Automated System z Workload Capping Can Save Big Bucks

IBM’s Monthly License Charge (MLC) pricing can be a powerful tool to significantly lower the cost of software licensing for a mainframe shop. The problem: it is frightfully complicated. DancingDinosaur has attended conferences that scheduled multi-part sessions just to cover the basic material. Figuring out which pricing program you qualify for is itself a challenge and you probably want a lawyer looking over your shoulder. Find IBM’s System z pricing page here.

One particularly galling challenge is estimating and capping the 4-hour utilization for each LPAR.  You can easily find yourself in a situation where you exceed the cap on one LPAR, resulting in a surcharge, while you have headroom to spare on other LPARs. The trick is to stay on top of this by constantly monitoring workloads and shift activity among LPARs to ensure you don’t exceed a cap.

This requires a skilled mainframe staffer with both a high level of z/OS skill and familiarity with z workloads and LPARs. While you’re at it throw in knowledge of data center operations and the organization’s overall business direction. Finding such an expert is costly and not easily spared for constant monitoring. It’s a task that lends itself to automation.

And that’s exactly what BMC did earlier this week when it introduced Intelligent Capping (iCap) for zSeries mainframes. On average, according to BMC, companies that actively manage and effectively prioritize their mainframe workloads save 10-15 percent more on their monthly license charges than those who use a more passive approach. Furthermore, instead of assigning a costly mainframe workload guru to manually monitor and manage this, BMC promises that the costs can be reduced while also diminishing risk to the business through the use of its intelligent iCap software that understands workloads, makes dynamic adjustments, and automates workload capping.

The savings, according to BMC, can add up fast. In one example, BMC cited saving 161 MSUs, which translated for that organization to over $55k that month. Given that a mainframe shop spends anywhere from few hundred thousand to millions of dollars per month on MLC charges savings of just a few percent can be significant. One BMC customer reportedly expects intelligent capping to save it 12% each month. Caveat: DancingDinosaur has not yet been able to speak with any BMC iCap customer to verify these claims.

But assuming they are true, iCap is a no-brainer for any mainframe shop paying anything but the most minimal MLC. BMC charges for iCap based on the customer’s capacity. It is willing to discuss a shared gain model by which the iCap charges are based on how much is saved but none of those deals apparently have been finalized.

This seems like a straightforward challenge for a mainframe management tool vendor but DancingDinosaur has found only a few actually doing it—BMC, Softwareonz, and IBM. Softwareonz brings AutoSoftCapping. The product promises to maximize software cost efficiency for IBM zSeries platforms, and specifically z/OS. It does so by automatically adjusting defined capacity by LPAR based upon workload while maintaining a consistent overall defined capacity for your CPC.

Softwareonz, Seattle, estimates it saves 2% on monthly charges, on the low end. At the high end, it has run simulations suggesting 20% savings.  AutoSoftCapping only works for datacenters running their z on the VWLC pricing model. Customers realistically can save 8-10%. Again, DancingDinosaur has not yet validated any savings with an actual Softwareonz customer.

Without automation, you have to do this manually, by adjusting defined capacity based on actual workloads. Too often that leave the organization with the choice of constraining workloads and thereby inhibiting performance or over-provisioning the cap and thereby driving up costs through wasted capacity.

So, if automatic MLC capping is a no brainer, why isn’t everybody doing it? Softwareonz sees several reasons, the primary one being the fear of the cap negatively impacting the VWLC four-hour rolling average. Nobody wants to impact their production workloads. Of course, the whole reason to apply intelligence to the automation is to reduce software costs without impacting production workloads. BMC offers several ways to ease the organization into this as they become more comfortable and confident in the tool.

Another reason suggested is that the System z operational team is protecting its turf from the inroads of automation. A large z shop might use a team of half a dozen or more people dedicated to monitoring and managing workloads manually. Bring in automation like iCAP or AutoSoftCapping and they expect pink slips to follow.

Of course, IBM brings the z/OS Capacity Provisioning tool for z/OS (v1.9 and above), which can be used to add and remove capacity through a Capacity Provisioning Manager (CPM) policy. This can be used to automatically control the defined capacity limit or the group capacity limits. The user interface for defining CPM policies is through z/OSMF.

If you are subject to MLC pricing, consider an automated tool. BTW, there also are consultants who will do this for you.

A note: IBM Enterprise Cloud System, covered by DancingDinosaur a few weeks ago here, is now generally available. It is an OpenStack-based converged offering that includes compute, storage, software, and services built around the zBC12. Check out the most recent details here.

Also take note: IBM Enterprise2014 is coming to Las Vegas in early Oct, Details here. The conference combines System z University and Power System University plus more. You can bet there will be multiple sessions on MLC pricing in its various permutations and workload capping.

DancingDinosaur is Alan Radding. You can follow him on Twitter, @mainframeblog. Or visit his website,


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4 Responses to “Automated System z Workload Capping Can Save Big Bucks”

  1. Josef Leitner Says:

    There is another product which does automatic MSU adjusting: zPM from company zIT. We use it. Works fine.

  2. G T H Says:

    “AutoSoftCapping only works for datacenters running their z on the VWLC pricing model. ” This comes across as a pre-requisite unique to AutoSoftcapping, however, it would be equally true for any capping mechanism which is intended to reduce MLC. After having used ASC for a year now, I can say it has worked well for us. ROI in less than a year and we already had group capping in place.

  3. BMC and Compuware to Drive Down Mainframe Costs | DancingDinosaur Says:

    […] Not that things had been quiet before, especially if you consider IBM scrambling to reverse successive quarters on poor financial performance with a slew of initiatives. During that time Compuware went private last fall; about a year earlier BMC went private. Now you have two companies collaborating to deliver tools that will help mainframe shops reduce their software costs. DancingDinosaur has covered previous cost-saving and efficiency initiatives from each of these companies here and here. […]

  4. Robert Barbour Says:

    zDynaCap can produce savings from 5-20% depending on the shop. See write up on zDynaCap and capping product in Cheryl Watsons tuning letter. Also see

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