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zPrime cost-cutting mainframeware gets traction

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Neon Enterprise Software, which in late June launched a tool which allows customers to run IBM mainframe apps for a fraction of the cost, is getting traction and not as much push-back from IBM as you might expect.

Neon' tool, zPrime, allows chunks of applications written for IBM's z/OS operating system to run on the relatively cheap specialty zIIP and zAAP engines Big Blue sells for something like a quarter of the price of a regular mainframe engine.

Neon has rolled out a zPrime release 1.2, which the company says has some features to make it easier to move workloads to the System z Integrated Information Processor (a System z mainframe engine restricted, in theory, for accelerating DB2 database functions) and System z Application Assist Processor (a z engine restricted, in theory, to running Java and XML workloads. (Since 2000, IBM has sold another specialty mainframe engine, called the Integrated Facility for Linux, that is designated to run a Linux operating system and its applications.)

IBM sells the zIIPs, which became available in June 2006, and the zAAPs, which made their debut in September 2004, for a lot less money than a regular mainframe engine running z/OS. How much less is hard to say, since Big Blue doesn't provide list prices for mainframe engines or z/OS any more since it wiggled out of its consent decree to settle two antitrust lawsuits (one in 1952 and the other in 1969) in 2001.

One of the many stipulations of that consent decree was that IBM had to provide list prices and a rental price that bore some resemblance to the list price. IBM does provide a price for the zIIPs and zAAPs, which cost $125,000 per engine on the high-end System z10 Enterprise Class servers and $47,500 per engine on the z10 Business Class boxes. Maintenance on zIIPs and zAAPs, says IBM, is a lot less expensive, and these engines do not incur software license fees, as other engines in a mainframe do.

With zPrime release 1.2, Neon says that it has streamlined the process by which applications can be offloaded to zIIPS and zAAPs and has finer-grained control over how workloads are moved. And the company, which has been pretty secretive about how zPrime works, is now telling customers that the tool uses Language Environment Initialization Exits, and according to Lacy Edwards, chief executive officer and chairman at Neon, here's the important bit customers need to hear.

"zPrime uses standard z/OS exits," Edwards explains. "So disabling zPrime means disabling a ton of other applications."

(For a more detail on how zPrime might work, see El Reg's original coverage here.)

In the wake of the zPrime launch, IBM trotted out letters from Mark Anzani, chief technology officer for IBM's System z mainframe line, warning customers that IBM did not know back in July, when the letters were written, how zPrime worked and that its use might be a violation of a customer's mainframe software license agreements to make use of the tool. Edwards said this was nonsense back in July, and he is not saying anything different today.

"IBM is continuing its aggressive campaign to scare customers away," says Edwards. "We have had over 200 customers' lawyers look at this, and not a single one agrees with IBM."

The customers who have kicked the tires on zPrime, or who are just interested in the possibility of using it, stand to save big bucks, perhaps millions to hundreds of millions of dollars per year in software licensing fees, hardware charges, and maintenance fees. zPrime has the potential to really hurt IBM's $4bn mainframe hardware franchise and the very profitable mainframe software business it has - both of which go a long way towards funding those stock buybacks that IBM is so fond of.

In the Anzani letters from July, IBM was hinting that in creating zPrime, Neon might be violating its own license agreements with IBM for mainframe software and added that it might also be violating IBM's intellectual property.

"IBM has backed off on making any statements that zPrime violates any intellectual property or license agreements," says Edwards. "And IBM has not provided, in writing, any specific provisions in the customer license agreements where zPrime violates the licenses."

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