Robert's Blog

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Good News on the Mainframe DB2 Data Warehousing Front

Last week, I attended a 1-day IBM System z "Technology Summit" education event in Atlanta. It was a multi-track program, and the DB2 for z/OS track ("Track 2") was excellent, in terms of both content and quality of presentation delivery (and it was FREE -- check out the remaining North American cities and dates for this event at The first presentation of the day, delivered by Jim Reed of IBM's Information Management software organization, focused on mainframe market trends and IBM's DB2 for z/OS product strategy. Jim's talk contained several nuggets of information that underscore the solid present and bright future of DB2 for z/OS as a platform for business intelligence applications. In this post, I'll share this information with you, along with some of my own observations on the topic.

BI important? How about most important? Jim started out with a reference to a recent IBM Global CIO survey which asked participants to identify their top priority. You know what's hot in IT circles these days: virtualization, mobility apps, regulatory compliance. So, what came out on top with regard to CIO priorities? Analytics and business intelligence. That's not very surprising, as far as I'm concerned. Having spent years on optimizing efficiency, squeezing costs out of every facet of their operations, organizations are increasingly focused on optimizing performance. Are they offering the right mix of products and services to their customers? Are they selling to the right people? Are they delivering value in a way that separates them, in the eyes of their customers, from their competitors? Data warehouse systems are key drivers of success here, enabling companies to generate actionable intelligence from their data assets (and the breadth of these data assets keeps expanding, including now not just traditional point-of-sale and other business transactions, but e-mails, customer care interactions -- even company- and product-related comments posted on external-to-the-enterprise Web sites).

Big iron has big mo. At the same time that BI is heating up as an area of corporate endeavor, the mainframe -- long seen as a workhorse for run-the-business OLTP and batch workloads -- is growing in popularity as a platform for BI applications. Jim spoke of several factors that are putting wind in System z's sails with regard to data warehousing. He cited a Gartner report that spotlighted key BI issues with which companies are grappling now. This list of front-burner concerns included:
  • High availability. Data warehouses are more likely these days to get a "mission critical" designation. Many (including one I worked on just last month) are customer-facing systems, and a lot of those are the subject of service level agreements.
  • Mixed workload performance. This was identified as the number one performance issue for data warehouses. Mixed BI workloads, in which fast-running, OLTP-like queries vie with complex, data-intensive analytic processes for system resources, are becoming common as so-called "operational BI" gains prominence.
Then, of course, there's the matter of data protection, on which so much else depends. Jim mentioned that 33% of people recently surveyed indicated that they would QUIT doing business with a company if that company experienced a data security or privacy breach and was seen as being responsible for the incident.

So, to address these key issues, you'd probably want to build your data warehouse on a hardware/software platform known for high availability, sophisticated workload management capabilities, and strong, multi-layered data protection and access control. Hmmm. Sounds like mainframe DB2 to me. Keep in mind, too, that the well-known availability and workload management strengths of System z and z/OS and DB2 are made even stronger when DB2 is deployed in data sharing mode on a parallel sysplex mainframe cluster configuration.

Oh, and let's not forget that the legendary reliability of mainframe systems is not just a matter of advanced hardware and software technology (good as that stuff is) -- it also reflects the deep skills and robust processes (around change management, performance monitoring and tuning, capacity planning, business continuity, etc.) that typify the teams of professionals that support organizations' mainframe computing environments. As BI applications continue to move from "nice to have" to "must have" in the eyes of corporate leaders, it stands to reason that IT executives would want to house these essential systems on the server platform that exemplifies "rock solid," and to assign their care to the people in whom they have the utmost trust and confidence -- mainframe people.

One more trend driving BI workloads to System z is the increased frequency with which data warehouse databases are being updated. Not long ago, the "query by day, update at night" model predominated. Now, many BI application users demand that updates of source data values be reflected more quickly in the data warehouse database -- sometimes in a near-real-time manner. A lot of the source data that supplies data warehouses comes from mainframe databases and files, and locating the data warehouse close to that source data can facilitate round-the-clock updating.

Let's make a deal. The technical arguments for building a data warehouse on a mainframe platform are many and strong, but what about the financial angle? IBM has been pretty busy in this area of late. I already knew of DB2 Value Unit Edition pricing, which makes DB2 for z/OS available for a one-time charge for net new workloads of certain types, including data warehousing. I'll admit to not having known about IBM's System z Solution Edition series (announced in August of last year) before Jim talked about them during his presentation. Included in this set of offerings is the System Z Solution Edition for Data Warehousing, a package of hardware, software (including DB2), and services that can help an organization to implement a mainframe-based data warehouse system in a cost-competitive way.

If your organization is serious about data warehousing, get serious about your data warehouse platform. Mainframes deliver the availability, mixed workload performance management, security, and -- yes -- total cost of ownership that can improve your chances of achieving BI success. Analyze that.


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