Amdahl's big iron falls short

The 60 users who have purchased Amdahl's recently shipped Millennium 800 series mainframes may want to renegotiate their software licenses and performance guarantees.

Amdahl in two weeks will announce that the mainframe - touted by the company as the industry's performance leader when it was announced last June - is underperforming initial estimates by up to 15 percent.

Compared with original performance estimates of 1,075 MIPS, a 12-processor Millennium 800 is being rated at 914 MIPS. A uniprocessor system at 112 MIPS is below the original rating of 122 MIPS, according to Carol Stone, director of server marketing at Amdahl. Stone said the performance modeling estimates didn't include some design changes, so the numbers were off.

Word of the discrepancy comes as Amdahl unveils mainframes tuned to compete with high-end systems from IBM and Hitachi Data Systems. Both vendors offer systems based on IBM's Generation 6 CMOS technologies that exceed 1,600 MIPS.

Amdahl's new 2000 series will support up to 16 CMOS processors from Japanese parent Fujitsu. First editions, due in the third quarter, will reach 1,600 MIPS. A second edition, due to ship in the first quarter next year, will exceed 2,000 MIPS.

Big pricing gap

For current users of the 800 series, however, the gap between what Amdahl estimated and the new performance rating could have a substantial impact in terms of software and hardware costs. Mainframe software licenses are typically tied to the overall MIPS rating of a system - the higher the rating, the higher the software fees.

"With this kind of performance differential, it is safe to assume that a number of [Amdahl's] clients have overpaid for their mainframe software," said Colin Rankine, an analyst at Meta Group in Stamford, Connecticut.

As a result, "Amdahl has put customers in the unusual position of having to go to their software vendors and ask for their money back," said Cheryl Watson, president of Watson and Walker, a mainframe performance-tuning consultancy in Sarasota, Florida.

The problem is that, though Amdahl may have control over how it reimburses customers for the hardware, it has no such control over the software vendors, analysts said.

"The onus would be on the customer to do something about it," agreed Alan Bain, director of systems engineering at Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Minnesota in St. Paul. The company recently implemented an enterprise resource planning application on Amdahl's Millennium 700 mainframes and has no immediate upgrade plans. "But I would probably be a bit upset if I was one of the customers," impacted by the discrepancy, Bain added.

The best approach would be to negotiate discounts on future software fees, said Dan Kaberon, parallel sysplex manager at Hewitt Associates Inc., a large IBM mainframe user and human resources outsourcer in Lincolnshire, Illinois. "The thing to do would be to call them up and say, 'We overpaid through no fault of ours or yours. ... Let's see if we can negotiate a way to even that out,'" Kaberon said.

Each vendor uses its own benchmarks, said Mike Kahn, an analyst at The Clipper Group in Wellesley, Massachusetts. "It's not unusual for vendors to give away or fall short of their estimates a bit," Kahn said. "But that process failed big-time for Amdahl in this case."

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