No Catch to IBM Specialty Processors

IBM wouldn’t just give mainframe capacity away, would it? The short answer is: yes, it would—and it has.

IBM Corp. prices its Integrated Facility for Linux (IFL), zSeries Application Assist Processor (zAAP), and zSeries Integrated Information Processor (zIIP) engines to move. Big Blue typically sells its specialty processor engines for a fraction of what it charges for full-fledged z/OS capacity.

Is there a catch?. After all, IBM wouldn’t just give mainframe capacity away, would it?

The short answer is: yes, it would. In fact, the company has done just that. For example, while mainframe processing power has increased steadily with each new rev of System z CMOS, Big-Iron hardware pricing has remained relatively flat. There’s also IBM’s MSU technology dividend, which—in some cases—can actually make it cheaper for organizations to host their existing applications on new hardware (see

At the same time, some users are skeptical of Big Blue’s specialty-engine pricing schemes. It isn’t so much that they doubt IBM’s sincerity; instead, they’re concerned that third-party vendors will try to extract their piece of the pie, too. "I ordered Linux for z from [a reseller], and was billed about $150. When the software didn't arrive, I followed up. Then I was told that Novell insisted we needed to also purchase $12,000 worth of services. As a developer, that makes no sense, so we dropped it right there," says Mike Baldwin, a mainframe programmer with a developer of MVS tape storage solutions.

On another occasion, Baldwin says, zAAP-on-System-z lost out because of a perception that mainframe WebSphere programmers would cost more than their Windows counterparts. "I led a project to migrate from [Lotus] Domino to WAS [WebSphere Application Server]. The manager would not consider WAS on z/OS because he believed that he could more readily find skilled people to support the Windows platform rather than z/OS. The decision had already been made to move to WAS on Windows servers. Part of his decision might also have been due to expected increases in z/OS software costs when adding WAS as a new workload."

As far as mainframe veteran Bob Richards is concerned, there simply isn’t any catch associated with running Linux or WebSphere on System z. After all, it isn’t as if IBM is giving users something for nothing with its IFL, zAAP, and zIIP engines. "Any time you’re not using general-purpose cycles to do work and you’re working on free cycles, you still end up saying, ‘Can I save X number of cycles across the period of any period that you depreciate?’ Any time you can do that, it’s a good thing," says Richards, a vice president and enterprise technologist with a prominent financial institution based in the Southeast.

zAAPing Java

"Look at zAAP. Java’s a pig. You run it on a general-purpose processor, you get what you deserve. It’s a pig by design. We decided that we wanted it on our mainframe—we understood [and] IBM understood that people weren’t deploying it on the mainframe because it’s a hog. So they came out with zAAP."

Ditto for zIIP, Richards continues. "IBM basically said, ‘We want to make it cost-effective for you to still use that back store instead of running on Oracle or AIX or some other Unix platform,’ so they made it attractive to still use the data repository for storage," he points out. "We took advantage of zIIPs as soon as we possibly could. I have a couple of zIIPs on each processor."

There are, however, a few potential specialty-engine pitfalls. Consider Linux IFLs, which are so inexpensive that many shops have several running concurrently. From a software licensing perspective, the problem is that even if an application isn’t running across all of an organization’s IFLs, IBM (or another vendor) might want to bill for it as if that were the case.

"The big problem with zLinux is the number of IFLs turned on. Most ofthe products are licensed by the number of IFLs, even though all are not in use. For example, a DB2 virtual machine may work well with three IFLs, but you might be charged for all five if you have that many working," says retired mainframe technologist Joe Poole. "The trick here is to convince your IBM representative, or OEM account rep, that you're only using three so you shouldn't be charged for five. It can be done. A few beers might help."

Poole, who retired late last year from his job with a prominent retailer based in the Northeast, doesn’t think much of zAAP, however: "As far as WebSphere goes, you're better off using the readily available open-source products to generate a Web site to avoid the higher costs of shrink-wrapped software. Don't put your Web site on the z/OS side of the box, even though you have a zAAP— move it to Linux on the other side where the IFLs are."

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