Mainframe Propeller Head


January 22, 2009  5:44 PM

Good mainframe performance comes from good database design

Mark Fontecchio Mark Fontecchio Profile: Mark Fontecchio

The following is a guest post from Bob Schmidt, a performance engineer for mainframe DB2 at State Farm Insurance. It is a response to a SearchDataCenter story on how tuning mainframe applications can cut software costs. Anyone interested in writing guest posts on Mainframe Propeller Head can email mfontecchio@techtarget.com.

The article on mainframe tuning was OK.  But it missed the real problem of mainframe cost.  DB2 is cost effective when used as a relational database.  It can also work as a hierarchical database, or as a flat file.  But it is not cost effective in those other modes.

The problem is improper application design due to designers and architects not thinking in relational terms, nor in sets, but rather in sequential, procedural processing.  Modern hardware and systems software, including DBMS, is intended for parallel processing which is best used with set processing and not with sequential processing.  Yet too often, the architect thinks that parallel processing is sequential processing n-wide.

The real solution is good design.

January 22, 2009  5:04 PM

T3 Technologies pushes forward with complaint of IBM mainframe “monopoly”

Mark Fontecchio Mark Fontecchio Profile: Mark Fontecchio

According to ZDNet, T3 Technologies filed a complaint with the European Commission on Tuesday alleging that IBM was abusing its power in the European mainframe market.

T3 is an alternative mainframe company and one of the only ones out there. Last year, IBM and Platform Solutions Inc., another plug-compatible mainframe vendor, settled their legal battles when IBM announced it was buying PSI, essentially shutting it up.

Since late 2006, PSI had been in back-and-forth lawsuits with IBM in which IBM sued PSI for patent infringement on its z/OS mainframe operating system, and PSI firing back with a countersuit claiming that IBM was shutting out competition by coupling z/OS with its mainframe hardware. The fight was settled with the acquisition, and since then, PSI has vanished. PSI’s web address, www.platform-solutions.com, redirects automatically to IBM’s System z mainframe page. And in IBM’s SEC filing earlier this year that explained the acquisition, Big Blue wrote the following: “PSI’s technologies and skills, along with its intellectual capital, will be integrated into the company’s mainframe product engineering cycles and future product plans.” Which is kind of like saying, “Yes. PSI is pretty much disappearing.”

A Gartner report on the acquisition said that Itanium-based mainframes, which is what PSI was selling, would go the way of the dogs, but that some of its engineering know-how, such as virtualizing I/O across heterogenous environments, could get worked into the System z brand.

Needless to say, that acquisition did not rid IBM of T3. When PSI sued, T3 filed its own motion in support of PSI. T3 had a licensing agreement to resell PSI technology under its Liberty Server brand, and planned to continue to support its existing customer base. Upon the announcement of the IBM acquisition of PSI, T3 Technologies President Steve Friedman said T3 was “not affected by the acquisition of PSI by IBM.”

That may have changed, though, as indicated in the new legal complain that was detailed in the ZDNet story:

IBM is accused of engaging in a range of anti-competitive actions, including “preventing the sales of competing mainframe hardware products by tying the sale of its operating system to its mainframe hardware”. IBM is further accused of “withholding patent licenses and certain intellectual property to the detriment of mainframe customers”.

In its statement, T3 said it sold IBM mainframes but then moved into selling its own products, the Liberty line of mainframes, first developed by Amdahl Corporation, which itself is now part of Fujitsu.

Will T3 go the way of PSI? When I asked Friedman this back in July, he said only that “at the moment, we’re continuing on as we have been and supporting our existing customer base.”


January 13, 2009  3:03 PM

IRS mainframe not secure enough, government report says

Mark Fontecchio Mark Fontecchio Profile: Mark Fontecchio

The federal Government Accountability Office has released a report detailing information security issues at the Internal Revenue Service, and among them are lax mainframe management monitoring.

This isn’t the first time the GAO has found issues with the IRS’ data centers and mainframes. Last year the GAO found 115 weaknesses in information security at the IRS. To the agency’s credit, 49 of them have been fixed. But this isn’t a two-year thing. There have been information security problems at the IRS for years.

