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IBM's countersuit of Neon Software hurts the mainframe

If IBM wins its lawsuit versus Neon Software, no one in the mainframe market will win. That's the opinion of Robert Crawford, who explains that a win for IBM would mean that mainframe customers will have a weaker bargaining position with IBM than ever before, and be more likely to defect to other platforms.

Editor's note: The following is the opinion of contributor, Robert Crawford.

As the old cliché goes, "It is easier to catch flies with honey than vinegar." In the ruckus caused by Neon's zPrime,...

IBM decided to ignore this bit of folk wisdom and go for the jugular. Unfortunately, although Neon is the purported target, IBM's actions and countersuit will be bad for everyone no matter who wins.

An IBM victory would be unpleasant for several reasons. Mainframe customers will have weaker bargaining positions and be more dependent on IBM than ever before. IBM will solidify its image as a company interested only in stifling innovation and milking customers. Ultimately this will turn the mainframe into a toxic platform no one in their right mind would touch lest they end up being married to IBM forever.

If IBM loses, customers will have fun for a little while until IBM changes specialty engine pricing or does away with them altogether. Independent Software Vendors (ISV's), who bear their own share of the blame for high mainframe costs, will start to include specialty engines in capacity based pricing.

More on IBM versus Neon
Neon Software CEO rejects IBM warnings on mainframe licensing issues due to zPrime

Why IBM should listen to Neon Software, customers on zPrime

Does IBM's mainframe business constitute a monopoly?

Lastly, win or lose, IBM runs the risk of permanently poisoning its relationship with its customers. Some, who might never have thought of getting off of the mainframe, may consider doing so to get free. Any company considering an IBM software or hardware purchase will have to weigh the risk of dealing with an unfriendly vendor. The ill-will may also bleed into other lines of business, and IBM should not be surprised to see customers moving to a distributed platform without Big Blue's products.

IBM needs to do something besides hire attorneys
First, IBM should spend less time trying to explain away the high cost of mainframe computing with cherry-picked case studies and total cost of ownership examples. Everyone sees through them now. Instead, IBM needs to lower prices to affect customers' bottom lines.

IBM needs to stop using specialty engines as marketing tools. Not everyone wants to migrate distributed workloads to the mainframe or buy the IBM software because it runs more cheaply on specialty engines. A better option would be to get more traditional workloads to run on the zIIP's and zAAP's like, for instance, dataset utilities IEBGENER or DFDSS. If IBM was already doing this zPrime would never have happened.

IBM needs to stop bullying customers and start talking to them. Most customers do prefer mainframes for their mission critical systems. They would also rather use specialty engines legally and keep a friendly relationship with IBM.

A kinder, gentler and less expensive IBM might convince its customers that it was really concerned about their welfare. In fact, with the right price cuts and a few sweetheart deals, IBM might be able to convince some customers they don't need zPrime at all.

Finally, this thought. In the countersuit IBM casts itself as a cable company being fleeced by a clever technician selling illegal hookups. In my town the cable company is a government sanctioned monopoly that willfully raises rates every year. When rates don't go up channels get shuffled into "packages" designed to generate revenue. Sure, customers could switch to satellite, but that's disruptive and costs money. Is that really the image IBM wants to use?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: For 24 years, Robert Crawford has worked off and on as a CICS systems programmer. He is experienced in debugging and tuning applications and has written in COBOL, Assembler and C++ using VSAM, DLI and DB2.

This was last published in March 2010

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