Mainframe users are turning to Platform Solutions Incorporated (PSI) as a supplier with a potentially cost-effective alternative to IBM midrange mainframes - so much so, that IBM is taking legal action against the server company.
PSI's claim to fame is Open Mainframe, a combination of server hardware and software architecture that uses partitioning to simultaneously run IBM's z/OS with Linux, Unix and Windows on Itanium 2 servers.
Originally due for release in 2004, PSI's FlexES server should finally become available early this year, after a long gestation period and a few false starts. The company has demonstrated its software on HP Integrity and Superdome Itanium 2-based servers and is working with hardware suppliers to certify their Itanium 2 servers. In theory, a PSI-based system could offer users a lower-cost alternative to the IBM mainframe.
PSI's heritage dates back to 1999 when it was founded by a core team of former Amdahl engineers. The company also has close links with Intel, which go back to 1995 when a team of Amdahl engineers began collaborating with Intel on the system design of the first 64-bit IA-64 (Itanium) processor architecture.
PSI says its architecture is very similar to Amdahl's, Hitachi's and IBM's mainframe implementations.
Christian Reilly, vice-president of product management and marketing at PSI, said, "In the early days of Amdahl, the technology called Fast Assist Mode was invented, which allowed z/OS instructions [MVS at the time] to be implemented in firmware rather than hardware. This allowed Amdahl to extend the life of its hardware and keep machines compatible with new releases of the IBM operating systems that included new features."
Reilly said Fam was the genesis of PSI's Just-in-Time virtualisation technology. "PSI has taken the concept of firmware-based instruction execution and combined it with high-performance cacheing technology and the Itanium 2 Enterprise Server architecture to form the basis of our mainframe architecture. Of course, there is much more to a production-class mainframe server," he said.
While the technology looks promising, there are concerns that PSI will not be able to deliver on user demand for its servers.
In November 2006, IBM went to court alleging that PSI had infringed the patents of its mainframe software - a move that could discourage prospective users. IBM claims that PSI has violated the terms of a customer agreement with itself, as well as infringing five of IBM's patents.
PSI plans to sell systems that support z/OS this year, but IBM claims the firm is only entitled to use z/OS and other IBM software as an end-user rather than a supplier.
Mark Lillycrop, chief executive at mainframe analyst Arcati, said, "The timing of this lawsuit is no coincidence, and I have no idea whether IBM can make it stick. PSI's systems are reaching general availability and the signs are that users are impressed. They are sufficiently different from previous offerings in this space to make customers sit up and take notice, and they provide a new way of combining z/OS and Linux workloads on one Itanium 2-based system. Choice is always welcome."
Phil Payne, principal at mainframe analyst Isham Research, said that PSI would have to license IBM's technology to produce the servers, which would send the prices of its machines rocketing. He also said legal documents showed that PSI did not currently have the transferrable IBM software licences needed for it legally to sell servers based on IBM's z/OS and other technology.
So far, PSI has taken no legal action against IBM, but the company released a statement, saying, "While it is premature to comment on the particulars of IBM's complaint, PSI is confident in its legal position and that it will ultimately prevail in this litigation. PSI is buoyed by the support it has received from its customers and partners and looks forward to continuing to meet their data processing requirements."
Lufthansa tests PSI engine
Lufthansa Systems, which provides IT services to the airline and aviation industries, is a long-time IBM user, but it is trialling the PSI platform after discovering it at the Share conference.
Lufthansa is running z/OS 1.6 on an IBM mainframe (alongside IMS 6, Cics 2.3 and DB2 7) and has archived its old z/OS 1.4-based applications.
It is now running these archived applications on a PSI machine, with storage peripherals connected via the Escon (Enterprise Systems Connection) optical serial interface. In one test, it is running z/OS 1.4 on one partition, with Symantec's Veritas NetBackUp on another, and other Windows applications on a third.
Ideally, the firm is looking to consolidate its Windows servers on a single high-speed server to cut down on complexity. By doing this, it also hopes to cut its server and management costs.
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