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Neon revs cost-cutting mainframeware

zPrime risks Big Blue ire

The trouble with zIIPs and zAAPs

The problem with the zIIPs and zAAPs, according to Robin Reddick, vice president of marketing at the company, is that there are a lot of restrictions on what workloads can and cannot be offloaded to the zIIPs and zAAPs. Reddick says that the mainframe shops Neon talks to - and they talk to a lot of them, thanks to the mainframe tools the company has been creating and selling since 1995 - were hopeful that maybe somewhere between 20 and 40 per cent of their DB2 workloads could be moved over to the zIIPs. But in practice, because of the way IBM has implemented the zIIP, maybe somewhere between 5 and 20 per cent can move. And the zAAP is only useful for accelerating Java and XML, not the ka-gillions of lines of COBOL and CICS code running out there in mainframeland.

Tony Lubrano, whose title is zPrime product author at Neon, would not divulge how zPrime works, but he gave a few hints about how it lets IMS and DB2 database applications as well as the related CICS transaction processing, the TSO/ISPF green-screen interfaces, and batch programs run on zIIPs and zAAPs. While zPrime accelerates COBOL applications and their underpinnings, it actually doesn't move the COBOL code or any pieces of IBM's systems software over to the zIIPs and zAAPs. "zPrime facilitates the use of zIIPs and zAAPs," explains Lubrano, "but the z/OS dispatcher actually makes the call about what work gets moved to the zIIPs and zAAPs."

Well, it does until IBM's own programmers tweak the z/OS dispatcher.

Lubrano explained that there are two modes for database applications to be created on mainframes, one called task control block (TCB) mode and the other called service resource block (SRB) mode. The zIIPs can only run applications that have been coded in SRB mode, which Lubrano says requires a lot of expertise and special authorization to run. Unfortunately most legacy DB2 batch jobs are coded in TCB mode.

It is reasonable to conjecture that one of the things that the zPrime tool is doing is creating some sort of shell around legacy applications coded in TCB mode to make the zIIPs think they are in SRB mode. That means it can execute on the zIIPs instead of the CPs. And this all gets done in such a way that the z/OS dispatcher sees the zIIP and sees the DB2 work can be moved over and does it.

So how much money can companies save by running zPrime on their mainframes? Reddick says that among some initial customers, they are seeing that as much as 50 per cent of the mainframe workload can be moved from CPs to zIIPS and zAAPs and that as much as 20 per cent of the mainframe hardware and software budget can be eliminated. (These are numbers that will surely get IBM's attention, if not its lawyers on the phone).

The most immediate effect will come from customers who are using MSU pricing, says Reddick. To calculate the monthly software bill on a mainframe, IBM counts up the four highest hours of MSUs used by a piece of software for the month and does a rolling average to send you the bill. Shifting those peaks down with zPrime will lower the monthly bill.

But zPrime could have far-ranging effects on IBM's mainframe business. Companies that might upgrade their machines every two or three years might figure out how to make their existing machines do more work and skip an upgrade cycle and then do a more modest upgrade further down the line. And third party application providers, who make money whenever a mainframe shop upgrades their box, might see fees go flat as customers upgrade to newer, but smaller, machines that nonetheless do more work because they are offloading to zIIPs and zAAPs at a higher rate than IBM or the ISVs anticipated.

We're talking about billions of dollars here - potentially.

So far, IBM has not bought a copy of the product and its lawyers have not come a-calling, says Reddick, but Neon has had some conversations with IBMers. What about, she did not say. Rest assured that if zPrime takes off, there will be more conversations.

zPrime will run on IBM's line of 64-bit mainframes, which includes the z800, z890, z900, z990, and z10 BC and EC machines. It requires z/OS 1.7 or higher and can support applications written in either 31-bit or 64-bit mode. Pricing for zPrime has not been hammered down as yet, but it is a fair guess that it scales with the size of the mainframe and the amount of work that gets moved over.

Neon Enterprise Software is a privately held firm located in Sugar Land, Texa, that is owned by none other than John Moores, one of the three co-founders of BMC Software back in 1980 and the venture capitalist behind Peregrine Systems. He eventually became its chairman and stayed in that position until Peregrine went bankrupt in early 2003. He has plenty of money and a lifetime of experience dealing with IBM in the mainframe racket.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out. ®

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