$240K on mainframe vs. $840K on competitive

A lesson in economics.... reposted with the permission of Jim Marshall, Captain, U.S. Air Force (ret)


I have seen some requests lately for a positive zLinux experience. I am running zLinux under z/VM today with 2 production applications, 45 Virtual Servers in three LPARs providing Production, User Acceptance Test, Development, and SYSPROG TEST. Each application is isolated within a number of V-Lans protected by "Defense in Depth". Users come through the Corporate Firewall and then must pass through the first Firewall running in a Virtual Machine in z/VM. From there they start the process to get access to the application. Throw in a Web Server, Websphere Application Server, DB2, and a product for user sign-on and it all runs pretty well. The z900 was in place and we had an IFL to contribute. All zLinux DASD is running within z/VM mini-disks.

I just returned from an IT Financial conference where I contrasted the costs between running the 45 servers on Intel versus the z/900. I took very conservative costs for the Intel machines ($2K per server), Switches ($10K), and Firewall’s ($10K) and all with no support (this $0). On the Intel side I had Linux for $0 and on the zSeries, I bought SuSe Linux, Novell e-Maintenance, and IBM 24/7 "Support". The Middleware software was from IBM and it is licensed per processor. This is true of most all Distributed products including Oracle. Using Oracle in this would driven the numbers sky high for it is $40K per processor. Thus on the IFL it is $40K and on Intel it would be $200K and that premised 1-engine Intel machines. So I used the DB2 solution for the comparison. In the end the z-Solution was about $240K and the Intel solution was $840K.

As an aside, remember I kept the Intel side of the costs very, very low as possible and the zSeries side I bought Linux with full 24/7 Support. Thus my gut says the number in the Intel side is closer to about $1M+ if one factors in support, increasing the speed of the connections for Switches and Firewalls plus including support for their software and upgrades. The beauty of z/VM is getting all the V-Lans, V-Routers, and V-Firewalls you want for nothing and then all that "V-Cabling" running at memory speeds and also Hypersockets for LPAR connections.

It is my conclusions there are a number of reasons why one does not hear many stories about it. One story is those who do it quite well do not want to reveal the competitive advantage they have. Another, is the company is ashamed to admit they get benefit out of the mainframe when there is such a bias against the mainframe. I know of other places who admit the facts, but IT management wants no part of it; this is not what the trade press and their background says is so. Then in most places, Windows and Linux would be done by the Distributed or Network side of IT and not the mainframers; so why give up turf. Besides more and more servers to manage increases the size of management and their paychecks. Lastly why would those who have Windows machines (MSCE) and Cisco hardware (CISCO certified) turn things over to mainframe systems type to replace them. They will fight to the death to hang onto all their turf.

Another argument is z/VM is so tough. Back in the late 1980s I was forced over into VM (Dark Side for an MVS Bigot) of IBM systems and mastered the work much, much less than a year where MVS takes years to be able to do most all of it. IBM has a free 4 day z/VM and SuSe Linux school which I sent my z/OS Bigots and they came back able to install, implement and get things running. Bringing up a z/VM system only to run zLinux is by far easier than have many, many VM users using CMS, etc. There are enough zLinux Cookbooks to get things up and running quite quickly.

I am not sure what the future will be but with an upgrade to a z9BC my one IFL goes from 238 MIPS to 480 MIPS and my software charges stay exactly the same as they are today. A very interesting situation. The strategy is to run what makes sense over on the zSeries and there is no way I would want to take over 400+ Windows Servers. Once I get a processor license for a piece of software I can bring up many of them virtually with no additional charges. Oh yes, the z/900 IFL is not even breathing hard yet.

Jim Marshall

by Timothy Sipples June 27, 2006


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Tracked on Jun 27, 2006 3:11:23 PM


Nice summary. Jim has posted actual numbers like this on several occasions, check out the IBM-MAIN and VMESA-L mailing list archives. And he's talking about large-scale US Federal government use, not little pilot projects.

Good show!

Posted by: Ross Patterson | Jun 27, 2006 5:08:01 PM

At my shop we are entirely Linux based on x86 hardware. We are implementing Xen and AoE based storage. It should gain us a lot of the flexibility and reliability of mainframe hardware without the cost. And it gets us most of the V-Lans, V-Routers, and V-Firewalls you want for nothing (we still need a little to connect the individual hosts with) and at memory speed.

Posted by: Tracy R Reed | Jun 28, 2006 2:40:01 PM

--- "It should gain us a lot of the flexibility and reliability of mainframe hardware without the cost."

It should. It probably won't, especially on a total cost basis. And how much is "a lot of"?

Posted by: Timothy | Jul 1, 2006 1:35:48 AM

As usual, this kind of TCO analysis is pointless. It is nonsense today to compare an IFL to 45 underutilized intel servers, this is basically a trick to pump-up the software and hardware costs of the distributed, in order to show that the IFL has a lower TCO: it leverages the "trick" that the comparison between platforms is mixed with a server consolidation. It is quite tipical of zSeries marketing messages.

The true comparison shoud be between an IFL and a modern, consolidated vmware/x86 solution, or even a POWER one... it is easy to find out that if a z900 IFL can do the work, there is a high chance that the same can be done by a virtualized dual-proc intel server, or even a modern single dual-core.

