IMS on System z gets faster and cheaper

IMS is decades-old hierarchical IBM’s transaction database technology.  It sits behind many of the big transaction processing systems used around the world, from airlines to telcos to banks. IBM has been teaching it new tricks—SOA, Web 2.0—but also others have taught it tricks too, including BMC and NEON.

NEON, which is battling IBM over its zPrime technology, apparently never misses an opportunity to get into IBM’s face. Last week NEON announced zPrime for IMS at a cost of just $1!  The catch: organizations must make a two-year commitment at $1 per year and install a new version of NEON zPrime in production by December 31, 2010. Between the $1 price tag and the considerable mainframe software licensing cost savings zPrime enables, this can be an incredible bargain for a gutsy organization looking to reduce costs in a big way.

Why do you need to be gutsy? Because IBM has unleashed a barrage of FUD (fear uncertainty doubt) against NEON, zPrime, and those organizations willing to try it. Give NEON credit; this is a brazen strategy to help zPrime gain traction while lawsuits and counter-suits fly. Initial jury selection has already been scheduled, but it is not until March of 2012. DancingDinosaur covered this here just a couple of weeks ago.

To recap: zPrime enables organizations to run traditional z/OS workloads on zIIP and zAAP specialty processors. The zIIP will be the target processor for IMS applications, no doubt. By doing so, the organization avoids the hefty software licensing charges entailed when running on z/OS.

BMC’s latest IMS announcement, by comparison, seems mundane since no big legal fireworks are involved. Still, for those organizations that rely on IMS for mission-critical work, the announcement of Fast Path Online Restructure/EP should be interesting. Basically, it allows organizations to implement database restructure changes with minimal downtime, as little as 10 minutes of downtime, maybe less, according to Nick Griffin, BMC’s IMS product manager.

The process is straightforward. The tool takes a mirror copy of the IMS database offline and captures copies of ongoing changes to the primary database, which continues working as usual while the admins do whatever restructuring they need to do offline. When they are done, the tool synchronizes the changes it has captured while the mirrored copy was offline. Then it flips the mirrored copy, making it the production copy, which is now restructured and up to date. By comparison, a conventional IMS restructuring without FastPath can take many hours, during which the IMS database is unavailable.

How many organizations can actually use this capability is not clear. BMC reports 27 banks currently run FastPath and that 80% of all banks use IMS. Griffin thinks maybe there are 50 likely candidates for the product. “We didn’t get into this for the money,” he notes.

Maybe or maybe not; IBM is a little vague on how many active IMS shops there are around. It could be a few thousand, especially if you count telcos, airlines, and other high volume IMS transaction processing shops. Over the last few years, BMC has introduced five new IMS products. They’re not doing it just for the fun, or even for a buck. IMS may be a niche product, but you can expect it to stick around for a long time to come.

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