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Sun joins move to lure IBM mainframe users

Sun Microsystems is contributing Unikix software, which runs mainframe CICS applications on Unix machines, and along with Amdahl the two are offering to rehost applications.

By Peter Judge

Sun Microsystems and Amdahl IT Services have launched a bid to entice customers of IBM-compatible mainframes to move to Sun's Starcat servers running the Solaris version of Unix, but IBM has dismissed the plan as out of step with the reality of the mainframe market.

Destination Solaris is a service in which Amdahl, a company with a 30-year history of making IBM-compatible mainframes, will provide a single point of contact for those migrating away from IBM's zSeries or other 390-compatible machines.

"This is a global program which we expect to make $750 million to $1 billion in the next five years," said Keith Vickers, global program architect for Destination Solaris. "Customers are keen to make the final move."

Customers can make a payback of three to seven times their investment over five years, he said.

Amdahl and Sun presented this as a bid to end a dying market, which is reverting to a monopoly. For many years, Amdahl, Hitachi and others have offered machines that run IBM's 390 code with higher performance, but IBM's recent move to a 64-bit software has seen the last two competitors leave the market rather than develop 64-bit mainframes themselves.

"We are still selling boxes until the end of March next year," said Vickers, "but the bulk of our business is services.

Sun is contributing Unikix software, which runs mainframe CICS applications on Unix machines, and the two are offering to rehost other applications. Amdahl has a sales tool called Lucidus, which calculates total costs of ownership for comparable installations.

IBM disagrees with the companies' approach, saying that not only are mainframe sales growing, but they are being used for nontraditional tasks. "Fifty percent of new mainframe (installations) are 'new workload;' that is, applications which two or three years ago would have been considered suitable for Unix," said Peter Norris, IBM eServer consultant, citing chores such as serving Web pages and running PeopleSoft and SAP software.

Many mainframes are going to new customers and are reversing the move away from zSeries, said Norris, citing DreamBall, a Korean football site running Linux multiuser football games, and SIAC, which replaced a pair of Solaris machines with a mainframe to run systems for the New York Stock Exchange.

"Amdahl and Hitachi had a declining number of processors installed," said Norris. "They got out because they couldn't match a 64-bit operating system."

The Destination Solaris offering is nothing new, said Norris, being essentially the same mainframe migration technology that was offered in the mid-1990s.

Norris declined to provide figures for IBM mainframe revenue but suggested they were so good they might be broken out separately in future quarterly results.

Staff writer Peter Judge reported from London.