data integrity (aka make sure there would be no buffer overflows or attempt by an application to send system or privileged data that they didn’t have authority or “need to know”.  This data integrity testing, by the way, is inherent throughout the mainframe operating systems and middleware).

So the Imageplus benchmark was also critical to understanding how to re-write the TCP/IP stack. If the system knew the SAP Application server was running on an AIX server that was channel attached to the mainframe, the new performance was 5,000 instructions. (Didn’t need to do some network error handling  nor routing and this saved instructions). If the Application server was attached via a router, then it was 10,000 instructions.  Hallelujah….we were better than the rest of the world…..

Data Character Translation

Not yet, says SAP. Those desktops, those application servers on Windows and UNIX/AIX? They like to read and present data in ASCII format. Your mainframe and  DB2? They like to process data in EBCDIC format. It takes seven instructions to translate each byte. So all that network gain that was just achieved is lost by data translation. As a result, effort is put into the path length of data translation. Eventually, it gets down to three instructions per character. With the network savings, this is roughly equivalent, end to end of a commodity system performance. With price/performance, it’s still not good enough. As a result, the mainframe hardware, operating system and DB2 middleware are changed to natively support unicode characters, wide characters (for character based languages) and many other code pages. There was, and is, no longer a penalty for code conversion. Finally, after several years of work, SAP R/3 sales of hybrid computing began.

New workload pricing

But the transition isn’t complete. The introduction of Linux on System z leads one to believe that the mainframe is a viable application server. Not so fast, says SAP.  IBM charges software by the MIPS or capacity of the ENTIRE machine.  So if a customer adds one processor to run Linux on a mainframe that has 9 existing processors, the Linux license charge would be for 10 processors worth of work vs. the single processor that is executing. I’m going to rapidly jump ahead, but specialty engines were created such that new workloads, such as Linux, JAVA on z/OS, distributed connections to z/OS databases, some z/OS system utilities and more are charged by the actual engine or capacity of the workload vs. the entire capacity of the machine. Finally, incremental workloads could be added to the platform at or near commodity prices for the equivalent work. But we’re still not done with this evolution in hybrid computing.

Stop copying data. Share memory instead

Avoiding data moves was critical to the success of the “new” TCP/IP within z/OS. So next, the same concept is applied WITHIN the mainframe. And this takes several iterations with continuing benefit.

In a Blade server or  rack mounted system, a special back plane or Top of Rack switch may be deployed so that communications within a ‘server box’ can go point to point, ala the mainframe channel to channel interface and avoid router overhead. Under z/VM with hundreds of Linux images running and then z/VM to z/OS within the same physical server, IBM created the hipersocket which uses dedicated hardware memory, instead of wires, to facilitate intra-physical server communications. The most recent announcement upgraded the hipersocket technology to leverage RDMA memory that can be shared between server images so that only a pointer to the data is transmitted.  Each system can have direct access and eliminate intra-server copying of the data.

Increased capacity and memory available for new workloads

All of the above mentioned activities result in fewer data moves within the operating systems, virtualization layers and hardware servers themselves. This avoids instructions, real memory and latency required to do data moves. This allows the processors and memory to be available for other workloads. This allows greater scale of the environment. And because the mainframe has been doing this for over 40 years as a balanced architecture across instructions, memory, networks and data, instruction pipe lining, many levels of memory caching and more, it is capable of putting, colloquially, 10 pounds of “stuff” in a 5 pound bag without fear of breaking. Said another way, there is no fear in running the system at 100% utilization for very long periods of time.

The “Legacy” workloads get modern as well

So that’s just a snippet of the technology that went into “modernizing” the mainframe for new workloads. There is significant other infrastructure, such as the Parallel Sysplex, Geographically Dispersed Parallel Sysplex (GDPS), evolution from BiPolar to CMOS technology, reductions in cooling, electricity and floor space, packaging of “spare” parts in the box for fail over/fault avoidance and on demand deployment for capacity upgrades and more that made the mainframe better for traditional workloads, and over time, those benefits have applied to the new workloads as well.

