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Neon updates zPrime mainframe accelerator

IBM's lawyers combing source code

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Neon Enterprise Software, the cheeky provider of the zPrime systems software that allows production work normally running on IBM z/OS mainframe engines to be dispatched to cheaper zIIP and zAAP co-processors on those mainframes, has tweaked the tool so it can now offload even more work to those cheaper engines.

The zPrime tool was announced in July 2009 and move workloads that would normally run on plain vanilla mainframe engines and the z/OS operating system for System z servers and dispatch some or all of the workloads to the System z Application Assist Processor (zAAP) for offloading Java and XML workloads (announced in September 2004) or the System z Integrated Information Processor (zIIP) to accelerate DB2 databases by offloading certain functions from the regular engines (sometimes called CPs) running z/OS and DB2. (The zIIPs were announced in June 2006).

The zIIPs and zAAPs cost roughly a quarter the price of regular mainframe engines, which is a big deal considering that IBM charges hundreds of thousands of dollars per core for mainframe capacity, and equally importantly do not incur metered software charges for systems software, like regular mainframe engines do. Dispatching work to specialty engines can save customers some big ol' mainframe bucks.

Which is why it was not at all surprising that IBM started flinging FUD at mainframe shops right after zPrime launched and then Neon ended up suing Big Blue in December 2009 in the US District Court for the Western District of Texas, located in Austin, for unfair business practices and anticompetitive behavior.

This resulted in the absolutely predictable countersuit by IBM in January 2010 in the same court, where IBM claims zPrime is analogous to stealing cable, the software violates the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, and compels customers to break their licensing agreements with Big Blue, among other allegations.

With zPrime 2.1, announced today, Neon says that up to 90 per cent of the CICS transaction monitoring transactions that would normally run on standard mainframe engines atop the z/OS operating system on System z mainframes from IBM can now be offloaded to specialty processors and that virtually all DB2 database workloads running on System z mainframes can be offloaded to zIIPs and zAAPs.

The zPrime tool does not require changes to the application or systems software - changing the former would be a pain in the neck and changing the latter would be illegal as far as Big Blue is concerned. IBM sought an injunction to prevent Neon from selling zPrime, but has not received it.

zPrime 2.1 also includes a new Scan tool allows mainframe administrators to better match workloads to specialty processor capacity, which is managed by another tool called Attach that tells CICS, DB2, and other transactions to run on zIIPs or zAAPs.

The idea is to maximize utilization on each zIIP or zAAP and to minimize engine count, as mainframe shops are used to doing given the outrageous prices they pay to acquire mainframe hardware and rent systems software from IBM. zPrime 2.1 no longer requires z/OS exits to enable the workloads. This is presumably important for legal as well as technical reasons, but in prior releases, IBM could not stop zPrime because to disable z/OS exits would shut down all kinds of mainframe applications that rely on these exits.

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