Monday, 9 February 2009

Mainframe on a stick!

In the past, I’ve looked at mainframes that aren’t really mainframes! You know things like PSI’s Open Mainframe, Fundamental Software’s FLEX-ES, Hercules, and a couple of other options. I’ve even mentioned the “L” word – litigation. What I haven’t mentioned is the IBM System z Personal Development Tool (zPDT).

Anyway, for those of you who’ve tuned in late, here’s the story so far…
PSI’s Open Mainframe was able to run z/OS, but IBM wouldn’t licence z/OS for the PSI machines. Then IBM sued PSI, and PSI counter-sued IBM. For Fundamental’s customers, the wrangling with PSI meant that IBM didn’t re-licence Fundamental’s FLEX-ES. Similarly with Hercules, IBM wouldn’t licence products for their machines. At the end of last June, IBM bought PSI.

Now, I’ve been arguing for ages in this blog that IBM should support mainframe software running on platforms other than mainframes because it would be a way of seducing a whole new group of potential customers to the IBM way of doing things. A middle-sized user has a room full of servers doing a mixture of work. At the moment, the best choice for them is to get a couple of big servers and run VMware’s Virtual Machine software, and get rid of most of their other boxes. But what if they could have a go using z/OS instead. They may very well find it not only does all the work for them, but it also introduces them to a culture of back-ups and archives and logging, that’s an auditor’s dream. And that’s where the Open Mainframe, FLES-ES, and Hercules options came in.

I suggested previously that IBM might be planning to destroy the competition and then bring to market its own version of the product. And in a stealth-like way, that’s perhaps what it’s done. Way back in April 2007, it released internally the IBM System z Personal Development Tool (zPDT).

What do we know about it? It seems this z/Architecture emulation software runs on a ThinkPad/T60 (an Intel-powered PC) running SUSE, and on AIX (on POWER chips). It requires a USB hardware-key plugged in to enable the CPU. This is an IBM 1090 (or the IBM System z Personal Development Tool Adapter – zPDTA).

So what’s IBM’s plan? I suggest that the internal release gave them the opportunity to beta test their software and ensure it was pretty much bug free. But what does IBM do next? Does it e-mail users of Open Mainframe, FLEX-ES, and any other emulation package in town, and tell them about a new opportunity? Does it phone up all the other software vendors and ask them whether they’d like to test their mainframe software on a PC? Or does it start touring the PC conferences and exhibitions trying to sell this new product?

I’m not sure, but I can remember many years ago, coming across just such an IBMer (Mark Cathcart, in fact) at a mainly PC-based show demoing the P/390 machine. And he seemed to be busy with potential customers all day. I would guess that there could be a lot of interest in a PC-based mainframe emulator.

I expect to hear much more about it during the coming year.

BTW, I followed Dougie Lawson’s advice on the IMS-L listserv and joined Twitter – I’m at Now I just need someone to explain what I can do with it that I can’t do with Facebook, LinkedIn, Plaxo, etc, etc. And they could also explain why every time I do try to do anything I’m told that Twitter is over capacity!

And finally, don’t forget to download your free copy of the Arcati Mainframe Yearbook 2009 from

1 comment:

cathcam said...

Trevor, by coincidence I found your blog while looking for a link to include with a video I've just posted to YouTube with my "Man carries Mainframe" session at Share Europe in 1996.

Glad to see you are still at it. Regards, Mark.