But then, how much does it cost?

Historically, the mainframe has been considered an expensive alternative to “commodity” platforms that are “just good enough”.  Much has been done to change the pricing structures.

Technology Dividends

Since the introduction of OS/390, IBM and other vendors have been providing tech dividends such that the price/mips has decreased regularly and with most new processor introductions.

Capacity Backup

The “z” in System z, stands for Zero down time. While not reality, it is a goal, both at the technical level and through software license charges. IBM introduced Capacity BackUP (CBU) pricing for backup or disaster recovery servers. A fraction of the production price is paid for the hardware server and no software license charges are paid. Many other vendors have accepted this model as well. Why? Because a business isn’t getting any productive work out of the backup servers. When production work moves over to the CBU server, then the software license charges transfer to that machine. A business may do several “fail overs” a year, to test recovery operations without incurring a license charge. When compared to “commodity” servers, this can be a tremendous savings. In those environments, multiple servers may be required and each of those will be charged a production license fee.

Development pricing

If a business wants to get more workloads, then it needs to cater to application developers. Those developers need a sandbox or low priced system to create that code. Unfortunately, software license charges being as they are, all MIPS on the mainframe were created equal and treated as production. Rational was a brand acquired by IBM. They had created some fantastic tools that worked across platforms and now included OS/390 and later z/OS. Those applications would require CICS, IMS, DB2 and other vendor middleware as the target production environment. However, IBM was charging the same price for the production licenses. Most other vendors, including Microsoft, Sun, Oracle and HP were giving away the run times when they sold their development tools. As a result, the mainframe was not targeted by most vendors as a viable deployment platform because the “cost of entry” was way too high.

IBM finally released a mainframe architecture that ran on PC and Power servers – the z Personal Developer Tool (zPDT) to vendors. This created a competitive cost for vendor developers to target the mainframe as a production platform. It was several years later that IBM decided to make this available to businesses or customers. Finally, there was a common tool set, Rational Developer and free run times and test environments that were priced competitively with “desktop” development tools. Better yet, a developer could “take a mainframe home” with them, as the zPDT could run on a Thinkpad laptop.

Parallel Sysplex pricing

Clustering computers is an important way to scale. IBM invented the Parallel Sysplex architecture that accomplished three things, with two being a huge differentiator from “commodity” server clustering.

  1. Load balancing work across the cluster
  2. Shared Lock management of database and file records across the cluster
  3. Shared cache of the database and file records across the cluster, allowing all cluster members to have direct access to the data.

The direct access of shared locks and data cache allow additional servers to be added to the cluster without having to reorganization or partition the data. The performance is such that there is linear scalability as each new cluster member is added to a maximum of 32 systems.

Software was then discounted for customers that chose to use the Parallel Sysplex as a clustered model over a multi system model that had non shared data.

New workload pricing

This was discussed earlier. The net is that specialty engines were defined that allowed no software license charges or deeply discounted license charges for Java, Linux and other workloads.

Hybrid Computing pricing

With the zEnterprise servers, the mainframe added the ability to have direct attachment to an IBM Bladecenter and in the process, have a dedicated communications channel and a dedicated management channel for these two devices. I already described how performance can improve when channel attached when discussing the SAP R/3 deployment between AIX and z/OS.

The IBM Data Application Accelerator (IDAA) is a query server, running on x86 blades that can get direct access to DB2 on z/OS. By shipping queries over to the IDAA server, read/write operations can continue on z/OS while read only performance of the query can be parallelized across multiple x86 engines and see performance improvements that could be 300 to 1000 times better than if run on z/OS. More importantly, the IDAA is “just an engine”. Security of the database and audit remains within DB2 for z/OS. Data copies over the network can be avoided. Some copying is inevitable, but flash copies can be made in moments, instead of long running data extract, transform and loads (ETL) to other platforms. This provides a significant advantage to completing near real time analytics and enables new decisions to be made, prior to completion of a transaction. There are too many cost savings to mention, but some are: less disk space, faster response time, improved security, better scale, less network bandwidth consumed, etc.

