Mainframe Company Platform Solutions Joins Itanium Alliance

By joining the Itanium Solutions Alliance and supporting the Itanium platform, Platform Solutions hopes to curb IBM's clout in mainframe market.

Platform Solutions, which is looking to chip away at IBMs dominance in the mainframe market, has become the latest vendor to join the Itanium Solutions Alliance.

Platform Solutions later this year is planning to roll out a mainframe system that will offer a mix of commodity technology—it will be powered by Intel Corp.s upcoming dual-core "Montecito" Itanium 2 chip—but will run workloads based on IBMs z/OS mainframe operating system, as well as Linux and Windows.

Platform Solutions support of the Itanium platform, and the investment into the company by Intel Capital, the chip makers investment arm, made joining the Itanium group a natural step, said Linda Elliott Zider, executive vice president of sales and marketing for the Sunnyvale, Calif., company.

"We were linked at the hip, so getting involved with the Solutions Alliance made sense," Zider said.

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The alliance was launched in September by Intel, of Santa Clara, Calif., and a number of hardware makers that are using the 64-bit Itanium platform.

Among the key members are Hewlett-Packard Co., Fujitsu Computer Systems Corp., NEC Solutions America Inc., Silicon Graphics Inc. and Unisys Corp.

The group wants to push adoption of the Itanium architecture, which has had a checkered history since its launch more than five years ago.

Earlier this month, it rolled out a catalog listing all the applications and solutions that are supported by the processor. The alliance also is opening centers around the world to help developers and users port their applications to the platform, a key step, according to Christian Reilly, director of product management and marketing at Platform Solutions.

Platform was founded in 1999 by a group of engineers from Amdahl Corp., two years after that mainframe company was bought by Fujitsu Ltd.

The goal of the company was to give users the benefits of mainframe computers, but with the economics and breadth offered with industry-standard technology, Michael Maulik, president and CEO, said in an interview with eWEEK.

"Economics clearly favor the open world," Maulik said. "We have not had a choice … for people that are looking for this type of solution … We havent had a choice in more than five years. They want a choice."

The companys push to offer a variety of proprietary and open software choices on a mainframe system is the key to bringing that choice into the market, he said.

"It goes back to our strategy of choice and flexibility," Maulik said.

When Platform Solutions first formed, it needed to find a 64-bit platform to adopt. The choices came down to Itanium and IBMs Power architecture, and Itanium was chosen because of such features as its large cache sizes and machine check architecture, which increased its reliability and availability capabilities, Reilly and Zider said.

"One of the most important things for us [when the company was founded five years ago] was to pick a platform that would extend into the future," Zider said.

Platform Solutions currently has a beta program underway with L.L. Bean Inc., of Freeport, Maine, and is looking at early shipments of its systems in Europe.

However, Maulik said the company is deciding when to make its mainframes generally available in the United States.

Complicating the matter is Intels decision last fall to delay the release of the Montecito chip from late last year to mid-2006. Maulik said the companys goal was to launch with the chip, and while that still may happen, Platform Solution officials still are weighing their options.

"Were not absolutely tied to that" Montecito release date, he said. "Wed like to go [general availability] with Montecito, but were not absolutely holding to that."

However, they are tied to Itanium, and point to the alliance as well as the growing number of applications being ported to the architecture as evidence of its growing acceptance.

When the project that would product Itanium was first introduced by Intel and HP in 1994, it was hailed as the replacement architecture for not only x86, but also RISC.

However, sketchy performance and delays early in its life hobbled the platform, and the rise later of 64-bit x86 chips further hampered it. Intel has since shifted the focus of Itanium, targeting high-performance and RISC-replacement projects.

/zimages/6/28571.gifClick here to read about how IBM has revitalized mainframes.

At about the same time that Itanium was making its debut, many industry observers were pointing to the eventual decline of mainframe systems.

However, the systems have thrived, as evidenced by revenue gains by IBMs zSeries unit over the past few years, and IBM last summer rolled out the latest generation—the z9—complete with greater virtualization capabilities and software support.

In its fourth-quarter earnings report last week, IBM officials said that zSeries mainframe revenues grew 5 percent over the same period a year ago, and total delivery of mainframe computing power — measured in MIPS (millions of instructions per second)—grew 28 percent.

Platform Solutions Maulik pointed to the continued adoption by such industries as financial services, as well as the growing number of mainframe-trained engineers coming out of college, as examples of the platforms continued relevance.

In addition, IBM is spending millions of dollars in programs designed to educate students on the mainframe. IBM and the user group SHARE last year unveiled a mainframe user community aimed at students and younger professionals.

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