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Mainframe shops held hostage, Itanium Solutions Alliance says

The Itanium Solutions Alliance -- a consortium of OEMs, software manufacturers and integrators focused on the Itanium platform -- announced this week that it was joining the Mainframe Migration Alliance (MMA), a group of companies that advocate moving mainframe workloads onto the Microsoft platform. In this Q&A, we talk to Robert Shiveley, a product line marketing manager for the server platform group at Intel Corp., about the benefits of migrating off the mainframe and what makes Itanium architecture a good destination.

Why did the Itanium Solutions Alliance choose to join the MMA?
Itanium is really targeted toward about one-half the spend of the entire systems and software marketplace: a $56 billion market. One half is RISC, mainframe and Itanium; the rest is volume x86 servers. Since Itanium is a large part of that segment, it made a lot of sense to partner with the Mainframe Migration Alliance to help customers figure out how to get the most out of their spend.

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If you look at the IBM mainframe, it really represents the lion's share of mainframe systems spend, and I think it's a pretty significant chunk of the $28 billion a year. I think MMA has good programs focused on increasing the ROI [return on investment] and a focus on migration tools.

Why should customers move off the mainframe; and if they do, why should they migrate to an Itanium architecture?
The mainframe is a legacy architecture. It's been around a long time, and it does some things well. But it has been held hostage by the limited support and limited innovation that takes place in the mainframe environment. It's a slow-growth marketplace. Customers are under just as much pressure today to get a bang for their buck, and they're excluding themselves from the ecosystem investment [i.e., excluding themselves from exploring other platform options], and that's not a good place to be.

Is IBM stripping the mainframe market of innovation through a lack of competition?
Itanium is a natural migration path for mainframe customers.
Robert Shiveley,
marketing manager, Server Platform GroupIntel Corp.

I can certainly say that the more investment there is, the more innovation there is. That's what the Itanium Solutions Alliance is all about. You don't see [the same level of innovation and investment] taking place on the mainframe side. Obviously it's in the best interests of [IBM] to make the most of its dominance in the marketplace. We think competition is really good to stimulate innovation in the computer industry -- or pretty much any industry.

So why migrate from the mainframe to Itanium?
I think Itanium is a natural migration path for mainframe customers because of the focus of Itanium Solutions vendors on reliability and scalability and on being data-intensive. Mainframe customers understand rock-solid reliability and the ability to guarantee levels of service. The Itanium Solutions Alliance tends to deliver greater reliability [than other platforms].

OK, I can see why a customer would choose Itanium over x86. But why Itanium over Sun Microsystems' SPARC or IBM's Power platform?
Running applications on Itanium-based platforms delivers better value, better TCO [total cost of ownership] and better economics. It measures up to the performance levels of RISC and, in some cases, surpasses those of RISC. And of course, you've got the breadth of the ecosystem; currently the Itanium Solutions Alliance is tracking and reporting that more than 12,000 applications have been ported.

And there are a lot of Itanium vendors focused on mainframe migration. Micro Focus is one that is part of the Itanium Solutions Alliance, focused particularly on COBOL emulation. They've been around for about 30 years and work closely with Microsoft. [Platform Solutions Inc.] is another company very focused on the mainframe environment. There is some question about ongoing litigation, but they seem upbeat on the business opportunities.

Let us know what you think about the story; e-mail Mark Fontecchio, News Writer.

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