OS/400 Edition
Volume 11, Number 27 -- July 15, 2002

Fast400 Debuts Performance Monitor for OS/400 Servers

by Timothy Prickett Morgan

Storage Solutions Group, the secretive European company that has relaunched the Fast400 green-screen governor buster for OS/400 servers, announced a new performance monitoring tool for OS/400 servers on July 5. (Europeans, as you might expect, particularly those in the United Kingdom, don't celebrate the birthday of the United States, on July 4.) Whether or not you use the Fast400 governor buster, you might find its companion performance tool, FastAct, useful, since it provides some of the functionality of IBM's Performance Tools for OS/400 at a fraction of the price.

According to Colin Wells, who manages the marketing of Fast400 and now FastAct for the secretive programming team behind these tools, FastAct is similar to IBM's Work with System Activity (WRKSYSACT) and includes some of the capabilities of the Work with Active Jobs (WRKACTJOB) command as well. These tools do not interpret performance information, and they certainly do not display the CPU usage of the OS/400 governor, called CFINT, on a running machine. FastAct makes the CFINT job, which gobbles up CPU resources not initialized by IBM's microcode and hardware tweaks to scale back the performance of the machines on real workloads, visible in its performance monitor. This shows skeptical customers that CFINT exists and, more important for potential Fast400 customers, that Fast400 works.

Until now, the only way to prove this was to have IBM's Performance Tools, which are expensive. The base Performance Tools for V5R1 and earlier releases of OS/400 costs from $275 to $6,600, depending on the size of your AS/400 or iSeries server. If you want to add the BEST/1 modeler (which will not be supported in OS/400 V5R2), you have to buy these features for an additional $455 to $10,920. So the total cost of Performance Tools can range from $730 to $17,520 on OS/400 software tiers P05 through P50. This is an expensive piece of code to buy just to prove that Fast400 works. That's why Storage Solutions Group launched FastAct, which costs $500 per CPU for a perpetual license. (This means you buy it and you own the right to use it forever. Fast400, by contrast, is a subscription-based product that costs $1,000 per CPU per year.) On a big AS/400 or iSeries machine, customers probably already have Performance Tools. Small companies wanting to try out FastAct, which is available at www.fast400.net, can do so with a free trial version that runs from 9:00 and 11:00 in the morning, local time. This is sufficient for Storage Solutions Group to prove that Fast400 works. The Fast400 demo, by the way, has the same morning time constraints; outside of those two hours, the demo stops working.

In early May, after a hiatus of several months, the Fast400 tool went back on the market, causing yet another uproar in the OS/400 community and at IBM. The company is targeting AS/400 and iSeries customers on tight budgets who do not want to pay IBM for interactive features that increase the amount of 5250 performance that a server can bring to bear on green-screen workloads. The CFINT governor determines how much overall processor performance within an AS/400 or iSeries machine can be applied to green-screen workloads. The so-called interactive hardware features that IBM sells for big bucks in the Northstar, Pulsar, I-Star, S-Star, and Power4 generations of AS/400 and iSeries servers are nothing more than cards that tell CFINT how CPU resources can be applied to the 5250 protocol. These cards can cost thousands, hundreds of thousands, or even millions of dollars, depending on the OS/400 server.

IBM is said to be working on a permanent fix for Fast400. A good one, at least as far as I am concerned, would be to stop using governors at all and simply charge companies for the hardware and software they acquire. I know this is old-fashioned. If customers have 200 green-screen seats and it costs $300 a seat to use that old green-screen code, plus a per-processor fee on top of that, then so be it. IBM would be wise to price its operating system and database in a similar per-seat, per-processor fashion that emulates that of other IBM and non-IBM products. Tight technical integration is a great thing, and it is one of the things that makes OS/400 servers better than many of the alternatives. But that integration does not necessitate economic bundling. It would be wise to unbundle the box and take off the governors for existing customers, and it would be even wiser to do this to attract new customers. The iSeries pricing model is so alien to midrange customers who are used to buying Unix, Wintel, and now Lintel servers that it gives them a false sticker shock (the initial price of an iSeries server is high because everything is bundled in) or, worse still, they just don't bother to try to understand why an iSeries is, in many cases, as good a deal or better than a competitive platform. IBM can kill Fast400 any time it wants to change its ways, and it won't take lawyers or microcode programmers to do it--just marketeers.

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Managing Editor
Shannon Pastore

Contributing Editors:
Dan Burger
Joe Hertvik
Kevin Vandever
Shannon O'Donnell
Victor Rozek
Hesh Wiener
Alex Woodie

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Last Updated: 7/15/02
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