IBM fights Fast400 with OS/400 small print

Governor Buster

ComputerWire: IT Industry Intelligence

For months now, IBM's OS/400 systems programmers have been playing a game of cat and mouse trying to defeat the Fast400 green-screen governor buster program that helps 5250 applications get around artificial performance barriers imposed on AS/400 and iSeries hardware,

Timothy Prickett Morgan writes


Now IBM is hauling out the OS/400 licensing contracts in an attempt to discourage OS/400 shops from using Fast400 to get around paying to the 5250 feature cards that enable interactive processing capacity. It was only a matter of time.

IBM's official position on Fast400 can't be said to have changed, since the top brass at Server Group or the MidMarket Server Division have yet to make any official statement about Fast400.

For months, IBM has been content to let senior programmers from the Rochester, Minnesota, iSeries labs do the talking by putting messages in sites like MIDRANGE-L. Tiger Tools, which was the original distributor of Fast400, and which is based in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, and lost the marketing and distribution agreement for Fast400 to Storage Solutions Group, which is based on the Isle of Man, in Great Britain.

Last fall SSG said it would be ready to roll in early December with an updated Fast400 offering, but it wasn't. So at the time, the limited course of action that IBM took - saying very little about the problem and working behind the scenes with OS/400 PTFs to try to disable the program - must have seemed sufficient.

All of the midrange press hunted down the story. After reading about it, OS/400 users publicly and privately debated the ethical nature of IBM's 5250 interactive software pricing and the use of the Fast400 program, which tricks the CFINT governor into letting geared-down interactive jobs run faster than they otherwise might.

Then, a few weeks ago, SSG actually resurfaced with the updated Fast400 tool and a modified licensing plan. IBM is once again in a position of trying to stop Fast400 from taking hold in its base, to protect the revenue stream it gets from interactive feature sales, which can cost from tens of thousands to millions of dollars.

These interactive features do nothing but tell an AS/400 or iSeries server how much processing capacity to dedicate to the 5250 green-screen terminal program that is the basis of many RPG and COBOL programs, even those that have been equipped with pretty graphical front ends.

Fast400 is back, and this time IBM is trying to get OS/400 customers to rifle around their desks and find their OS/400 licensing contracts and check to see if they are violating those contracts by using Fast400.

As far as we know, IBM's top brass have not released a definitive and final statement about Fast400 to customers, and are instead relying on the press as a means of reaching customers. (This is good for publishers like us, of course, but it may not be such a smart move for IBM when dealing with 250,000 customers scattered around the globe.)

Here is the official statement that Kirsten Graham, a spokesperson for the iSeries within Server Group, gave me last week concerning Fast400:

"When it comes to IBM's warranty and service, running Fast400 on a system (with its modification of Licensed Internal Code) constitutes an 'alteration' under the Multiple Supplier System Bulletin. In such case, IBM requires that customers notify IBM of any such alteration and that the machine be inspected, at customer's expense, prior to any IBM Warranty or Maintenance actions. The Licensed Internal Code must be restored to its unaltered state in order for IBM to provide Warranty or Maintenance Services for the Licensed Internal Code."

In plain English, IBM says that Fast400 alters OS/400 microcode and that its licensing agreements with customers stipulate that they will not do that, and that, if they do, it does not have to maintain the machine on which OS/400 runs.

SSG reacted instantly to IBM's statements with a statement of its own, provided by Colin Wells, the director of sales and marketing at the company, as follows:

"Fast400 DOES NOT modify IBM Licensed Internal Code. After you preview Fast400, simply end the Fast400 job and all Fast400 tuning will end. To uninstall the product, simply delete the object. If you IPL your machine, and you wish to continue running Fast400, you must resubmit the Fast400 job as Fast400 does not make any changes to the original code of your system. Does that sound like Fast400 is modifying Licensed Internal Code? So if Fast400 is not modifying Licensed Internal Code, then our customers are NOT in violation of IBM's license agreements. As for the possibility of IBM inspecting a few hundred thousand servers around the world, they better stop laying-off people and start hiring. Both of these statements is IBM's attempt to throw FUD [Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt] on the Fast400 user community. As the Development Group [meaning the programmers who have created Fast400] has said many times before, Fast400 simply tunes your interactive jobs to maximize the performance of your CPU."

There you have it. Clear as mud.

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