LongEx Mainframe Quarterly - November 2012

opinion: Why Get an Expert to Look at Your Bill?

I recently received an invoice from the company hosting our website. Reading through the bill I found that the costs of the website had suddenly doubled. This was a simple error on the part of my hosting provider: they had added a new feature, but forgotten to remove the old one. An error that was easy to fix. After I found it.

These errors can happen to anyone, and come from any provider. In the mainframe world, Iíve seen them happen from outsourcing providers, and even IBM themselves. So Iím always surprised that many mainframe users donít get an expert to look over their invoices.

Invoices for mainframe software and services can be hard to read. Take your IBM software licensing bill as an example. Youíll see all the software products listed out, the type of license, and the amount to pay for each. And there will be a lot.

Some of these will be capacity based, some a fixed price. In the case of capacity based software, IBM will also show the maximum four-hour rolling average (4HRA) that was used to calculate the figure, and when this occurred. Itís easy to just sign on the dotted line, and assume IBM has got it right. But like all of us, IBM are human. They receive your email/document with the last monthís MSU usage, and enter this into a system that spits out your bill. There are several areas where errors can occur. Figures can be added twice, removed software included, or discounts omitted. You may even have made a mistake yourself when submitting the MSU figures.

Outsourcing invoices can be just as confusing. Iíve come across many different outsourcing pricing structures. Some had a tiered pricing structure where the price per MSU decreased (or increased) as the usage increases. Others invoiced the customer for CPU usage of only a sub-set of processing workloads. Iíve seen agreements where the customer pays a penalty if the processing increases over a certain amount. And even agreements where the cost of disk space far exceeded CPU costs.

Like software vendors, Iíve also seen errors from outsourcing providers. This can be anything from amounts added twice to processing costs included that should be excluded. In one case I saw an incorrect conversion constant used that had remained undiscovered for years.

You can see where Iím going. With complicated invoices, it is easy to just sign on the dotted line. But it makes so much sense to get an expert in to look over the invoice for errors and discrepancies. And that expert can do more. They may see other opportunities for savings Ė from moving software amongst LPARs to removing obsolete or unused software. At a recent site I even found a hardware error that was costing a cool couple of hundred MIPS. If nothing else, an expert will be able to explain in detail what you pay for, and when. Something another recent customer desperately needed.

In the case of my web hosting provider, the amount in question was only a handful of dollars per month. But mainframe software and services can run into millions. Compared to this, the cost of an expert for a few days is trivial.

David Stephens