Mainline and IBM double computing power for database consolidation project

By | 4 minute read | December 18, 2020

IBM z illustration

Mainframe computers are known for their ability to move and process large databases that would leave simpler computing environments struggling. But what happens when you need to merge two such databases together, creating a massive record set—and your existing mainframe is already maxed out?

This was the seemingly impossible problem facing one company while working in an extremely high-volume media-related business. Its systems were already groaning under the strain of a massive database, but it needed to consolidate that with another that was almost as large with no disruption to its existing service.

The company’s core business involved making payments to large numbers of people every three months. Each of these people has some stake in underlying assets frequently used around the country. Multiple people, each with a stake in the asset, are entitled to a payment every time the asset is used.

There are millions of these assets, resulting in millions of usage transactions every single day. The company had to track the underlying transactions. Each quarter, it would aggregate them in a batch payment run. It had been handling this using an IBM zBC12 mainframe, but it faced a challenge.

Growing pains

Even with a 352 million instructions per second (MIPS) capacity, the zBC12 mainframe used for the job was struggling under growing data volumes. There was no way that this mainframe alone could handle the development and testing workload necessary to consolidate it with another database.

Florida-based IT services company, Mainline Information Systems used its close relationship with IBM to source additional computing capacity in a tight time frame. Its adaptability earned it the IBM 2020 Beacon Award for the Most Innovative Client Experience on Z.

The client was already struggling to support huge volumes of transactions when it approached Mainline in October 2018. When it was originally installed, the zBC12 handled 600 billion such transactions a year. Today, that number has soared to 1.7 trillion.

“The system was basically maxed out,” recalls Don Appleby, Senior Systems Engineer at Mainline. “It was running about as hard as it possibly could, almost all the time.” That made it especially difficult at the end of each quarter when they had to execute the payment run.

Trying to consolidate this system’s database with another was a non-starter, recalls Dan Myers, Mainframe Specialist at Mainline. “They ran this batch job to load the database, and they were getting five or six thousand records loaded in a 24-hour period,” he says. “That’s the most they could get through the system.” At that rate, it would take years to process the two databases. Clearly, the team needed more computing power to get the job done.

Mainline calculated that the company would need 716 MIPS—double the original zBC12’s capacity—to run the data architecture after the databases were combined. The sticking point was the computing capacity it would need during the development and testing phase, which would last for up to a year.

A creative solution

To solve the problem, the client was originally intent on moving away from a mainframe-based operation altogether in favor of a cloud-based architecture. Even though Mainline specialized in on-premise solutions, it was prepared to broker a cloud-based solution for them.

But the client told Mainline that it had opted for a mainframe-based solution after all. A new proposition won them over: IBM would loan Mainline some extra mainframe computing capacity to cope with the development and testing load.

The proposition came courtesy of Myers, who had worked at IBM for almost 40 years before joining Mainline in 2017. He negotiated with his executive contacts at IBM to get 1402 MIPS of computing capacity for a year to bridge the gap. Suddenly, batch-loading the databases looked more tractable.

There was just one problem: The company wanted all the contracts signed in a week, followed by a rapid cut-over after the new mainframe arrived.

“It was a very, very tight timeline from the time we received signatures to the time we cut over the processor, which was phase one of the project,” says Andy Brown, account executive at Mainline.

Rapid migration

Mainline’s team had to work quickly. The new hardware arrived in the first week of February and it migrated the processor load from the zBC12 to the new z14 box by mid-March.

Mainline also boosted the z Integrated Information Processor (zIIP) capacity in the new mainframe unit from 1064 to 3140 MIPS. That had a significant performance on the client’s batch processing workloads because zIIP processors handle new workloads on demand without affecting the mainframe’s machine model designation.

With that done it began migrating the machine’s storage subsystem, and then the antiquated physical tape media, which contained up to 60TB of records. It converted the physical tape system to a virtual solution in which the backup stream would travel to a storage controller. The mainframe would still see the controller as a tape unit but behind the scenes, the controller would archive data on disk drives.

The client had 1500 physical tapes, each of varying ages, explains Brown. “All had to be examined,” he says. “We could only do a few at a time.”

That phase took around two months, clearing the way for the client to reconcile the two databases. It wanted to keep that part in-house because the intellectual property was sensitive. Although the entire project was estimated at a year, the bridge computing capacity loaned to the project from IBM enabled the team to finish the migration in just under nine months. By the time it was finished, it had 25 million records in the system.

With the extra production capacity and innovative z14 ZR1 architecture, the batch runs took 40% less time and the huge data volumes became manageable.

The project, which generated USD 3.3 million in IBM-related revenues, is a good example of how robust IBM partnerships can drive valuable new business. Mainline’s rich mainframe expertise, combined with its personal IBM relationships, contributed to a major competitive win for the two companies.

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