Mysteries of Buffer Optimization Solved!

From Enterprise Tech Journal  –  2016: Issue 5

By Bill Hitefield, Dino-Software (12-minute read)

In some respects, IBM’s access methods (especially VSAM) are like software black boxes—you pass a request to them, they go off into the Enchanted Forest and sometime later data is either retrieved or written by your application.  As application developers, we have some modicum of control over when, why and how often we make requests to the access method.  It is that second part of the process, the “sometime later,” that we view as a part of application performance we seemingly have no means of influencing.

For most applications, if the sometime later variable were lessened, the aggregate overhead experienced by an application would decrease.

The Access Method and Buffers

When the access method processes the data set on behalf of the application, it builds a buffering environment (see Figure 1).  Think of buffers as “temporary housing” for data records. The access method uses this temporary housing as a staging area for the data until it is needed by the program.

As application owners, we know how our application accesses the data (sequentially, randomly or some combination thereof).  If we combine that application knowledge with knowledge of how the access method avails itself of the buffers in each of those access types, we could then define a unique buffering environment for each data set accessed by our application—thus ensuring optimal performance by the access method.

Many people already do this. There are multiple sources that assist in making that correlation. One such example is IBM’s “VSAM Demystified,” Redbooks SG24-6105.  Such sources allow us to not only determine the needed buffering environment, but also assist us in making the needed alterations to our system (JCL, …) to implement the needed buffering environment.

Figure 1: When data is processed for an application, it builds a buffering
environment as a staging area for the data to be used by the program.


Improvements in application execution time can be quite dramatic. In some instances, over 90 percent of the EXCP SVCs issued against a data set are not just optimized, they are eliminated. This can result in tremendous savings.

This sounds like something everybody should be doing, doesn’t it? If so, then why aren’t we? The short answer is the task of doing this quickly becomes a somewhat tedious, ongoing task.

For an IT site, the task does not end with that one set of definitions. The application changes over time, the data sets change over time and the access pattern the application uses can change over time. In their due diligence, the site then must periodically monitor those definitions to ensure they are current and they in fact provide the needed relief.

Lather, rinse and repeat for each application.  The manpower and time required to initially perform this task and then monitor the results quickly becomes something that is not insignificant. This causes most sites to lose heart in this ongoing contest with the access method. A good buffer optimizer can virtually eliminate this concern.

The Buffer Optimizer’s Place in the Process

This is where a buffer optimization product performs its magic. When an application opens a data set, a good buffer optimizer will combine its knowledge of the access method behavior, the access declarations made by the application when it opened that data set, along with the current status of the data set (the number of records, the CI-size, and so forth), and determine the best buffering environment for that particular access to the data set.

Since this activity takes place each time the data set is opened, there is no need for the site to institute an ongoing task to monitor the performance definitions that were—without the buffer optimization product—entered manually.

A good buffer optimizer does what a performance specialist would have done, but does it automatically each time a data set is opened, does it for every application, day or night, over and over and even on weekends.  The manpower constraint facing most sites is now no longer a concern.

Going Deeper—The Buffer Optimizer and IBM’s Buffering Schemes

IBM allows for the use of different buffering technologies. The default is Non-Shared Resources (NSR). While this buffering scheme excels in sequential access to a data set, it seems to merely tolerate random access. IBM also offers Local Shared Resources (LSR). This buffering scheme is pretty much the opposite of NSR in how it responds to applications. It excels in random access to a data set, and it tolerates sequential access.

For a performance specialist to implement LSR, the approach is not quite as straightforward as the process described earlier. The implementation of LSR requires more internal knowledge of the application. LSR has certain expectations and requirements that must be met by the requester of its services. For all of its beauty in easily processing random requests, LSR is fairly stringent in its implementation.

In their implementation of LSR, this means the performance specialist must be diligent not only in selecting the proper applications but also in making the needed changes to implement the use of LSR for an application.  Buffering products are designed to do just that. When the data set is opened, they will determine whether the optimal scheme is NSR or LSR. If LSR is selected, the product will provide the necessary interface to ensure that the application abides by the restrictions set by LSR itself.

