IBM's Freeway could ease software costs

For all the technology improvements expected in IBM's upcoming Freeway mainframes, the big impact on users will be from the changes they promise to bring to big-iron software pricing models, analysts said.

Freeway is the code name for IBM's first 64-bit S/390 mainframes, which are expected to start shipping in the US fall.

The systems will have a performance of around 256 MIPS per processor, and a fully configured Freeway system will deliver around 3,000 MIPS of performance, according to estimates by David Floyer, an analyst at ITcentrix Inc., a mainframe consultancy in Mountain View, Calif.

Freeway systems will combine better memory management capabilities with raw technology improvements - such as support for more processors and faster interconnects between them - to deliver double the performance of current Generation 6 S/390 mainframes, said Floyer.

One of Freeway's primary draws will be its ability to let users tie application workloads to specific processors or sets of processors within a mainframe in a way that is verifiable and measurable for both vendor and user, said one user who asked not to be named.

Users have long complained that it's unfair that capacity-based pricing models force them to pay for software based on the size of their overall mainframe complex rather than on its actual use.

IBM's new mainframe technology should help such users by letting them partition their mainframes into multiple servers and run separate applications on each partition.

Such clearly demarcated partitions make it possible for vendors to charge for their software based on the portion of the mainframe it's running on - and on the actual use of such software. The ability to measure application usage will also facilitate more usage-based pricing schemes in the future.

"In general, I would say these kinds of pricing models would be very beneficial to users if they are implemented correctly," said Ronald Theilen, president of Share Inc., a large-system user group in Chicago.

Even so, a lot will depend on the willingness of independent software vendors to go along with such pricing schemes, said Rich Smrcina, a systems software specialist at Grede Foundries Inc., a $600 million producer of metal castings in Milwaukee. IBM rival Amdahl Corp. in Sunnyvale, Calif., for instance, has been offering a similar capability with its Multiple Server Facility for more than two years. But so far, few of the major independent software vendors have changed their pricing practices.

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