IBM Previews zIIP DB2-Assist Mainframe Engines
Published: January 31, 2006
by Timothy Prickett Morgan
Contrary to his name, Jim Stallings, the general manager of IBM's System z mainframe business line (formerly known as the zSeries) who was put into that position two weeks ago, wasted no time in getting out there and banging the drum for the mainframe and launching a new product. Stallings last week gave customers a preview of a new feature of the System z, called the z9 Integrated Information Processor, or zIIP, which will allow certain functions of DB2 database processing to be offloaded from general purpose mainframe engines to less expensive zIIPs.
The idea of specialized, low-priced (relatively speaking, of course) mainframe engines is one that IBM has not only tried before, but which has, to a very large extent, been responsible for the resurgence of the mainframe platform in recent years. For many years, IBM has added System Assist Processors, or SAPs, to the mainframe processor boards to handle system I/O, and thereby free up other engines from having to cope with I/O and therefore be able to dedicate their MIPS capacity to real data processing. In 2001, a year after deciding that Linux was going to be the operating system that spanned platforms in the 21st century, IBM announced the Integrated Facility for Linux, which allows Linux operating systems and their workloads to run on mainframe engines, but at a significantly reduced price. In 2004, IBM debuted another special-purpose mainframe engine called the zSeries Application Assist Processor, or zAAP, that was designed to take on WebSphere and Java workloads and move them off higher cost general purpose mainframe engines and put them on lower cost zAAP engines. When IBM ships a mainframe processor book, all of the engines are physically in the box, and it merely activates the engines as customers require (and pay for) with a microcode key. All of these IFL, zAAP, and zIIP engines are exactly the same processors, but they have microcode that only allows certain kinds of processing on them and, in the case of the zAAPs and zIIPs, they interface into the general-purpose engines so work can be passed between the two.
New workloads--by which IBM means Java, Linux, ERP software suites, and other applications that are not written in the traditional COBOL and CICS that legacy mainframe applications use--now account for 60 percent of IBM's mainframe sales, according to Stallings. IBM had about $3.5 billion in mainframe server sales in 2005, according to estimates by Merrill Lynch, and if that number spans 2005, that means we are talking about $2.1 billion in hardware sales. To put this another way: Without IBM's emphasis on new workloads and making special-purpose engines to drive these workloads onto mainframes and out of the distributed Unix, Windows, and Linux systems out in corporate networks, the zSeries mainframe server business would have shrunk to about $1.4 billion in a worst-case scenario. IFLs, zAAPs, and zIIPs have made the mainframe competitive in the place that matters most: the glass houses where mainframes still reign.
"Data is at the core of today's most critical business issues, and the IBM System z9 mainframe equipped with a zIIP engine can expertly orchestrate information resources," said Stallings in a statement accompanying the System z9 preview. "When users centralize their data on the mainframe, they may decrease the risks associated with having multiple copies of data across diverse systems. Audit, compliance, control and business recovery may be easier to manage when there is a single copy of the data. The mainframe with zIIP engine can increasingly play an essential role as a security-rich enterprise data hub."
The idea, in plain English, is to get all of the external database work done on external systems back on the mainframe, right next to the core transactional systems. The mainframe's security is legendary, and this makes life easier in a lot of ways.
While the IFLs run Linux and any Linux application that has been recompiled for the mainframe and the zAAPs can offload JVMs and other Java-related work, the zIIPs are not running a full version of DB2, but rather have been equipped with some of the guts of DB2 that allow certain compute-intensive database jobs to be offloaded from general-purpose mainframe engines running z/OS and DB2 to the zIIPs. Companies that are now paying monthly rental fees on DB2 software base on how many metered service units (MSUs) of processing capacity they use on their engines are not going to be able to replace those mainframe engines with zIIPs. In fact, according to Colette Martin, program director of System z strategy and marketing at IBM, not all of the DB2 work runs on the zIIPs. Just a subset of it. "Customers that are doing a lot of DB2 work will see the most benefits," she explains. "But every DB2 customers will not see benefits." The zIIPs handle some of the query processing that goes on inside of ERP, SCM, CRM, and data warehousing workloads, and is particularly useful for customers who have a lot of star schema parallel queries of their database. Those parts of DB2 that maintain the database indexes--which is what makes a relational database useful, after all--can also be offloaded to the zIIPs, too.
Martin says that any engine in a System z9 can be activated as a zIIP, but customers have to keep a one-to-one ratio of general purpose engines running z/OS 1.6 or higher and zIIPs. Those customers who want to mix and match zIIPs and zAAPs can share a single general-purpose engine. (so you can have two z9 engines, two zIIPs, and two zAAPs, for instance.) DB2 v8 for the mainframe, the current version, will be the first version of the DB2 database software to make use of the zIIP.
She says that IBM is also looking at how it can expand the use of zIIPs to support DB2 functions. And, somewhat surprisingly, the zIIP is not technically limited to DB2. Some mainframe shops run Oracle, Software AG, and Computer Associates databases on their mainframes, and IBM is not restricting these from the zIIPs in order to pump up DB2 on the mainframe. "The interfaces to the zIIPs are open, and other vendors are open to leverage it," says Martin. "We want to make it accessible, since this can only help encourage more workloads to move to the mainframe."
IBM does not provide pricing on its regular mainframe engines, but the IFL, zAAP, and zIIP engines all have the same price: $125,000 per engine. Martin says that typical mainframe customers should see a reduction in the cost of engines for supporting DB2 drop by a factor of three to four, but the comparison is not exactly apples-to-oranges since the zIIP can't run the full DB2 software. IBM did not provide a general availability date for the zIIP, but Martin said it would ship before the end of the year.
In addition to previewing the zIIP, IBM did a very tiny preview of the next version of DB2 for the mainframe, which it is temporarily calling "DB2 vNext." IBM says that the next version of DB2 for the mainframe will have SOA-ready connections and enhanced XML capabilities, as well as tighter integration with Java and WebSphere, IBM's collection of Java-related middleware. The database will also have improved encryption (something customers are clamoring for as data keeps going missing at big banks around the world, causing a public relations nightmare) and better auditing capabilities. IBM is also expected to add native SQL stored procedures and other SQL enhancements.