Sunday, 20 July 2008

Sometimes small isn’t beautiful

We all know that z/OS runs on a mainframe, and so do z/VSE and z/VM. So what would ordinary punters do if they could run their favourite mainframe operating system on another cheaper platform? What would IBM do?

We found part of the answer recently when IBM bought a company called PSI. If you’ve not heard of PSI, they were a company that originally sold Hewlett-Packard’s Itanium-based Superdome servers with an emulator that allowed mainframe software to run on them. They have also been in receipt of an IBM patent-infringement lawsuit since 2006. In 2007 the company countered with its own suit against IBM claiming that IBM was abusing its mainframe monopoly to keep out competitors. And the consequence of all this was that IBM has bought PSI for an undisclosed sum.

Two interesting things come out of this. The first is about the money. It’s known that Microsoft invested $37.5 million in PSI last November. Also, HP tried to buy the company for $200m or thereabouts. So some big money must have changed hands – although fees for lawyers may well have been reaching astronomical levels for PSI, which had also filed an anti-trust complaint in the European court in December 2007. So how much did IBM pay for PSI? The Internet is abuzz with figures of $260m.

The second interesting point is what is IBM to do with the Itanium stuff? Up till now, IBM did not have any Itanium-based servers. It could mean that IBM has to rebadge servers from HP.

The other off-mainframe choices for people wanting to run mainframe operating systems are Hercules and Flex-ES. Hercules is an open source emulator that runs on Linux and Windows boxes. Its users are now fairly secretive about what they do, in case IBM and its lawyers get tough. Flex-ES, from Fundamental Software, is also a mainframe emulator, and again they are in dispute with IBM.

As I’ve mentioned in the past, I believe that IBM is killing off these emulators so it can sell its own – as a way of bringing on-board potential new mainframe customers. IBM is claiming to have 200 new customers for its mainframes since 2000 – or figures like that. The emulator market could help it increase that figure hugely. We shall see.

n the case of PSI, it does look like Schumacher was wrong in 1973 when he said, "Small Is Beautiful". It looks like small companies like PSI (and perhaps Hercules and Flex-ES) are treated like irritating warts by IBM, and money is thrown at them until they disappear!

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