My Personal Mainframe: 2010 Edition

Nearly four years ago I challenged common perceptions and described how I might acquire a genuine IBM mainframe for my home. It turns out that a home mainframe is quite viable, at least if you are sufficiently motivated and interested. Since that time there have been some interesting developments to make my goal even easier to achieve.

One of those developments is that IBM now offers "walk-up" mainframe access to developers through the System z Remote Development Program. You get your own, full z/OS instance (which happens to be running under z/VM), with full security authority within that instance and with much of IBM's z/OS software catalog (including CICS, IMS, MQ, DB2, WebSphere Application Server, etc.) You also get 10 GB of additional disk space for your code and data and a quite reasonable amount of CPU time. The monthly rental price is only $350, the minimum is only one month, and you can rent extra disk space and/or CPU if you wish. If you're developing some z/OS software for the market, whether commercial or open source, you are probably eligible to enjoy this rate. You can also rent z/VM, z/VSE, z/TPF, or Linux on System z access. (And there are some other remotely hosted options for Linux, too.) So the best home mainframe may be a virtual one. (UPDATE: An IBM product line manager was kind enough to write me to point out that z/TPF rental is not actually listed at the System z Remote Development Program Web site. To elaborate, I should have remembered that you don't actually develop on z/TPF. You always use Linux or z/OS to develop for z/TPF — z/TPF itself is the final execution environment, not the development/compiler environment. You can also target ALCS for z/OS as the execution environment. As mentioned, both z/OS and Linux on System z are available to developers, including z/TPF developers. But the manager said that IBM certainly welcomes inquiries from developers who think they might need rental of z/TPF itself, so "ask your IBM representative.")

But what about having a physical mainframe in my home running commercially licensed z/OS and some additional software, under standard IBM terms? There are even more options in 2010 than there were in 2006. In particular, the 2008 introduction of the System z10 BC has pushed down the market price of used 64-bit machines considerably. The z800, and specifically the 2066-0E1 model, is still a good choice. It's a z/Architecture machine rated at 7 MSUs and about 41 MIPS (full capacity). It also has one IFL. Four years ago a used specimen cost about $30,000, but the z800 has only dropped in price since then. A full 7 MSU capacity zNALC z/OS license for that machine, including a nice assortment of operating system options and including standard enterprise-grade IBM telephone support is about $326 per month. But I think I can set a defined capacity (softcap) of 3 MSUs and pay only about $138 per month for a sub-capacity z/OS license, starting after a couple full capacity months. (That's assuming I qualify for zNALC licensing, which would be likely for my personal home mainframe and for my applications.)

Yet I might shy away from the 2066 since IBM has announced that DB2 10 won't be compatible with that machine. The z890, and specifically the smallest model (the 2086-110) would be a good alternative to the z800, and I would shop around to see what sort of prices are available. Unless the z800 was particularly aggressively priced, I would get a used z890, I think. The 2086-110 is a 4 MSU/26 MIPS machine, although an IFL is not standard. But it should be ample for my home mainframe needs, and I might get lucky and find one with an IFL and/or zAAP as a bonus.

Recently, IBM indicated that it will be possible to install z/OS without a tape drive, so that would eliminate an extra piece of equipment (and its cost) that I really don't need for the ways I would use my personal home mainframe. Also, IBM has withdrawn the DS6000 "baby" mainframe disk storage unit, but that's generally great news for used market availability and pricing. The DS6000 is a 4U rack mount size, so it would take up less space in my home data center than any other mainframe-class disk storage. So there's good news all around in the home mainframe storage market.

I think I would want to add WebSphere Application Server for z/OS. Version 7 is available, and I could put it in a 1 MSU softcapped LPAR on my home mainframe (and send my SCRT reports to IBM). The one-time license fee would be only about $2564, and my annual subscription and support fee would be only about $512 per year (about $43 per month). That's roughly 80% less than it would be to put WebSphere Application Server Network Deployment on a single core X86 CPU, and WAS z/OS also looks lower priced than it was in 2006, so I certainly have no WebSphere complaints.

Note that all dollar amounts are U.S. prices. Like many large businesses, including Google, my Singapore home data center (i.e. my closet) is chock full already. As it happens, I've run out of space due to all the moving boxes piled up inside, much like those businesses have run out of space, power, and/or cooling due to all the servers and storage they've put inside their overstuffed data centers. (My home data center is so full that I'm constantly tripping over boxes. Sound familiar?) So my goal of installing and running my personal home mainframe will have to wait. But if I can consolidate and virtualize the contents of my moving boxes, my goal will be that much closer. I wonder if System z can consolidate shoes and kitchenware....

UPDATE: IBM has introduced yet another option: the Rational Developer for System z Unit Test feature. For specific allowed uses (within application development), it, too, is a personal mainframe.

by Timothy Sipples May 19, 2010 in Economics
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