In another follow-up from EMC World, the last session I went to was “EMC System z, z/OS, z/Linux and z/VM”. I thought it might be useful to hear what people were doing in the mainframe space, although largely unrelated to my current job. It was almost 10-years to the day that I was at IBM, were writing the z/Linux strategy, hearing about early successes etc. and strangely, current EMC CTO Jeff Nick and I were engaged in vigourous debate about implementation details of z/Linux the night before we went and told SAP about IBM’s plans.
The EMC World session demonstrated, that as much as things change, the they stay the same. It also reminded me, how borked the IT industry is, that we mostly force customers to choose by pricing rather than function. 10-12 years ago z/Linux on the mainframe was all about giving customers new function, a new way to exploit the technology that they’d already invested in. It was of course also to further establish the mainframes role as a server consolidation platform through virtualization and high levels of utilization.(1)
What I heard were two conflicting and confusing stories, at least they should be for IBM. The first was a customer who was moving all his Oracle workloads from a large IBM Power Systems server to z/Linux on the mainframe. Why? Becuase the licensing on the IBM Power server was too expensive. Using z/Linux, and the Integrated Facility for Linux (IFL) allows organizations to do a cost avoidance exercise. Processor capacity on the IFL doesn’t count towards the total installed, general processor capacity and hence doesn’t bump up the overall software licensing costs for all the other users. It’s a complex discussion and that wasn’t the purpose of this post, so I’ll leave it at that.
This might be considered a win for IBM, but actually it was a loss. It’s also a loss for the customer. IBM lost because the processing was being moved from it’s growth platform, IBM Power Systems, to the legacy System z. It’s good for z since it consolidates it’s hold in that organization, or probably does. Once the customer has done the migration and conversion, it will be interesting to see how they feel the performance compares. IBM often refers to IFL and it’s close relatives the ziip and zaap as speciality engines. Giving the impression that they perform faster than the normal System z processors. It’s largely an urban myth though, since these “specialty” engines really only deliver the same performance, they are just measured, monitored and priced differently.
The customer lost becuase they’ve spent time and effort to move from one architecture to another, really only to avoid software and server pricing issues. While the System z folks will argue the benefits of their platform, and I’m not about to “dis” them, actually the IBM Power server can pretty mouch deliver a good enough implementation as to make the difference, largely irrelavant.
The second confliction I heard about was from EMC themselves. The second main topic of the session was a discussion about moving some of the EMC Symmetrix products off the mainframe, as customers have reported that they are using too much mainframe capacity to run. The guys from EMC were thinking of moving the function of the products to commodity x86 processors and then linking those via high speed networking into the mainframe. This would move the function out of band and save mainframe processor cycles, which in turn would avoid an upgrade, which in turn would avoid bumping the software costs up for all users.
I was surprised how quickly I interjected and started talking about WLM SRM Enclaves and moving the EMC apps to run on z/Linux etc. This surely makes much more sense.
I was left with though a definate impression that there are still hard times ahead for IBM in large non-X86 virtualized servers. Not that they are not great pieces of engineering, they are. But getting to grips with software pricing once and for all should really be their prime focus, not a secondary or tertiary one. We were working towards pay per use once before, time to revist me thinks.
(1) Sport the irony of this statement given the preceeding “Nano, Nano” post!