Some solutions extend this support by determining whether or not the application abides by its own declared intentions. For example, the application may declare “access is random” when the data set is opened, yet it may process the data set sequentially. If so, the buffering strategy defined either by the performance specialist or by the buffering product is no longer optimal. A good buffer optimizer will detect and remedy those situations.

A Final Consideration— Communicating With the Buffer Optimizer

For a site to make effective use of any buffer optimization solution, it must be able to communicate its wishes to the chosen solution. For example: What candidates are to be selected? Once selected, what is to be done with them?

Communication with any buffering solution can be broken down into several levels of user involvement as follows:

Low-level: Some solutions require guidance at a very low level, resulting in a high level of input from the user. Not only must the user identify the candidates for optimization, they must also define (and monitor) the type of optimization that is to be performed. At this level, the buffering solution does not make that determination.

An example of this would be the use of JCL parameters to implement a rudimentary buffering solution. The user must not only select which candidates are to be processed, they must also implement that selection in each place that candidate is referenced.

While this method may get the job done, it requires a great deal of effort and sophistication on the part of the user.

Mid-level: Solutions at this level require the same sort of definitions (i.e., identification of the candidates and a selection of the optimization type) but require them to be issued only once. The buffering product will then apply the requested actions each time the candidate data set is accessed.

Some buffering solutions may allow you to define buffering options that can be associated with various criteria. You can specify a specific option that is to be used for a certain data set, or you can specify a solution that is to globally apply to a selected storage class.

While this is an improvement over the previous level, the user still must make a determination as to which buffering solution is to be implemented.

High-level: At this level, the majority of the workload is shifted from the user to the product. The product should operate as follows:

a. The user’s only involvement should be the identification of optimization candidates.
b. The product should be capable, in and of itself, to determine and implement the optimal buffering solution based upon real-time criteria 24/7/365.

At this level, users only need to concern themselves with the “what” of their activities, not the “how.” This removes a tremendous workload from the user.


In literature lore, most mysteries end with, “the butler did it.” In the mystery of buffer optimization, the answer is “the buffering product did it.” A good buffering product does what a performance specialist can do, but does it automatically—and does it all the time.

When choosing a buffering product, consider the following:

• The product should have a realistic and intelligent approach to buffer optimization.  It should avail itself of all possible solutions and not limit itself to any particular one.
• The product should automatically respond to dynamics in your operating environment. You should not have to monitor its selections.
• All the product should require of you is the identification of candidates. It should be sophisticated enough to determine the optimal solution on its own.

I hope that by now the mystery of the “buffer optimizer” has been removed and we now have a clear picture of the need for something that will help us optimize the buffering environment in which VSAM works with our applications.  Our understanding of the role of a buffer optimizer now helps us determine whether or not one is right for us. We also have some new insight as to how to differentiate the good optimizers from the ordinary.

Is a buffer optimizer right for you? I would offer that there is a high probability you should consider one. ETJ

Bill Hitefield has been involved with IBM mainframes since the late 1970s. he has concentrated on VsaM buffer optimization for the past 30 years and is currently the Product Manager for VELOCI-Raptor with Dino-software.  Email:


VELOCI-Raptor (VR) is a dynamic performance optimization tool designed to dramatically improve system performance while significantly reducing system overhead by automating tuning activities.  VR reduces overhead by optimally allocating buffers for VSAM and non-VSAM files to provide the best throughput and response time for I/O requests.   For more information on VELOCI-Raprot, visit

About Dino-Software

Dino-Software Corporation develops enterprise-wide solutions for the management, analysis, protection, and repair of complex z/OS mainframe environments.  Dino-Software has long been acknowledged for its superiority in ICF catalog management and technical support, helping organizations ensure their business-critical assets remain online and recoverable in a disaster.  Learn more about Dino-Software and its z/OS mainframe storage solutions at