Monday, 6 July 2009

Who can you trust?

Do you remember how in George Orwell’s 1984, O’Brien encourages Winston Smith, the central character, to practise “doublethink” – the ability to hold two contradictory ideas at the same time. It seems that the computing world is engaging in the same activity.

Now let’s be completely honest about this, you only need to get two IT “experts” in a room to have two opinions, and inviting in a third expert doesn’t settle the argument, it simply provides another opinion.

Anyway, where I’m going with this is that we either believe that mainframes are so clever at everything – like SOA, cloud computing, and finding the ultimate answer – that we don’t pay any attention to companies encouraging us to migrate our workloads off the mainframe and on to Windows servers, or we don’t. In which case we believe that Windows or Macs, or Linux machines in general are the way forward and mainframes are strange dinosaurs, mere relics of a bygone age. You can’t have it both way – unless you indulge in doublethink.

So what I am talking about? Well, The Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA) and a company called T3 Technologies may be bringing an antitrust action against IBM. It started life in Europe, but there is now a US lawsuit. They argue that IBM has unfairly sewn up the market for mainframes! You may think that good products and clever marketing meant IBM beat the BUNCH (Burroughs, UNIVAC, NCR, Control Data Corporation, and Honeywell) – for those of you who remember those far-off days.

And perhaps, as an ordinary punter who has to stump up the cash for my mainframe hardware and monthly licence fees, I might feel a distinct lack of competition. If it were a car, I could buy an alternative from a different manufacturer and perhaps save money. I’d certainly be able to drive it home from the garage. But if I don’t buy an IBM mainframe, then the alternative – products from Sun or Microsoft – leave you with a metaphorical car that you don’t know how to drive and runs on a completely different type of petrol!

You might think that the CCIA would comprise all those companies that used to sell mainframes and no longer do – the BUNCH perhaps, or companies that kept the faith and feel hard done by now that IBM rules the roost. But this is where the doublethink comes in. The very companies that eschew mainframes, that think of them as living relics – like coelacanths – are the leaders of the CCIA. We’re talking about Oracle and Microsoft, AMD and Google.

I’m an IBM Data Champion, so I tend to be on the side of the mainframe being an excellent solution for medium and large-sized organizations. I’m also a Microsoft Office Specialist Master Instructor, and I know that for many everyday activities people everywhere are using Word and Excel. But it seems like a huge amount of doublethink for Microsoft – the Windows everywhere people – to bring an antitrust suit against IBM for selling a technology to customers that they can’t satisfy.

Or does Microsoft want a slice of the mainframe market? Who can you trust?

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