TmaxSoft OpenFrame Challenges IBM Mainframe Business

TmaxSoft's OpenFrame software solution has been used by businesses looking to migrate their IBM mainframe workloads to a distributed computing environment. Now TmaxSoft is offering OpenFrame as a way for IBM customers to keep their workloads on the mainframes but avoid the high z/OS licensing costs. The move comes at a time when IBM's mainframe business is coming under scrutiny from competitors, customers and regulators.

Software vendor TmaxSoft for several years has been using its OpenFrame solution to help businesses migrate their mainframe workloads from IBM's massive systems to distributed computing environments running less expensive industry-standard servers.

Now TmaxSoft is offering its rehosting software to businesses that want to keep their mission-critical applications on the mainframe, but reduce the associated high z/OS licensing costs.

The company began testing this "capacity shifting" plan in 2009, and recently completed a pilot program with a large financial services firm, John Plato, TmaxSoft vice president for sales and marketing, said in an interview the week of Jan. 4.

Now TmaxSoft is preparing to implement a full project with the same unnamed financial services company later in 2010 to shift more of its workloads off the mainframe's central processor and onto the system's Linux specialty engine, which could save the company millions in annual z/OS licensing costs.

"This is probably not exactly what IBM had in mind" when it launched the IFL (Integrated Facility for Linux) in 2000, Plato said. "It generally appeals to customers who want to drive down costs and move away from z/OS quickly."

TmaxSoft's efforts come at a time when IBM's System z mainframe business is coming under a lot of scrutiny from competitors, customers and regulators. Most recently, reports began circulating in October that the Department of Justice was investigating claims of anticompetitive practices by IBM as it works to protect its mainframe business, though no charges have been filed. Those reports arose soon after a federal district court dismissed a lawsuit filed against IBM by T3 Technologies, which sells non-IBM hardware that runs mainframe workloads.

Neon Systems, which makes zPrime, a software solution that like TmaxSoft's OpenFrame is designed to shift mainframe workloads onto IBM specialty engines, filed suit against IBM in December, claiming anticompetitive behavior.

Key to the solutions from TmaxSoft and Neon are the specialty engines. IBM has been able to keep its mainframe business growing well past the time that many analysts thought it would die out in the face of mounting competition from smaller and less expensive x86 servers.

IBM has been able to attract nontraditional mainframe workloads-such as Linux and Java-with special processors designed just for such workloads. These specialty engines-the IFL, the zAAP (System z Application Assist Processor) for offloading Java and XML workloads from the central processors, and zIIP (System z Integrated Information Processor) for offloading DB2 databases-cost much less than the System z central processor, and workloads running on them do not incur z/OS licensing fees.

IBM charges ongoing licensing fees for workloads running on the central processor, so when workloads go up, the licensing costs go up. Thus, moving more workloads onto the specialty processors can save businesses millions in licensing fees, according to TmaxSoft's Plato.

TmaxSoft makes this possible by replacing the legacy CICS/IMS/JES mainframe engines with OpenFrame, which then shifts business applications written in legacy code like COBOL and PL1 to Linux without having to make changes to the source code or business logic. By doing this, businesses can move those applications to the IFL and reduce the licensing costs without having to give up the benefits of the mainframe, Plato said.

"A lot of these businesses don't want to get off the mainframe, but they want to get away from z/OS," he said.

Some businesses, worried about the high licensing costs and the shrinking of the skilled mainframe work force, want to leave mainframes altogether, Plato said. Others are comfortable with IBM mainframes, but are concerned about the ongoing costs.

He said TmaxSoft completed the pilot with the financial services firm late in 2009, and expects to get the full project under way in the second quarter of 2010.

In Neon's lawsuit against IBM, Neon claimed IBM was aggressive in telling mainframe customers that use of the zPrime software was a violation of their system licensing agreement and that IBM was making some mainframe sales conditional on the customer not using zPrime. Neon contended that the use of zPrime does not violate licensing agreements.

In response to the Neon lawsuit, IBM officials compared the use of the software to a homeowner tampering with his electric meter to save money, and said they would protect the billions they've invested in innovations in the mainframe.

TmaxSoft's Plato-a former IBM employee-said he hasn't heard anything from IBM about the OpenFrame solution or the capacity-shifting strategy.

"It is a big cash cow [for IBM], but it could also keep some customers from getting off the mainframe," he said.

IBM declined to comment on TmaxSoft's solution.