Feb 1 ’05
z/OS on a Laptop: A Perfect Fit for Tiburon Technologies
Tiburon Technologies, a mid-tier consulting, integration and software development firm based in suburban Cleveland, faced the same hard choice as many larger IBM mainframe users early in 2004: how to go “z” in an era of shrinking revenue, a scaled-back client base, and fewer available dollars for internal hardware and software.
Tiburon has long been an IBM Partner in Development and was one of the first integrators to acquire an IS/390, one of the series known as “The Magic Box” sold or leased by IBM in the late ’90s.
But the old magic just wasn’t in the cards for the company’s IS/390 because it couldn’t run z/architecture. As nice as it was for Tiburon to have a compact, cost-effective development and integration machine manufactured, leased, and serviced by IBM, it was reaching the end of its useful life and had to be replaced.
As of September 2004, IBM would no longer provide support for OS/390. What alternatives did Tiburon have?
Putting z/OS on a ThinkPad
Tiburon now runs z/OS on a standard ThinkPad (with a bit of extra disk space). A laptop running z/OS has to be the most extreme example of mainframe downsizing. Think about it: Take the entire suite of software that IBM has developed over the last 40 years and run it on a standard, out-of-the-box laptop. This still amazes me, and I believe that many smaller companies, governmental bodies, and other organizations that have used mainframes for many years could consider such a scaled-down solution.
For Tiburon Technologies, z/OS on a ThinkPad has:
- Reduced the space and electricity requirements to run a mainframe-class machine
- Brought the company’s entire mainframe operating environment up to supported levels
- Increased costs only slightly more than the IS/390
- Introduced true portability for demonstrations at trade shows and seminars.
Tiburon Technologies is also in a partnership arrangement with Computer Associates and they run several CA products on their ThinkPad under z/OS. The key piece of software that lets z/OS run on a laptop is the low-level emulator software known as FLEX-ES. Without getting too technical, think of FLEX-ES as a 100 percent software emulation of the entire instruction set of z/OS, designed from the ground up to run on ASCII-based, Pentium-class machines.
Cornerstone Systems, primary distributor of FLEX-ES, is the reseller Tiburon used. Fundamental Software developed FLEX-ES. Cornerstone refers to the z/OS on a ThinkPad option as the zPad. The sidebar shows Tiburon Technologies’ initial zPad configuration, which is a typical developer set-up.
As a Tiburon developer, I do occasional development work on Tiburon’s machine. It involves quite a bit of assembling, compiling, testing, and working out kinks in software that I work on. Initially, I was doubtful about zPad, but not anymore. I use the machine regularly. I’m in Chicago, and the laptop is in Cleveland. If I hadn’t been told that I was working on a zPad machine, I would never have known it. The machine handles everything with blinding speed, the usual bulletproof mainframe reliability, and has never caused me a single problem. What made me a believer is the absolute transparency, consistent “look and feel,” and seeing for myself all the great new z/OS software running on a laptop.
zPad is actually better than working on the IS/390. The only “kink” came early after the rollout. The debug tool that comes with the Language Environment (LE) was installed but not activated. After a few quick calls and e-mails to Cornerstone and IBM, it was up and running as well as any implementation I’ve seen on any mainframe. I was so intrigued that I asked my colleagues at Tiburon the following questions to gain further insight into their selection of the ThinkPad/zPad solution:
Jim Moore (JM): Is this exclusively a developer/integrator deal? That is, could a non-IT business or governmental agency (e.g., a small school district) get the same hardware configuration?
Tiburon: Pretty much, yes. Anyone could acquire what we did. Of course, the price would be different for the types of entities you asked about. We bought the machine through Cornerstone because
IBM doesn’t sell directly at this level. Anyone could work with a distributor to buy a similar machine.
JM: What kind of ThinkPad does it actually run on in terms of memory, CPU, and internal hard-drive? What about storage and power requirements?
Tiburon: We use an IBM T41 ThinkPad, 32 to 36 MIPS equivalent, single processor, internal hard drive, no external storage, no SAN, and normal power outlet (see the sidebar).
JM: How much “hands-on” care and feeding does the laptop require? When system administrators are installing a new release or an OS upgrade, do they have to be present in front of the laptop or can they access it remotely? Where is the operator console located?
Tiburon: It’s easy to start up, shut down, and maintain. We do all installs and upgrades remotely. No other care has been required. It’s much like any laptop you use for daily work. The operator console is on the laptop itself, right here in Ohio.
JM: Without revealing anything confidential, approximately how much does the whole deal cost? Is it a lease? How about software licensing? By group? Some kind of package deal?
Tiburon: Cornerstone offers many financing options, including purchase, lease, and financing. Software is licensed by IBM and can be purchased as single products or a package. The most likely scenario is a package suited to meet individual customer needs.
JM: Is there any way to compare the z/OS on a laptop to a real mainframe in terms of MIPS or processor speed? If so, what would be a valid equivalent?
Tiburon: We can’t even tell the difference, as this is equivalent to 32 to 36 MIPS. That’s pretty powerful for such a little box, especially when compared to the IS/390 we replaced.
JM: How are you using it, aside from development? Is it used for training, or as a test bed for client integration products?
