New Sightings Of A Rare Bird: A New Plug-Compatible Mainframe
A group of engineers has been busy raising funds and testing new products.
By W. David Gardner
August 25, 2005
When the Amdahl engineers at Fujitsu, specialists in the esoteric art of making plug-compatible mainframe (PCM) computers, missed a semiconductor cycle in the late 1990s, the PCM began fading from sight. As it turns out, the engineers have been very busy and their efforts began to see the light of day at this week’s Share [ http://www.share.org/ ] meeting.
The Amdahl engineers picked up some venture capital, formed Platform Solutions Inc. (PSI), and the fruits of their efforts, a generation of compatible mainframe computers, were described at the IBM user group. Two Beta sites are underway and one of them, L.L. Bean, discussed its PSI experience at Share.
“We decided on the Share meeting because the technical hearts and minds (of mainframe computing) are at Share,” said PSI president and CEO Michael Maulick in an interview. “These are the real movers and shakers of technology, the people who can make real sense of a product.”
PSI is targeting IBM’s zSeries mainframes and the installed base of Amdahl computers with mainframes based on Intel’s Itanium 2 processors. Key to the PSI approach is the machines’ ability to run multiple operating systems including z/OS, OS/390, VSE, UNIX, Windows and Linux.
Maulick discounts calling the PSI machines “plug-compatible” mainframes, but attendees at the Share meeting where PSI created a strong buzz, were calling the machines “PCMs,” which is the same thing. Maulick prefers calling his babies “compatible mainframe computers designed for today’s enterprise datacenter.”
In addition to keeping the Amdahl team from Fujitsu intact, PSI counts Gene Amdahl, the legendary designer of IBM’s 360 computer as well as founder of Amdahl Corporation, among the strengths of the firm. Also Maulick has strong mainframe credentials as a former engineering leader at IBM’s mainframe operations. Maulick later joined the sales and marketing side of IBM and eventually had responsibility at IBM’s high-end server business in its Americas unit.
Maulick believes the PSI mainframes’ greatest selling point will be their ability to run open source and proprietary software on the same hardware. “Open and proprietary can be side-by-side in the same machine,” he said. “The customer can decide. The customer can mix and match and dynamically change choices.”
The initial configurations will support up to 64 Itanium 2 processors with follow on configurations to utilize 128 processors. Maulick said smaller models might have as few as four processors.
He added that PSI’s initial target audience will be candidates and users of IBM’s zSeries mainframes. That is not an easy challenge as IBM’s latest System z9 has strong virtualization features and IBM foresees the model as being the hub of what it calls a new era of “collaborative computing”.
“We believe it’s important to establish our credibility to start with the z,” said Maulick, who indicated that PSI will battle IBM on price-performance. “Price is always the number one big thing,” he said.
Beta site user L.L. Bean’s Patrick Carroll told an audience at Share that multi-operating system functionality of Bean’s test installation has been operating well and no OS failures were recorded. Carroll, enterprise architect at Bean, said the PSI mainframe exceeded his expectations and he was impressed by the flexibility and choice the system offered.
“The mainframe is too often associated with badness,” said Maulick. “People say it’s too costly, it’s not open. We want to prove the (bad mainframe) is an oxymoron.”