According to the 30-page GAO report this year, the IRS”implemented controls for unauthenticated network access and user IDs on the mainframe,” “further limited access to its mainframe environment by limiting access to system management utility functions and mainframe console commands,” and “enhanced periodic reviews of mainframe configurations,” all of which were issues from last year’s report. Yet it’s not monitoring changes at one of its data centers’ mainframes:

IRS did not always effectively monitor its systems. For example, IRS had not configured security software controls to log changes to datasets that would support effective monitoring of the mainframe at one of its data centers.

More detail:

IRS did not fully implement its policies for managing changes to its systems. Specifically, IRS did not maintain or enforce a baseline configuration for one data center’s mainframe system, which supports the revenue accounting system of record and other applications. In addition, IRS used an unsupported software package that was not current and thus vulnerable to attack. Specifically, certain IRS servers were running an outdated version of software that was no longer supported by the vendor and, therefore, could not be patched against a known vulnerability. As a result, IRS has limited assurance that system changes are being properly monitored and that its systems are protected against new vulnerabilities.

I was going to try to come up with a joke here combining Benjamin Franklin’s quote about the only thing certain in life are death and taxes, and the phrase “no taxation without representation,” but I couldn’t seem to make it gel. If you have any ideas, let me know. I’ll put it in and throw an attaboy your way.


January 5, 2009  1:47 PM

SAP and .Net skills are big now…because it’s hard to find anyone doing Cobol?

Mark Fontecchio Mark Fontecchio Profile: Mark Fontecchio

Computerworld recently wrote a story on the “9 hottest skills for ’09.” Included among them are help desk support, networking and business intelligence. Topping the list, however, is programming and application development. That is a broad category, but the author narrows it down pretty quickly:

Ask any recruiter what the single most sought-after IT skill is at the moment, and the universal response is a three-letter word: SAP.

“The little joke in our industry right now is that if you have ‘SAP’ on your résumé right now, you have zero unemployment,” says Bruce Culbert, CEO of iSymmetry Inc., an IT consulting and recruitment firm with offices in Washington and Alpharetta, Ga.

That in itself is interesting and would probably make a good story over at SearchSAP. The author also mentions the strong need for .Net programmers as well. But what caught my eye was the end of the section, when the author describes one particular user’s situation. A senior IT director named Rich Schappert at Casey’s General Stores Inc., based in Ankeny, Iowa, said he’s been working the past five years to fill the company’s need for .Net and SQL Server programmers, and has found them in the local colleges’ student body.

The company, which operates 1,500-plus stores across the Midwest, has been moving its Cobol-based financial applications into the .Net environment to reduce its mainframe costs. “[It's also] getting tougher to find people who know Cobol,” notes Schappert.

Hmm. So it seems to me that maybe knowing mainframe Cobol might trump all of those other skills, or at least be on par. The reason many of these companies are moving off the mainframe is because there aren’t enough people out there who know how to program on them. Or, at least, that’s the perception.


December 17, 2008  8:21 PM

RFG clarifies its clarification

Mark Fontecchio Mark Fontecchio Profile: Mark Fontecchio

Analyst firm Robert Frances Group is doing a lot of clarifications.

Last month Hewlett-Packard announced that 250 mainframe users had migrated to Itanium in the last two years, and cited an RFG study in the release. A quote from the HP release referencing the RFG study:

According to Robert Frances Group, a leading provider of consulting and research, the capital savings range from $1.5 million up to $23 million, with up to an additional operational cost savings of more than $4 million over four years. The study shows HP Integrity servers consumed 41 percent less energy and used 48 percent less space than the IBM z9 mainframes they replaced.

RFG piped up, saying readers could infer that Itanium is always better than mainframe, which is certainly not what RFG was trying to say. We wrote about it and had a headline that said RFG was “dissing” the HP announcement. A quote from the first RFG statement:

Last week HP issued a press release that referenced this report in which readers can infer that RFG believes a new HP system is always less expensive than a new comparable IBM System z. The report did not make such an analysis and made no comparative statements of that nature.