Tiburon: All of the above!
JM: How well does it integrate with Microsoft software and your existing Pentium-based servers?
Tiburon: We haven’t begun to experiment with that yet, but plan to do so.
JM: How about physical security? It would seem to be a tempting target for a thief. Is it locked in a case or sitting out in the open?
Tiburon: Yes, it would be all too easy to steal. We do a secure lockup nightly.
JM: How well does third-party software, such as from CA, play on the laptop? What kind of licensing do you get from a third-party ISV for z/OS on a laptop?
Tiburon: All third-party software works the same without changes. CA initially had some difficulty developing a CPU ID key for the LMP keys because they never had a ThinkPad for “mainframe-equivalent” before. We eventually got it sorted out. Our systems database administrator read the hex values and saw what the software was looking for in the CA-IDMS install. We told CA and they easily created this in a table to generate new keys.
JM: Could you summarize the benefits the new z/OS environment will provide you as a business? How has IBM been as far as assisting you in the configuration, setup and rollout? Will maintenance be an issue?
Tiburon: It’s easy to maintain. It requires much less physical space to operate compared to the IS/390. It’s easy to transport and have available for onsite seminars and trade show demos. IBM, Cornerstone, and Computer Associates support has been excellent. Everything came exactly as promised and has worked with no problems from the moment we received it.
A Boon to Clients
Tiburon has found this z/OS on a laptop environment an indispensable part of its integration and consulting business. Without it, they wouldn’t have been able to take on several projects during the last six months.
The Frozen Quarterly Database
One client needed to verify the accuracy and integrity of a critical series of quarterly reports and online transactions. The client’s database couldn’t be easily frozen at a point in time, specifically, at the end of a calendar quarter. Additionally, there was some database and programming expertise required that the client lacked.
Using a SCSI-attached mainframe cartridge drive, Tiburon technicians read in a client-supplied cartridge containing both the end-of-quarter 100GB database and all the necessary application code. After compiling the code and installing the database, Tiburon spent several weeks examining the quarterly processing in detail. Client programmers were given remote access to the z/OS machine so they could connect to it and examine all the quarterly processing discrepancies uncovered in Tiburon’s analysis.
That’s what the client needed: a short-duration capability of having a database frozen at a point in time. They weren’t interested in a permanent type of hardware outsourcing; just a place to temporarily “freeze” a database, really get it up on the blocks, and do so without impacting operational systems.
A Data Scrubbing Operation
Another Tiburon client was converting to an Oracle database. This client knew its data wasn’t in the best shape. They contracted with Tiburon to perform a two-phase data scrubbing operation:
1. Ensure that all data types at the column level matched the defined data type of the column (dates contained valid dates, numeric fields contained valid numbers, etc.).
2. Make certain that referential integrity was maintained across all data rows (if one row had a non-key column named
“Department” that contained a value of “9010,” there should be a “Department” row with a primary key of “9010”).
Again, data was imported via the SCSI-attached mainframe cartridge drive and some File Transfer Protocol (FTP) transmissions. This data wasn’t in the form of a database. Instead, it was a series of flat files with clearly defined context layouts (e.g., COBOL “01 level” layouts).
After each scrubbing phase, Tiburon gave every exception a unique case number, and then client technicians and users reviewed each one. The client programmers traced the data inconsistencies back to their own edit routines and made appropriate corrections. Tiburon iteratively scrubbed the data through both the first and second phases, always communicating back to the client with the case numbers of individual discrepancies. Finally, there were no more case numbers. Everything was clean and ready for an initial load.
This particular project required Tiburon to acquire more disk space because they needed to retain many versions of the scrubbed files. According to Marty Tarr, CEO of Tiburon Technologies: “Yes, we needed more DASD, but this is SCSI-attached, Linux-based RAID. It costs only a fraction of what ‘real’ 3390-style disk space costs. Believe me!”
A New System Rollout
Yet another client wanted to have a safe environment to perform a sample rollout of a brand new mainframe application system. They had prepared detailed scripts and to-do lists and wanted their programmers, DBAs, and testers to have a place where they could “start from scratch.” Then, if something didn’t work correctly, they could delete everything and start over.
This project was 100 percent remote. That is, after the initial load of the code and the allocation of the basic system files, the client’s programmers did everything on their own from the comfort of their own site. There was never a need to travel to Ohio. They got all the practice they needed by simply connecting to Tiburon’s IP address using their own 3270 emulator, logging on to TSO/ISPF, and following the step-by-step instructions of their own scripts.
The underlying emulation software that makes z/OS on a laptop possible should be considered a true breakthrough. Will this breakthrough hurt IBM’s mainframe sales? It’s doubtful. While everything about the emulated environment is more than adequate for doing fairly heavy-duty mainframe integration and development work, it could never take on the seriously heavy workloads of large mainframe envi ronments currently running on z800 and z900 series hardware. The laptop is more like the “little engine that could.” However, organizations at the low end of mainframe MIPS requirements should give this technology more than a cursory evaluation. z/OS running on Pentium-type servers is really the best of both worlds—the most modern mainframe software coupled with the less expensive, rapidly evolving hardware platforms from our friends at Intel. It’s win-win all the way.