CA’s zIIPy Masterstroke
CA says organizations can offload some management tasks from their expensive mainframe general processors onto cheaper zIIPs
IBM Corp.’s zSeries Integrated Information Processor (zIIP) has long been known for handling DB2 workloads. Computer Associates International Inc. (CA) is thinking bigger: zIIP, it says, can be a boon to workloads of all kinds.
At last week’s SHARE conference, CA announced enhancements to several of its products that support the offloading of select computing tasks onto System z zIIP engines. The idea, company officials say, is that organizations can offload tasks (such as network packet analysis and data encryption) from comparatively expensive mainframe general processors onto the cheaper zIIP.
"Where IBM’s coming from, zIIP gives you a lower-cost way of running certain types of work. What we’ve done with that is we’ve looked at the internal architecture of the zIIP. One of the things we found there is that even though IBM talks a lot about zIIP for DB2, it’s really open to other workloads," observes Vince Re, senior vice-president and chief architect with CA.
"You can run lots of different functions on the zIIP. We saw that as a way of improving TCO with our products. How can we take MIPS that would normally go into our products and redirect them into zIIP engines and save the customer potentially some really serious dollars in the process?" Re says CA plans to incorporate zIIP-offloading into as many of its products as is practicable.
"This is just the beginning of the story here. You’ll see eight different products announced [at SHARE] this week, and others will follow," he indicates. "For our products that tend to be a little more resource-intensive, we’re looking at how we can take that processing and push it off to zIIP. Our network management product does packet analysis of TCP/IP networks. That’s very resource-intensive because you have to break open the packets and make sense of them. All of that can run on a zIIP engine now." Ditto for CA’s tape emulation software, says Re.
"A lot of customers like the idea of virtual tape. They like the idea of doing it right inside the host instead of investing in the hardware, but up to now the problem has been that you’ve got to use some of those expensive mainframe MIPS to drive the hardware. But now you can take a lot of this tape emulation software and run it on a zIIP engine." he notes.
But can they? The problem—or the seeming illogicality—is that zIIP is positioned as a database-specific engine. IBM itself has trumpeted it as a means to (inexpensively) support a range of DB2-specific scenarios, including JDBC and ODBC access to DB2; business intelligence queries (specifically optimized for star schema); and parallel query operations.
Re, for his part, says CA is strictly adhering to the letter of Big Blue’s zIIP licensing terms. "What IBM has outlined is a very technical list of requirements of the work you want to run on zIIP, and if you meet those requirements it really doesn’t matter what the work is, as long as it’s running in the right modes and states," he comments. "A lot of customers were confused by this, [and] IBM’s own announcement was a DB2 announcement, but that’s not really the case. It’s just the case that DB2 met all of those requirements. It really isn’t a DB2 or a data-serving thing, it could be anything."
More to the point, Big Blue has been highly selective—some might even call it stingy—about just which z/OS workloads it opts to make available via specialty processor engines such as zIIP. There’s a reason for that: IBM charges for, and derives a healthy stream of revenue from, the System z capacity customers actually use. Isn’t there a chance IBM might resent such a clever circumvention of its zIIP licensing terms?
"IBM basically defined the rules that we’re talking about here. It’s not like we went out on our own direction here. We’re certainly not going to undermine our relationship with IBM that way," Re says. "We have to think that they’re aware of the possibilities here, [and] they’re doing a balancing act here because they probably understand that it’s probably better to lose some of that work to a zIIP engine than to lose it to an Intel processor."
It’s a clever idea. Could cleverness of this kind inspire inspiration from other third-party ISVs—and CA competitors? Perhaps, Re concedes, but probably not on the part of custom or enterprise application developers.
"It’s not impossible, but the technical requirements for directing work to the zIIP kind of put it out of the reach of a COBOL programmer or a typical application coder. I think you’re pretty much talking about the software companies that would be able to get the exploitation here," he indicates.
What’s more, Re suggests, what Big Blue might be willing to overlook on the part of mainframe ISVs it probably wouldn’t tolerate from enterprise IT organizations: "Certainly, I think you’d have to wonder what IBM’s response would be if people found ways to run COBOL programs on zIIP engines."
As of now, CA intends to deliver zIIP support in a total of eight products—four of which are available now. These include:
- Unicenter NetMaster Network Management for TCP/IP, which can offload packet analysis from its Packet Analyzer component as well as the trace processing performed by its SmartTrace component to one or more zIIP engines
- BrightStor CA-Vtape Virtual Tape System (discussed above)
- BrightStor Tape Encryption, which taps zIIP engines to reduce general processor capacity requirements
- Unicenter NeuMICS Resource Management, a zIIP resource analysis tool that helps system administrators maximize zIIP exploitation
- Unicenter CA-SYSVIEW Realtime Performance Management, which monitors the use of general-purpose processors and zIIP, zAAP and IFA specialty engines from a unified console
- Unicenter CA-Insight Performance Monitor for DB2 for z/OS, which provides visibility into DB2 performance on zIIP
- Unicenter Detector for DB2 for z/OS, which executes DB2 SQL statistics collection code on a zIIP processor (for DB2 SQL activity running on a zIIP)
- Unicenter Subsystem Analyzer for DB2 for z/OS, which executes DB2 subsystem performance statistics collection code on a zIIP processor (for DB2 activity running on a zIIP)
Surprisingly, neither of CA’s mainframe databases—CA IDMS and CA DATACOM—yet support zIIP. Re says CA plans to introduce zIIP support for these products over the next 12 to18 months.
"We see [IDMS and DATACOM support as] being able to take transaction processing and push that to out to zIIP engines as well. That’s certainly on the road map," Re concludes. "As we go on, we kind of are starting to get this picture of the zIIP as an embedded management appliance where you can take all of these little management functions that incrementally used to eat away at your capacity and put them on the zIIP."
Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.