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Another Mainframe ISV Has Trouble with IBM

In September of 2009 DBS released a software utility called IRS for DB2

Data Base solutions AG (DBS) in Switzerland calculates that European mainframe sites pay IBM 500 million euros - that's $650 million - more than they have to every year because of a gimmick that has ironically been dubbed IBM's "generosity factor."

That, it figures, is two euros or $2.70 out of the pocket of every man, woman and child in the European Union since consumers ultimately wind up paying the price of IBM's generosity.

DBS came to make the calculation in case it decides to complain to the European Commission about IBM.

The EC opened a monopoly maintenance investigation of IBM last summer on complaints from other ISVs. The Justice Department is also conducting a similar probe.

The Swiss software and consulting house is a mainframe DB2 specialist that has gotten roughed up lately by IBM in its zeal to squeeze every dime out of its mainframe monopoly even if it means riding roughshod over would-be competitors.

In September of 2009 DBS released a software utility called IRS for DB2 that increases the authorized DB2 workloads users can run on their mainframes' zIIP specialty processors (SPs).

It saves them a lot of money in licensing fees, money they actually thought they were already saving.

See, IBM doesn't charge its usually hefty monthly license fees for running DB2, Java and XML workloads on SPs. It's a device Big Blue concocted to dissuade users from abandoning mainframes for cheaper-to-run modern computers; zIIPs, like zAAP SPs, are just mainframe central processors (CPs) renamed and sold at a lower price.

IBM has always been hazy about the "portion" - its word - of zIIP-qualified workloads that DB2 sends to zIIPs to execute, but it put no contractual limits on the number of DB2 Distributed Relational Database Architecture (DRDA) workloads that could be offloaded.

Every piece of software that uses the zIIP offload interface can decide what portion or percentage of its workload is redirected to the zIIP. Third-party products that have to compete against other products naturally want as much of their workloads offloaded as possible to make them cheaper to run.

Not DB2. DB2 is the only RDBMS running on z/OS. It doesn't have to compete. And, as far as DBS knows, it's the only software to limit its offloaded workloads.

DBS figured out that IBM only routed 55% of the legitimate DB2 workloads to the zIIPs, not 100% - even though the user-owned SPs had the capacity to handle more and the mainframes' CPs were overworked.

The scheme ensured that IBM raked in maybe an extra $1.5 billion a year in licensing fees worldwide, conservatively speaking.

It was because of a little artificial limit hard-coded into DB2 that IBM never quite got around to telling its customers about. Its existence only officially surfaced last May when IBM happened to mention it in a software patch.

So, to address the imbalance, DBS created IRS for DB2 - IRS is short for Install, Run, Save - which upped the so-called legal generosity factor to 95% and smoothed out the peaks and wait times that IBM had artificially created.

All DBS did was use information that IBM had on its web site for system programmers, information that happens not to be there anymore. And, contrary to IBM's contention that DBS uses the zIIP offload interface, the company says it doesn't and that IBM knows it; IRS for DB2 runs on CPs, not SPs.

Anyway, IBM - which recently described its so-called generosity factory as a business decision, obviously meaning it gives away just enough to keep its customers from bolting to other platforms - didn't take the revenue-denying innovation any too well.

Last May its mainframe software VP Dan Wardman, head of DB2 and IMS, put IBM's position on IRS for DB2 in writing for European customers: "Any other DRDA processing beyond the portion determined by DB2 that is diverted to a zIIP would not be eligible workload."

Aside from trying to spook users into not using it - because no contracts forbid it - IBM released a software patch called APAR PM12256 meant to make IRS for DB2 useless. It was a clumsy patch that actually increased some people's licensing fees and set off a little firestorm of opposition among its usually docile, intimidated mainframe clientele.

The APAR changed the generosity factor from a steady 55% of CPU use to 100% of a sometimes unachievable 60% of transactions and zero for the other 40%. It also created a very high variance in effective and predictable zIIP use that in turn created nasty spikes that cost users more.

DBS responded with a new version of IRS for DB2 to deal with the APAR and a new product called Dynamic SQL Balancing Optimizer (DSBO) to deal with the APAR's disadvantages. This month IBM upped the ante and released two new APARs that again change the way the system works to render DSBO useless and partly correct the problems with the first APAR.

To get around users' fear of IBM, DBS sells its software on a month-to-month basis. A customer can terminate at any time if the pressure IBM exerts gets to be too much to bear. For the 5,000 euros, or $6,500 it costs a month, the user saves about €15,000-€20,000 (~$20,500-~$27,500) a month.

Depending of their arrangements with IBM, the ROI is immediate for some sites while others see their end-of-year penalty payments cut.

DBS is afraid to talk about the adoption of IRS for DB2 because its customers are afraid of IBM's reaction. It says its penetration would be over 50% by now in the German-speaking parts of Europe were it not for IBM.

DBS speculates that between IRS for DB2 and Neon Enterprise Software's IBM-outlawed zPrime widgetry, which offloads and runs traditional DB2, CICS, IMS, TSO/ISPF and batch workloads on SPs, IBM's juicy monthly licensing fees could be cut by 50%.

More Stories By Maureen O'Gara

Maureen O'Gara the most read technology reporter for the past 20 years, is the Cloud Computing and Virtualization News Desk editor of SYS-CON Media. She is the publisher of famous "Billygrams" and the editor-in-chief of "Client/Server News" for more than a decade. One of the most respected technology reporters in the business, Maureen can be reached by email at maureen(at)sys-con.com or paperboy(at)g2news.com, and by phone at 516 759-7025. Twitter: @MaureenOGara

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