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Tech giants court mainframe customers

HP unveils a service that helps customers break away from mainframes, while IBM hopes they stay--both are backed by Oracle.

SAN FRANCISCO--Technology trends come and go, but the old mainframe never seems to completely disappear.

At Oracle's OpenWorld conference here Tuesday, the mainframe computer figured prominently. During a keynote address, Hewlett-Packard CEO Mark Hurd said the company is launching a service with Oracle and Intel that will help customers move old applications running on mainframes to HP servers using Intel's Itanium processors and Oracle's application software.

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Video: HP's Hurd tackles efficiency
HP chief says organizations should try to move toward automation when it comes to maintenance.

In his speech, Hurd noted that HP is in the middle of a three-year plan to modernize and streamline its back-office technology, and mainframes have no place within that plan.

"I'm not a big fan of mainframes," Hurd said to the surprise of few.

Around 65 percent of IT budgets are spent on keeping mainframes up and running, Hurd said. He wants his own organization to move away from maintenance projects, automating as much of the IT department work as possible under Chief Information Officer Randy Mott. This will also reduce the number of servers and applications that HP maintains, helping cut cooling and power costs, he said.

HP, Intel and Oracle plan to assess a customer's application requirements and recommend a similar application that runs on an Itanium server, helping the wary mainframe customer make the leap.

But in a separate announcement, Oracle played the other side of the fence: It provided a show of support for the mainframe in a partnership with IBM.

Technology executives tend to be pretty conservative folks, hewing to that old strategy, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." Plenty of customers are content to run important applications on mainframes that they know inside and out. IBM and Oracle are eyeing those customers with a collaborative effort to sell Oracle applications to IBM's System Z mainframe customers running Linux, the companies said Tuesday.