Is there a market for Intel Iron?

Plug-compatible mainframe vendor PSI is drumming up support for its forthcoming release of an Intel-based computer that runs native z/OS. But who's buying?

For the second straight SHARE conference in a row, Platform Solutions Inc. (PSI) has shown up touting its unreleased Intel-based mainframes.

The Sunnyvale, Calif.-based plug-compatible mainframe (PCM) company was formed in 1999 from the remnants of defunct PCM vendor Amdahl, with backing from Intel Capital and other investors. The machine can run Windows, Linux, Unix and, most importantly to mainframers, native z/OS on a single machine.

Now in its second stage of beta testing, PSI hoped to make some contacts at SHARE and change some minds about PCM machines -- which flopped in the '90s when Amdahl missed a chip cycle.

Despite coming out against the new z9 from IBM, PSI president and CEO Michael Maulick is betting that this is the right time to make a push into the mainframe space. According to Maulick, PSI had several private meetings at SHARE in Boston last month, and customers are interested in the technology, especially when it comes to price.

"I think there's a market, that's why I asked about cost," said Jeff Regan, an IT staffer from Reston, Va.-based Sallie Mae, walking out of the presentation.

Regan wanted to know if there was enough price incentive to leave Big Iron, but PSI's hands were tied during the presentation.

"Part of the agreement with SHARE is that we aren't able to talk price. We are priced very similar to how Amdahl was [compared to IBM]," Maulick said. "PSI is built on mass-produced Itanium chips. The inherent cost structure is different."

Others agreed that Big Iron could be cheaper.

"Competition is always good. If this is true competition, then it can help pricing," Greg Peterson, manager of data center operations at Green Bay, Wis.-based trucking company, Schneider National Inc. said.

And while PSI doesn't plan to compete head to head with Big Blue, Maulick sees a number of individual scenarios that would play out well for his company.

"Sun was very successful at migrating people off of the mainframe with the UE 10000. A lot of those customers can't migrate back to the mainframe now, but if there was a graceful way to get back to z/OS they would," Maulick said.

Maulick sees another big market in the disaster recovery, hot-site space.

"Mainframe shops can use our system at a secondary site, running apps on open systems that aren't mission critical, running z/OS on standby. When you need to switch to back up, flush the non-critical apps and run z/OS," Maulick said.

Beyond customer support, PSI said IBM should endorse a second source of hardware, just so people can see there is more than one choice in the space. It might make them less worried about being locked into a single vendor.

Patrick Carroll, enterprise architect at PSI's beta testing partner, L.L. Bean, agreed and said the goals of his company are to gain independence from vendors, platforms and architectures.

For more information:

PSI seeking a mainframe cash splash

Emulation is the sincerest form of flattery

According to Maulick, IBM had supported PCMs, going as far as to offer its chips to competitors when the companies were missing their chip cycles. But he said Big Blue no longer has that attitude.

"IBM still acts like a hardware company," Maulick said. "But the software side should be saying, 'We should help them increase the market share for our higher profit margin product, the software.'"

Let us know what you think about the story; e-mail: Matt Stansberry, News Editor

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