PSI Announces Plug-Compatible Mainframe Line

PSI is almost the only PC mainframe vendor on the block. Could its System64 servers prove attractive to some Big Iron buyers?

Plug-compatible mainframe (PCM) specialist Platform Solutions Inc. (PSI) unveiled its System64 product line at the summer SHARE conference last month. With PCM stalwart Fundamental Software Inc. (FSI) stuck in licensing limbo—thanks to ongoing frostiness with IBM Corp. (triggered in part, some industry watchers say, by PSI’s PCM push)—that makes PSI pretty much the only PC mainframe vendor on the block.

What does PSI bring to the table? Try a multi-platform value proposition that outstrips that of even System z. PSI markets its PCM systems not just as mainframe replacements but as replacements for distributed Unix, Linux, and Windows systems. As a result, PSI isn’t just chipping away at IBM’s carefully cultivated mainframe mythos—i.e., the mainframe as a mystical black cabinet with ethereal reliability, availability, and scalability (RAS) features—it’s attacking Big Blue’s signature cross-platform value proposition as well (see http://www.esj.com/Case_Study/article.aspx?EditorialsID=2603).

Indeed, PSI went straight for the kill at last month’s launch event—trumpeting the coexistence features of z/OS and Microsoft Corp.’s forthcoming Windows Server 2008 platform running concurrently on its System64 hardware. "No other mainframe provider can deliver these [heterogeneous virtualization] capabilities to allow maximum flexibility and choice to meet tomorrow’s challenges," said PSI president and CEO Michael Maulick.

PSI’s System64 servers, which are slated to ship this fall, will consist of two introductory models, the System64 DS and the System64 ES, both powered by dual-core 64-bit Itanium 2 microprocessors from Intel Corp. PSI officials say the systems can scale from 25 MIPS on up to 1800 MIPS—which gives the would-be PCM player quite a compelling scalability story.

In this respect, PSI is targeting a sub-100 MIPS space it claims is ill-served by IBM’s existing mainframe systems. However, Big Blue has actively marketed mainframe hardware to the sub-100 MIPS market for some time. In fact, IBM developed at least two dedicated mid-market offerings—its z890 midrange mainframe and the new z9 Business Class system last year.

There are several reasons for the frosty relations between IBM and PSI. For one, PSI has resold rebranded Itanium servers from IBM arch-rival Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP). Big Blue doesn’t want anyone eating into its lucrative Big Iron pie, industry watchers say, but—if there is a place in the mainframe universe for PCM systems—it would prefer that (as Fundamental Software’s FLEX-ES systems) they run on IBM’s own System x hardware.

Elsewhere, PSI’s PCM implementation is designed to run on top of Itanium 2, a chip that IBM abandoned almost three years ago. It’s for this reason, among others, that PSI doesn’t currently resell its PCM mainframes on IBM’s xSeries hardware. For this reason, too, officials say PSI isn’t excluding IBM. Nor, for that matter, does PSI subscribe to the mainframe migration—or mainframe-killing—ambitions of companies like Microsoft and HP, according to executive vice-president and general manager Linda Zider.

"The basic business and investing principles behind the founding [of PSI] were that this company would be hardware-independent, so we could take whatever we develop and put it on any Itanium platform. We have done that. If you look at the list of Itanium-compatible [vendors], we have developed [systems] for several of them," Zider said.

"Why would we want to play a part in killing something [the mainframe] that we have such a tremendous stake in? That’s one of the reasons you haven’t seen us join Microsoft’s Mainframe Migration Alliance. They’ve approached us about it, but we told them that’s not what we’re about. We’re not a wean-off-it [i.e., the mainframe] platform. That would be counter-intuitive to our long-term business strategy."

IBM is currently suing PSI for breach of contract and patent infringement (see http://www.esj.com/Case_Study/article.aspx?EditorialsID=2327). If Big Blue decided to drop its suit and approached PSI about partnering to produce a PC mainframe on System x hardware, Zider and other officials say they’d be open to such an arrangement.

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.

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