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3/25/2010
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IBM Hit With Antitrust Complaint

Open source developer TurboHercules claims Big Blue unfairly dominates the mainframe market.

A developer of mainframe emulation software has slapped IBM with an antitrust complaint in Europe, claiming the tech giant is stifling competition in the market for big iron business computers.

TurboHercules, of France, claims IBM's refusal to make its z/OS mainframe operating system available for use on non-IBM hardware violates EU monopoly regulations.

"TurboHercules has reluctantly taken the step of filing a complaint asking the European Commission to restore free and fair competition to the IBM mainframe market," said TurboHercules creator and co-founder Roger Bowler, in a blog post dated March 23rd.

"Mainframe customers should be permitted to run the applications and data that they own, and in many cases developed, on the computer hardware of their choice," said Bowler. "It is my sincere belief that TurboHercules will contribute to the growth and longevity of the mainframe ecosystem upon which so many depend," he added.

TurboHercules bills itself as the first commercial enterprise dedicated to creating solutions around the open-source Hercules mainframe emulator. The company's software allows businesses to run applications designed for IBM's System z mainframe on Windows and Intel systems.

Bowler said he approached IBM last year to seek licenses that would allow TurboHercules customers to run its z/OS emulation package. IBM declined, and accused TurboHercules of infringing on its intellectual property, said Bowler.

IBM has consistently defended what it says is its right to determine which of its products to make available to third parties—a position that's held up in court. In 2008, a judge dismissed an antitrust complaint against IBM filed in federal court in New York by mainframe cloner T3 Technologies, of Florida.

IBM said clone makers are looking for a "free ride" on the back of its multi-billion dollar R&D efforts.

"TurboHercules is an 'emulation' company that seeks a free ride on IBM's massive investments in the mainframe by marketing systems that attempt to mimic the functionality of IBM mainframes. This is not really any different from those who seek to market cheap knock-offs of brand-name clothing or apparel," an IBM spokesman said, in an e-mail.

IBM also sees the hand of rival Microsoft behind TurboHercules' actions, given that TurboHercules is a member of an industry group, OpenMainframe.org, that's backed by the software maker.

"TurboHercules is a member of organizations founded and funded by IBM competitors such as Microsoft to attack the mainframe. Such an antitrust accusation is not being driven by the interests of consumers and mainframe customers--who benefit from intellectual property laws and the innovation that they foster--but rather by entities that seek to use governmental intervention to advance their own commercial interests," IBM's spokesman said.

IBM said it made a strategic decision to stick by mainframes in the 1990s, when other vendors were moving toward distributed and client-server computing, and now deserves to reap the rewards.

"Only a decade ago, IBM's mainframe platform was on the verge of extinction because of intense competition from other types of computing platforms. IBM invested billions of dollars in R&D--when everyone else left the market--to upgrade the platform, create a new generation of microprocessors, and develop improved mainframe technologies," IBM's spokesman said.

"The mainframe is a small niche in the overall server market, but customers benefit from an improved platform and alternatives to Unix and Windows. IBM is fully entitled to enforce our intellectual property rights and protect the investments that we have made in our technologies," the spokesman added.

The European Commission, Europe's main antitrust regulator, has yet to indicate if it will take any action on TurboHercules' complaint.

Data centers have never been more strategic. But growing demands, flat budgets, and emerging technologies have IT teams sweating. That story and more in our March 22 all-digital issue. Download it now. (Registration required.)

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