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IBM flings FUD at Neon zPrimers

Cost-cutting mainframeware? Not so fast

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As El Reg anticipated when the zPrime mainframe acceleration software tool was announced by Neon Enterprise Software, the tool has not only gotten the attention of IBM, but has compelled Big Blue to warn its customers about using it.

Two days after our story ran, Mark Anzani, the chief technology officer for IBM's System z mainframe line, penned a letter intended to present a consistent response to inquiries about the zPrime software, which offloads work done on traditional (and expensive) mainframe engines to lower-cost zIIP and zAAP engines, which are just regular mainframe engines that are called specialty engines and are restricted to running specific workloads by IBM.

Anzani's letter was posted on the blog of DataDirect, another maker of acceleration tools for mainframes that deploys SOA transformational algorithms for mainframe applications on the zIIP, called Shadow.

For those of you not in the mainframe know, IBM has three specialty engines. The Integrated Facility for Linux, announced in 2000, is a mainframe engine that is relegated to running mainframe-compatible Linux atop the z/VM hypervisor. The System z Application Assist Processor (zAAP), announced in September 2004, takes on Java and XML routines from the regular mainframe central processors (CPs). Finally, the System z Integrated Information Processor (zIIP) debuted in June 2006 and accelerates DB2 databases by offloading certain functions from the CPs running z/OS and DB2.

Neon shares some heritage way back in the woodpile with DataDirect, but they are not the same company and are not selling the same products. By the way, DataDirect is a subsidiary of Progress Software, which sells programming, caching, integration, and other tools for mainframes and other platforms.

Without getting into too many details - which we can't do because Neon is not saying exactly how zPrime works - their tool allows IMS and DB2 database applications as well as related CICS transaction processing, TSO/ISPF green-screen interfaces, and batch programs, to run on zIIPs and zAAPs. (See our original story on zPrime for our best guess about how it works.)

zPrime runs 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.

The letter from IBM's Anzani cautions potential zPrime buyers against using the tool.

"Currently, IBM does not have enough information about the referenced product to comment on any specific product-related claims," it reads. "IBM is attempting to learn more about the product and how it is supposed to work, but the vendor has not yet offered to provide IBM with any detailed information and seems to be restricting access to such information."

The letter goes on to warn mainframe shops who have zIIPs and zAAPs - or who might be thinking of buying them to offload some work by using the zPrime tool - that routing any work that's not officially authorized by IBM to zIIPs and zAAPs has to be reviewed by mainframe shops to see if it violates the customer agreement regarding z/OS and its microcode (called Licensed Internal Code, or LIC, in IBMese), or licenses from third party systems and application software providers.

Anzani also took a shot at Neon's claims that it can help reduce software licensing fees on mainframes.

"IBM would also caution its customers regarding any claimed ability to reduce IBM program license charges by offloading workloads to specialty engines beyond the eligible workload identified by IBM," Anzani writes. "IBM's applicable pricing terms governing eligible workloads on zIIPs and zAAPs will not apply to zIIPs and zAAPs running anything other than IBM specified eligible workloads.

"Therefore, customers should not anticipate any reduction (and may actually experience an increase) in the IBM program license charges associated with non-eligible workloads, which may be off-loaded to IBM specialty engines, since the non-eligible workload running on the specialty engine will cause the software running on the specialty engine to be chargeable."

Notice how IBM doesn't say that using zPrime causes customers to violate any licensing agreements?

As of this week, IBM has not yet tried to buy a copy of the tool or asked Neon for a review copy to see how it works, according to Lacy Edwards, chief executive officer at Neon. With more than 50 customers in the United States and Europe evaluating the zPrime product, and that number probably set to grow with mainframe costs high and companies, governments, and educational institutions using mainframes looking to save a few bucks, push will almost certainly come to shove between Neon and IBM.

Edwards has seen the letter and says that he cannot respond to the issues that Anzani brings up.

"We are absolutely certain that we have not violated anyone's intellectual property rights or any contractual agreements we have with anyone," Edwards declares. As for the licensing issues that IBM brought up with regard to customers' mainframe software stacks, Edwards said that this "is between IBM and the customer," adding that Neon "was not aware of any license agreements that limit or restrict specialty engines."

Neon is itself a mainframe customer and licensee of IBM's software, but it is in no more position to guarantee that zPrime does not violate license agreements than IBM is in a position to say it does. At least for now.

With billions of dollars in mainframe hardware at stake in many thousands of mainframe shops, you can bet two things: One, IBM's lawyers are looking into the issue. And two, the company's techies are trying to figure out how it works so they can stop it.

This saga will continue. ®

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