The Governor-Buster Saga Starts Again with MAX400
September 5, 2006 Timothy Prickett Morgan
Here we go again. And maybe, like Wagner’s Ring Cycle, the saga of the OS/400 and i5/OS governor busters will ultimately have four cycles in it. Last week, yet another governor buster jumped into the fray, with a South Korean company called MAX400 Software launching a product called MAX400, which the company says can make raw batch or server capacity in an AS/400, iSeries, or i5 machine available to 5250 interactive workloads.
As we all know, IBM uses a golden screwdriver approach inside the AS/400, iSeries, and i5 systems to artificially restrict or enable the processing of the 5250 green-screen protocol that links OS/400 and i5/OS, their integrated DB2/400 database, and the green screens or Webified screens as part of RPG and COBOL applications. In the old days, back in the early 1990s, IBM referred to machines that had little or no interactive processing as servers, and called those that did a system. Servers had much lower prices than systems, even though the hardware was identical. Then, in the late 1990s, IBM called them all AS/400s, and made interactive capacity available through very expensive interactive feature cards, which were probably no more than software keys. Then, a few years ago, after being annoyed by the Fast400 governor buster, IBM created OS/400 Standard Edition, which has enough interactive capacity to run a system console, and OS/400 Enterprise Edition, which has the 5250 capacity fully enabled.
If the Fast400 governor buster, which made its debut in October 2001 (just as the IT market was heading south in a big way) was the first cycle, then Kisco Information Systems‘s GoFaster is the second cycle. GoFaster was launched at the end of 2004, just as the people behind Fast400 sued IBM (see Fast400 Founder Sues Big Blue for all the details on that). In November 2005, Jim Stracka, who was the main force behind Fast400, settled his lawsuit with IBM, leaving IBM in control of the Fast400 code. That makes MAX400 the third cycle in the governor-buster saga, if you don’t count IBM’s own governor-circumventing WebFacing tools and its condoning of looksoftware‘s lookdirect product. I think these two are distinct in that they are tied directly to the act of modernizing an application–helping customers who want to use the WebFacing or lookdirect tools to put pretty screens on their host-based applications–and they have IBM’s official blessing.
Kisco has been keeping a low profile with the GoFaster tool, according to Rich Loeber, the company’s president. He adds that IBM has put out some PTF patches for i5/OS that were intended to disable GoFaster, but they didn’t work. Customers are still, 18 months after the announcement of GoFaster, buying the product, and IBM has not approached Kisco in any way regarding GoFaster.
Whatever IBM’s thoughts are on the matter of MAX400 or GoFaster, I cannot say. The product managers at the Rochester Labs that I normally speak with were on holiday when I tried to contact them last week.
According to MAX400, which is based in the capital city of Seoul and which has been selling its own governor buster in the Asia/Pacific region for three years, there isn’t just the one 5250 governor that we all know about, called CFINT. Rather, there are many different governors, and the MAX400 application can be used to essentially disable them. What that means in plain English is that MAX400 can take a machine that has 1,000 CPWs of raw capacity and maybe 70 CPWs of interactive capacity and make the bulk of that raw capacity available for 5250 workloads.
According to Earnst Park, who is vice president of communications at Max400 in Seoul, the governors in i5/OS and OS/400 can detect when interactive processing reaches the preset thresholds as determined by the interactive feature or software edition of the box. While not divulging how it works–because this is a trade secret–MAX400 can make interactive workloads look like batch jobs, which means the governors are not triggered. It doesn’t disable a governor so much as preventing it from being activated in the first place. And, most importantly, MAX400 does not mess with the licensed internal code of OS/400 or i5/OS in any way–in the IBM lingo, it is not a patched program. It is a plain, old program with objects, and it runs like one and you can start it and kill it like one. Here’s one key to how it works: The software apparently sniffs the memory of a machine as jobs are running and makes changes to temporary memory areas that prevents the governors from penalizing interactive workloads that come near the thresholds. MAX400 says that its code has not been used in Fast400, GoFaster, or lookdirect.
Here’s the thing that I find completely astounding: How can it be this easy to circumvent the governors that IBM has put in place? Moreover, if someone can write a program that can activate latent 5250 capacity, couldn’t someone with nefarious intentions write code that could cut off 5250 capacity? That would be one heck of a hack by a disgruntled employee. Then again, a disgruntled employee could just launch a killer SQL query, or yank out two disk drives. I guess my point is, if IBM doesn’t want people tapping into the capacity inherent in the hardware, then IBM should make it so they can’t. And as I have said a lot of times during the Fast400 saga, I think IBM should never have priced 5250 capacity so high and should not have even packaged it this way. The high price and the circumventable governors give smart hackers the motive and the means to defeat the governors.
Both MAX400’s Park and Jared Johnson, director of marketing for SEPE, the first North American distributor of MAX400 and the company best known for its OS/400-based fax server software, say that they are intending for MAX400 to be used on a “temporary basis.” The idea, apparently, is that MAX400 is aimed at companies that are hitting the ceiling on interactive performance and they need some help until they come up with the budget to do a proper iSeries or i5 upgrade. “What we’re really trying to do is help customers with small budgets who need more interactive CPW,” explains Johnson. “We really want companies to keep their applications on the platform. MAX400 is just an intermediary step until they do their next upgrade”
MAX400 works on any AS/400, iSeries, or i5 machine that has the 5250 governors restricting interactive capacity on them, and it works with OS/400 V4R1 through V5R2 and i5/OS V5R3 and V5R4. It is unclear if MAX400 can turn an i5 Standard Edition box into one with the same 5250 processing capacity as an Enterprise Edition machine based on the same hardware, or if it can be used to enable 5250 capacity activated by IBM’s Enterprise Enablement features. (I asked a direct question on this, and got a vague answer.) MAX400 says that its governor buster consumes less than 1 percent of a CPU’s capacity as it runs, and that it will not interfere with other programs or processes running on OS/400 or i5/OS systems. SEPE, which is based in Costa Mesa, California, is selling MAX400 on a rental basis for use on a machine for six, nine, or twelve months at a time. To rent it on a machine in the P05 software tier costs $1,900 for six months, rising to $4,300 for a machine in the P60 class. That is very little money to activate what are very expensive interactive processing capacity chunks according to the IBM iSeries and i5 catalog.
The Fast400 Saga Ends: IBM and Stracka Settle Lawsuit (This story includes links to the 11 prior Fast400 stories IT Jungle did over a three year span.)