This is a misleading conclusion that RFG does not support. RFG has long stated that the mainframe is one of the best and most energy efficient platform options. RFG has written many research reports stating that mainframes should be considered and used in certain environments and RFG stands by those statements.

Well, now RFG has spoken again. In another clarification, the analyst firm says that the HP announcement never overstated RFG’s published findings. Here’s the full statement:

In the RFG press release on Nov. 17 “RFG Clarifies Its Position on System z Mainframe Pricing and Competitiveness” RFG attempted to clarify that the case study report referenced in the HP Nov. 10th press release compared current Integrity systems with a previous model, IBM z9 mainframe, not a new, IBM z10 mainframe. Further, RFG acknowledges that the RFG study information used in HP’s press release was accurate and factual and did not overstate RFG’s published findings. RFG stands by its findings. RFG’s sole concern was that readers would infer from the HP press release entitled “Business Customers Find Mainframe Costs Out of Step with Data Center Budgets” that RFG believes mainframes are non-competitive in all circumstances.

So it appears the issue has come down to the difference between “imply” and “infer.” Did HP imply that the RFG study claimed Itanium always trumped the mainframe, or was it just the wording of the release that could lead readers to infer such? And what is the difference?


December 17, 2008  7:02 PM

Debugging Tip: The error is probably in your code

Matt Stansberry Matt Stansberry Profile: Matt Stansberry

One of the answers to Robert Crawford’s first Assembler quiz included this story from Bruce Roy at the University of Connecticut:

I can’t remember who complained but I remember that he was kind of sharp guy doing some research on our system. He actually said that there was a bug in the Load Address instruction. Peter Furmo, who received the complaint, took it seriously for about 10 seconds. Then, he reasoned that if there was a bug in that instruction, OS/MVT would not be running which, of course, was not the case.

Crawford’s moral of this story: The error is probably in your code.


December 11, 2008  12:10 AM

Wordles: System z10, Superdome, Sun M9000

Mark Fontecchio Mark Fontecchio Profile: Mark Fontecchio

At a site called Wordle, you can input a text document and out comes what Wordle calls a “word cloud.” It is basically a visual representation of the text document, with the most often used words represented larger and the least often used words represented smaller.

So I decided that for kicks, I would create a Wordle from the System z10 Enterprise Class reference guide. I downloaded it, converted it to a text document, and pasted the text into Wordle. This is what it spit out (click the image for the slightly larger version):

System z10 Enterprise Class Wordle

So then I thought it would be a good idea if I did a similar thing with the mainframe’s competitors. So I picked out the HP Superdome and the Sun Microsystems M9000 and did the same thing. Here’s the Superdome:

HP Superdome Wordle

And the Sun M9000:

Sun M9000 Wordle

It was interesting to see what each company stressed in their enterprise server documentation, other than the name of their own product. For example:

IBM z10: Support, FICON, data, capacity

HP Superdome:  Chassis, system, partition, cabinet

Sun M9000: Power, CPU, Enterprise, memory


December 2, 2008  5:26 PM

Crawford’s Mainframe Assembler Quiz, answers and part 2

Matt Stansberry Matt Stansberry Profile: Matt Stansberry

In his October mainframe column, columnist Robert Crawford asked what commonly used Assembler instruction can be used to add three numbers together and place the answer in a fourth location. The answer is Load Address (LA).

Below is Crawford’s answer and the next Assembler Quiz.

Most of us have seen LA used to get the address of a label:

LA R13,SAVEAREA

But if you look in the Principle of Operations manual you will see the actual format of the instruction is as follows:

LA R1,O(X,B)

Where: R1 is the register to receive the address
X is the index register
B is the base register
O is an offset to be added to the sum of the base and index registers

In other words, the magical thing we call an address is actually just a number computed by adding two registers together with an offset. So, at the end of this instruction sequence:
LA R1,4 R1=4
LA R2,3 R2=3
LA R3,2(R1,R2) R3=2+4+3

Register 3 contains 9

We received 9 correct answers to this question. The first three will receive a Startbucks gift card.

New Assembler Quiz: One more quiz before I run out of ideas. What sequence of three instructions can exchange the values of two registers without using memory or a third register? As before, send your answers to editor@searchdatacenter.com and the first three correct answers will win a $5 Starbucks gift card.