In the case of a single IFL comparison like it is in this post, the TCO of the IFL is much worst than on Intel, both because the acquisition costs (IFL 125k vs Intel 10k) and the incredible maintenance: IFL >140k 3 years 24x7 (list price) plus the base z maint (>300k for a zero-CP z9 BC, always list price), versus x86 2k (list price for an 8 core xSeries) 3 years 24x7 all included. Anyway it is quite interesting that the IFL maintenance is so incredibly expansive compared to intel(500k vs. 4k at most), given that the IFL on mainframe should have basically no problem at all due to its famous reliability. The fact that the software costs, in case of hw upgrade, remain the same, it is interesting but it is exactly the same on x86.

I still wait to see a real comparison and TCO study, not a "well build" case of zSeries vs underutilized intel servers, which is interesting but old, it is not what customers are facing nowadays when selecting IT solutions. And, by the way, as usual this post have the precondition of already having a mainframe... it would not work if we include the complete mainframe acquisition and maint costs.

I just hope to see more sophisticated and meaningful TCO and comparison. And I still think that IFL TCO can be built for large installations



Posted by: Andy | Jul 11, 2006 9:33:28 AM

Dear Mr. Lesson on Economics,

z/VM starting price is at least $45,000.00

z/VM systems programmers must be trained for at least one year was your comment that leads me to the following question:

How much does that cost a company? a conservative cost would be $55,000.00

so far that is a conservative additional cost of $100,000.00

I could go on with a full analysis of Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) but z/OS bigots do not have time for government type managers.

You made a very offensive comment and I quote, "I sent my z/OS Bigots and they came back able to install, implement and get things running."

z/OS systems programmers are not OWNED by government type managers as you imply. Your just passing through the system onto another government pension.

In fact, z/OS bigots can install anything including z/Virtual Muck.

Go back to the 20th century to NSA and ReaganOMICS when a mini disk was the C: drive and you worked with GREEN screens.

Today's, z9 BC can house 30 LPARs and a z9 EC can house 60 of them. That means from an economic standpoint, PR/SM is up 7 by 24.
In fact, probably in the next decade these hardware engineering enhancements may double again!

Unlike a VM systems programmers who are being paid in some cases $100,000.00 to do a function that hardware can do without having to go to class to learn how to maintain itself.

signed by a z/OS BIGOT who truly understands ECONOMICS and more importantly TECHNOLOGY!

Posted by: z/OS BIGOT | Aug 7, 2006 1:05:25 PM

I've programmed and maintained for both mainframes and intel platforms for more than 23 years. "A lesson in economics"... is missing a couple of key information which would help in his explinations of comparisons of cost. I agree with him that the cost of the intel systems would be higher. Even though an intel machine has a cheap cost there is far too much maintenance/powere/room on utilizing them in a large arrangement and in some sites have a lot more staffing than the counterpart mainframe. It just seems strange that the intel machines and its software has taken a full circle back to the dumb workstation model that they complain about the mainframes, where the servers run everything and the clients just run a stupid and easily infected browser. Each arrangement has their pros and cons, and without knowing the detail of usage to compare to makes it a little hard understanding what the systems where being costed and laid out for.

Posted by: Jim Tabele | Aug 22, 2006 12:07:13 PM

I am not quite sure, but it seems that zSeries will charge user by the CPU processing time, i.e. if you run more software, it will cause you more. However, in case Windows / Linux, there is much less cost for processing. Moreover, there are cases that 1 smart system admin can manager a 100+ linux grid effectively. Can we review the article by taking all these into consideration?

Posted by: idpt0000 | Sep 4, 2006 12:44:33 PM

I'm sorry, but this article is ridiculous... you're comparing virtualized mainframe, to non-virtulized Intel. You're purposly choosing a bad comparison to make a point, probably because you can't make your point with all things equal. Go back and compare intel running VMWare, with something like HP Blades and then total up your cost.

Posted by: Matt | Feb 12, 2007 12:42:42 PM

As the de facto administrator of the Security Fix blog, I've spent many an hour deleting spammy links left in the comments section -
- comments that usually lead back to the same kinds of Web sites you most commonly see advertised in junk e-mail.

Posted by: Garri Azz | Feb 15, 2008 9:23:05 PM

zLinux = Big Fail

IFL has the horsepower of a single CPU intel server from about 6-7 years ago.

We are testing one right now and it is painfully slow compared to todays x86 hardware - we can run about 7 virtual servers on one Intel server that each will outperform our test server on the IFL (all IFL resources dedicated to this single instance). IFL is a bad $150K joke IMO.

Posted by: Frank | Jun 1, 2008 10:32:02 AM

I was asked to help install and configure SuSE10 on a z9 BC

I like the idea; zLinux on the mainframe supporting, directly or via z/VM, large number of Linux instances.

Installation went fine except for speed. It took interminably long to complete.

The problem is, you guess it, speed. Just to call yast takes about a minute at 100% cpu to display the initial menu screen.

It really struggles running Java, Tomcat, Apache2, etc.

My questions: is it misconfiguration and I need further work? or, is this the way it is given the capacity 'available' for a z9 BC ?

cat /proc/cpuinfo displays 98 bogomips.

Please advice, any input will be helpfull.

Posted by: J.F. Zarama | Jul 7, 2008 4:22:00 PM

zLinux is a joke. My old 1.2 GHz laptop outperforms the IFL. Not by much, but that is pathetic.

Posted by: JC | Aug 5, 2008 12:43:39 PM

We are testing one right now and it is painfully slow compared to todays x86 hardware - we can run about 7 virtual servers on one Intel server that each will outperform our test server on the IFL

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