Mobile pricing

In the 1960’s and continuing through the early 1980’s, it was agents of a business that executed transactions. Travel agents, Bank Tellers, Claims adminstrators, ATMs and Point of Sale terminals. The consumer watched. These transactions were typically short, easily measured and predictable. The majority of the transactions occurred during business hours, such as 9AM to 5PM. Hardware and software were priced for the size of the machine dictated the overall software license charges.

The “Internet of things” has changed that. Consumers can now do things on their own, where an agent was previously required. They can start a claim, transfer money, deposit a check, buy tickets to performances and for travel. They can do this at any time of the day or night. They can query prices as often as they wish, waiting for the “sale price” to be good enough to actually purchase something. This is dramatically grown the number of transactions being executed and kept the Systems of Engagement and Systems of Record up around the clock. Any down time means potential and real loss of business. In April of 2014, IBM introduced the Mobile price usage to provide a discount for these type of consumer issued transactions. The goal is to make the monthly pricing more predictable and comparable with “commodity” platforms.

Summary

How bad it was (1990’s)

Let’s review how bad the mainframe was back in the early 1990’s.

  1. Water cooled, very large, heavy servers with large amounts of electricity and cooling required.
  2. An Internet network that was horrendously slow at the hardware and software levels.
  3. A Green screen Command oriented interface (similar to the DOS Shell that lived a very short while on PCs). Yes, you could “screen scrape” to make it look more graphic, but many considered that “lipstick on a pig”.
  4. A communication architecture that was inherently inefficient as it copied data between system components, many times, before it went on “the wire”. In PC LAN terms, it was a Ring 4 implementation (and worse)  instead of Ring 0.
  5. The wrong character set was used: EBCDIC, which required software changes and data conversions to and from ASCII or Unicode.
  6. Expensive software licenses for production and development.
  7. Proprietary, green screen oriented, development tools
  8. Proprietary programming interfaces
  9. Lack of Commercial Off the Shelf (COTS) new workloads

How much better it is today

  1. Comparably sized servers to commodity systems that use less electricity and cooling.
  2. An incredibly faster Internet connection for inter-system, intra-system and intra-cluster communications.
  3. While the command line interface is still available, a web service oriented management interface is now available.
  4. A communication interface that passes pointers to data and shares the data rather than copying it within a system image, across virtual system images and across a cluster of systems.
  5. Adoption of Unicode, ASCII and EBCDIC as base characters simplifies data consolidation on z.
  6. Technology dividends and a wide variety of pricing options make the TCO and TCA of System z competitive with commodity servers
  7. Single, cross platform tooling from Rational that includes mainframes, UNIX/Linux, Windows and Mobile systems (via the Worklight acquisition)
  8. Portability of applications within z/OS and Linux in a variety of open languages
  9. A far broader range of COTS software is available for Linux on z and z/OS

Some additional items that are better than commodity servers

  1. Shared data access, with integrity, scale and resilience,  across systems
  2. Shared Analytics and Transaction Processing to a single database (that can be shared across a cluster), while maintaining Service Level Agreements
  3. Hacker resistant (not Hacker proof) architecture that inhibits data and buffer overlays. The System Integrity guarantee has been in place since 1973.
  4. Capacity Backup licensing and acquisition dramatically reduce Disaster Recovery costs and procedures.
  5. System z hardware avoids 80% of the errors that might occur in a PC server environment. No down time nor failover would occur. System z software and hardware work together to drive System availability to 99.999%.
  6. Workload management of thousands of applications and hundreds of thousands of client connections enables dramatic cost savings over alternative servers.
  7. Incremental additions of software workloads without the need to install new hardware due to on board “spares” available to be turned on, on demand.

Summary

If you haven’t considered a mainframe in the last 20 years, it’s quite understandable. But if you don’t start reconsidering it today, you are making a fundamental mistake.

The modern mainframe is greatly simplified from where I began 40 years ago. I’m happy to say I  may have had a little bit to do with that 😉  Happy programming.