November 28, 2008  1:39 PM

Analyst group disses Hewlett-Packard report about mainframe migration

Mark Fontecchio Mark Fontecchio Profile: Mark Fontecchio

It’s not every day that an analyst group refutes vendor news that includes research from said analyst. Especially when it was research that the vendor, in this case Hewlett-Packard, sponsored. It’s a rare occurrence.

But that’s what happened recently in the midst of the ongoing battle between IBM selling its mainframes and everyone else selling mainframe migration. Earlier this month, HP announced that in the last three years, 250 users had migrated off the mainframe onto its Itanium-based servers. As part of the report, HP cited an analyst report from the Robert Frances Group that identified a customer moving off a z9 mainframe, to the reported tune of $23 million in hardware and software savings. The report, entitled “Breaking the Power Deadlock: The Power and Cooling Benefits of Running on Open Systems,” was sponsored by HP and Microsoft. You can see the full report at Microsoft’s Website.

Here’s what HP said in regards to the analyst report:

According to Robert Frances Group, a leading provider of consulting and research, the capital savings range from $1.5 million up to $23 million, with up to an additional operational cost savings of more than $4 million over four years. The study shows HP Integrity servers consumed 41 percent less energy and used 48 percent less space than the IBM z9 mainframes they replaced.

Needless to say, the Robert Frances Group took issue with that paragraph.

Last week HP issued a press release that referenced this report in which readers can infer that RFG believes a new HP system is always less expensive than a new comparable IBM System z. The report did not make such an analysis and made no comparative statements of that nature.

This is a misleading conclusion that RFG does not support. RFG has long stated that the mainframe is one of the best and most energy efficient platform options. RFG has written many research reports stating that mainframes should be considered and used in certain environments and RFG stands by those statements.

The release concluded, “A true and auditable (total cost of ownership analysis) would need to be performed before any vendor can make specific claims, and an ‘apples-to-apples’ comparison should evaluate target environments.”

Predictably, IBM jumped on the controversy, with Jim Porell writing on the Mainframe Typepad blog about it. And Timothy Sipples later wrote, “Memo to HP: if you want to earn the respect and trust of customers, don’t fib.”

Really, the only thing that’s not par for the course here is RFG calling out HP. That’s unusual. But vendors are in the business of selling their goods.  All of them, including IBM, “interpret” research and find the right benchmarks that make their hardware and software look good.


November 11, 2008  4:15 PM

HP: 250 users have migrated from mainframe to Itanium

Mark Fontecchio Mark Fontecchio Profile: Mark Fontecchio

Hewlett-Packard Co. announced yesterday that about 250 users have migrated off the mainframe to its Itanium-based servers over the last three years.

HP named a few of the customers that have migrated from Big Blue iron to Itanium, including the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART), Astellas Pharma Inc., and the Brazilian Navy. Unfortunately, HP couldn’t provide a single customer — out of a reported 250 — that could speak to me about their migration.

HP also announced a new mainframe migration calculator online that users can test to see if migrating to the mainframe is worth it. Given that HP created the calculator, I doubt there’s any scenario in which the tool will say, “No, stay on the mainframe!” But it could be useful nonetheless.

HP is also offering a free HP NonStop BladeSystem to qualifying migrating customers. To qualify, your mainframe must be running a “payment or other financial services application.” HP then gives you the necessary NonStop blade hardware and software to run that application, along with a free one-year software license. There are no requirements for what you have to do with the mainframe, so you can use the freed up space for something else if you want.

John Pickett, worldwide manager of HP’s mainframe alternative program, said many mainframe users migrating over are just getting off older 31-bit mainframe computers. However, a Microsoft- and HP-sponsored study by the Robert Frances Group in July identified a customer moving off a z9 mainframe, to the reported tune of $23 million in hardware and software savings.

“Predominantly where you’ll see the biggest delta is in software costs,” Pickett said. Mainframe software costs are a difficult issue IBM has been dealing with for some time.


Forgot Password

No problem! Submit your e-mail address below. We'll send you an e-mail containing your password.

Your password has been sent to: