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IBM mainframe zIIP and zAAP adoption still lags IFL processor

At this year's Share mainframe user group conference, attendees discussed plans for adoption of zIIP and zAAP, IBM mainframe specialty processors similar to the IFL.

SAN DIEGO -- When it comes to zIIP and zAAP, IBM Corp. mainframe's most recent specialty processors, attendees at this year's Share mainframe conference said they're still testing the waters.

For more on zIIP and zAAP:
CA zaps mainframe costs with zIIP specialty engine

Defining the mainframe's role in next-gen application workloads

The zIIP and the zAAP processors focus on database and Java applications, respectively. In 2004, IBM first introduced zAAP, which stands for z Application Assist Processor; then, in 2006, the company released zIIP, which stands for z Integrated Information Processor. The zIIP and zAAP processor releases followed the release of another specialty processor in 2000, Integrated Facility for Linux (IFL), which allows mainframe users to run Linux applications.

Anything you can offload [to zIIP and zAAP] is ... a tremendous cost advantage.
Susan Eustis,
president/co-founderWinterGreen Research Inc.

Although IFL has also had a slow start, adoption has taken off of late, especially as Linux momentum has gathered steam. Combined with z/VM, the mainframe's virtualization operating system, IBM has touted IFL and the mainframe as an ideal consolidation platform for PizzaBox Linux servers.

During a June IBM event, James Stallings, the general manager for IBM System z, revealed that about 25% of MIPS that IBM now ships on the mainframe go to run Linux. Brad Day, a senior analyst at research firm Forrester Research Inc., said the adoption rate is even higher on System z Business Class, the smaller of the new mainframes. Earlier this year, Day estimated that about 30% of new workload adoption on the Business Class mainframe was based specifically on IFL.

Taking a cue from IFL
That raises the question of whether zAAP and zIIP can follow IFL's footsteps. "ZAAP and zIIP are very much a part of everyone's plans," said Susan Eustis, president and co-founder of WinterGreen Research Inc., an IT research firm in Lexington, Mass. "Anything you can offload [to those processors] is an advantage," she said. "It's a tremendous cost advantage. They can't offload everything, but they tend to be offloading about half."

Other than age, IFL has a distinct advantage over zIIP and zAAP because of its ability to run Linux on the mainframe. In data centers, the Linux operating system has become more popular because it's free and well known to recent college graduates. Thus, IFL allows you to run a free operating system, consolidate servers, but also hire young IT staffers to work on a mainframe, which is the backbone of your business.

The advantages of zIIP and zAAP are more subtle. Basically, any workload that you can move from your central processor to zIIP or zAAP will not count in the MSU rating, which is also known as the million service units rating that is used to calculate software licensing costs. So if you can run Java and database applications on z/OS with those engines, you can reduce your z/OS licensing costs. And as these applications grow, licensing costs will not expand in concert.

"When you add that capacity to that environment, it doesn't change the MSU rating of the processor," said Kathy Walsh, a senior IT consultant in IBM's Washington Systems Center. "So you can add significant System z capacity and not change the software bills on your environment."

There is the initial investment in those specialty processors, however,--generally around $100,000 each --and in those mainframe shops where space still exists on the central processors, investing in specialty processors to save on software costs down the road can be a difficult argument to make.

Take Michael Slusarz of HSBC Bank . Currently, HSBC is in a proof-of-concept stage with the zIIP engine. It's testing out two, one in each of its z9 mainframes in its primary data center in Buffalo, N.Y. HSBC uses a lot of DB2, IBM's database software, so over time, the ability to offload work from central processors to zIIPs could save them money. If the company proceeds with zIIP, it will likely install three zIIPs in each server and possibly install them on its mainframes in the company's backup data center in Chicago as well.

Slusarz said HSBC is doing it to "save money by putting DB2 workloads from the central processor to the zIIP" but acknowledged that the benefit is more long term.

"There wouldn't immediately be savings," he said. "But it would open up capacity on the central processors, and then when we needed more DB2 capacity, we could buy another zIIP [instead of buying a whole new mainframe]."

Other obstacles also stand in the way of broader zIIP adoption. It is supported only on mainframes running z/OS 1.6 or later versions, and DB2 for z/OS version 8. "Ronald," a mainframer and conference attendee who works in financial services and who requested that not use his real name, said that since his company isn't on DB2 8. it prevents his data center from adopting zIIP.

But he suspects that once they get there, zIIPs will come into play, mainly because their mainframes are running out of capacity.

"We're pretty much running our CPUs at 100%, so we could use anything to relieve that," he said.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Mark Fontecchio, News Writer.

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