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3/14/2010
09:44 PM
Bob Evans
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Global CIO: IBM And Microsoft Clash Over Unbundling Policy

IBM attacks a study calling for mandatory unbundling of operating systems from hardware, especially for high-end servers and mainframes.

IBM has lashed out at Microsoft and other competitors for funding a research study whose findings strongly advocate that IBM not be allowed in India to bundle its own operating systems and other software with the high-end servers IBM sells in that rapidly growing market.

The flare-up is important because the call for unbundling could open the door for various companies to rush into the mainframe and high-end server businesses and be granted mandatory and wide-open access to new technologies that IBM alone has conceived, funded, developed, and deployed.

And while it's certainly true that a study is just a study and that it's a long way from even being considered as the law of the land in India, IBM clearly feels that the report's potential damage would be so significant that it has responded in blunt and harsh language quite outside IBM's standard behavior.

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IBM says that Openmainframe.org, one of the primary groups behind the report, "is bought and paid for by Microsoft and other IBM competitors, so it's hardly surprising that it would be making an anti-IBM argument. This report has no credibility," according to a statement from IBM and published over the weekend on itnewsonline.com.

"This report was written by Openmainframe.org, an organization that is a front group for many of IBM's competitors," IBM's statement went on. "So you must consider the source of these unfounded accusations."

That's pretty tough talk. But the study levels some pretty damning accusations at IBM in language that incessantly focuses on "lock-in": the practice it says is used by IBM and other hardware vendors to restrict customers to using the operating sytem and other software from the same vendor that sold the hardware.

(For more on why I believe IBM has the right to protect its mainframe investments and technologies, please see the "Recommended Reading" list at the bottom of this column and go to the top item: "Global CIO: IBM Is Being Railroaded By Our Clueless Justice Dept.")

The report—about 100 pages long—weaves in and out of relevancy and attempts to span the entire IT market from x86 systems up to mainframes. And to offer a sense of how tenuous the study's grasp sometimes is on the complex realities of today's IT business, it offers this analysis in the Executive Summary section:

"IBM mainframes unquestionably have greater lock-in on average than Unix servers or x86 servers running Linux or Windows Server."

Well stop the presses!! But the report then goes on to deploy a tactic that's used in various places throughout its 100 pages: while clearly having IBM and IBM only in its crosshairs, it tosses in mentions of other hardware vendors to attempt to give the illusion about being a generic policy recommendation as opposed to a full-frontal assault on IBM's stature in the Indian market. Here's the entire passage:

"While all vendors and not just IBM try to create 'lock-in,' 'exit' from a proprieatry technology like the [IBM] z/OS is indisputably more resource-intensive (in terms of both time and money) than from a Unix or Open source environment. IBM mainframes unquestionably have greater lock-in on average than Unix servers or x86 servers running Linux or Windows Server. But to be fair this is not because HP, Sun, Microsoft or Red Hat are less interested in lock-in than IBM, but because the legacy applications and legacy operating systems (e.g., z/OS) running on mainframes are on average substantially older than those running on the more modern platforms," the study says.

The study also says that "the market share for the IBM mainframe in the past 7 years has increased from 17% to 34%. In the past one year, the mainframe has acquired 54 brand-new customers around the world, of which 5 are from India."

Tellingly, the report also states that of those five newest mainframe customers, two are not using IBM's proprietary z/OS operating system but are instead using Linux—but instead of taking that most-recent trend as an indicator of which way the mainframe-OS winds are blowing, it instead pounds home the concern that if mainframe growth continues, IBM could stand to gain more than any other company.

I think you'd have to be pretty daft to dispute that. But isn't that outcome the logical one given that IBM has invested billions of dollars in mainframe technology in the past decade while dozens of other companies have abandoned it? Here's how that issue was addressed by the IBM spokesperson's statement on itnewsonline.com:

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