Editorial: And Then There Were Two

It seems that as part of a "Strategic Product Transition Plan," Hitachi Data Systems (HDS) has bailed out of the S/390 mainframe race, leaving Amdahl as the only U.S. competition for IBM’s S/390. Mark Lewis, a spokesman for HDS tells me that "HDS is most definitely NOT out of the mainframe market. While we continue to provide service, upgrades, and net new systems to existing Skyline, Trinium and Pilot customers, we are not marketing new systems to new customers. Due to severe price erosion, it simply did not make sense to continue demand-generating activity."

Call it what you will; the fact that Hitachi "transitioned" out must mean a weakening of the mainframe market, right? Well, you’ve heard it all before: You didn’t buy into it then, and you’re not buying into it now. Although it makes for great headlines, and increasing revenues for Amdahl and IBM, the Hitachi decision serves as no barometer for market demand and use. And you can quote me on that.

After all, DEC, or Digital, in its pre-Compaq days, bailed out of more technologies than Ross Perot has dropped out of presidential election races. And while Unisys quietly stepped out of the PC manufacturing game, the PC market released nary a burp in response.

So what kind of impact does Hitachi’s move yield? Well, the same day that HDS transitioned, Amdahl announced that it has underscored its S/390 strategy with follow-on CMOS generations, including a volume shipment of its S/390-compatible Millennium 2000 C and E Series servers.

Carol Stone, Vice President of Server Business and Marketing at Amdahl, tells me that, "What is important is that there is still another choice to IBM." According to Stone, in 1994 Hitachi chose to stay with an ECL/CMOS hybrid technology, when IBM and Amdahl made a move to straight CMOS. And although Hitachi experienced a strong market share injection at the time, the hybrid was an expensive solution to build and maintain in the long run. Not only does Amdahl not see a decline in mainframe MIPs, it is experiencing a growth, and the mainframe is still a "viable solution."

In a letter from David B. Wright, President/CEO, and Ali Jenab, President of the Amdahl Technology Division, Amdahl assures its customers that the "System 390 continues to serve as the root of our high-availability competencies." And although Amdahl is "sensitive to, and respectful of, Hitachi’s difficult decision," the company is "excited about the opportunity to continue offering … a choice in the OS/390 server market."

According to Wright, "We understand the importance of the System/390 platform to our customers’ business ... Amdahl and Fujitsu are committed to providing System/390-compatible processors … ."

Also, at about the time of Hitachi’s announcement, IBM expanded the e-commerce capabilities for its S/390, including the security and networking capabilities for large enterprise customers, through the latest release of OS/390, Version 2 Release 9, and the availability of enhancements to its S/390 G5 and G6 servers.

Today, no system is an island. With the release of OS/390 2.9, IBM facilitates integrating business processes, extending the life of existing applications and facilitating the necessary task of porting UNIX-based applications to the platform.

Security enhancements include support for PCI Cryptographic Coprocessor (PCICC). With PCICC, IBM maintains that is has increased by a factor of 6, the hardware performance of cryptographic operations used by S/390 G5 and G6 servers for Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) connections.

Another interesting security enhancement includes the lifting of a special U.S. government export restriction against OS/390 System SSL. System SSL Triple DES encryption can now be exported outside the U.S. and Canada, subject to the U.S. government’s general cryptographic export regulations. OS/390 2.9 went GA on March 31, and the S/390 G5 and G6 server enhancements will be available on June 30.

So relax citizens; the mainframe is here to stay. And from where I’m sitting, the mainframe remains a crucial, flexible part of today’s growing enterprises. Guess it’s business as usual, at a table for two.