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Small mainframe vendors huddle against IBM

T3 joins PSI lawsuit against Big Blue

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Another upstart mainframe house wants to join the legal fracas between IBM and PSI. Florida-based T3 Technologies accuses IBM of dirty tricks, which have undermined its sales efforts.

T3 Technologies says it was the #2 mainframe vendor prior to IBM's alleged anti-competitive angling. But recent stirrings at IBM have made the market a very grim place for alternative mainframe vendors.

The PSI (Platform Solutions Inc.) countersuit against IBM rings remarkably similar to T3's troubles. Having determined its own fight against IBM is dependent on PSI's complaint, T3 wants to intervene in the lawsuit. Early this week, it requested to enter litigation, the mainframe industry analyst Isham Research reports.

According to T3, IBM is abusing its mainframe monopoly by shutting-down support for the older IBM 31-bit mainframe operating system, while refusing to license them the 64-bit z/OS.

It started civil enough: In 1994, T3 says it was authorized by IBM to sell low-end IBM mainframes (running below 60 MIPS) while Big Blue focused on larger prey. But things turned sour five years later, when IBM decided to stop selling systems below 60 MIPS, and IBM's main rivals Amdahl and Hitachi dropped out of the mainframe game the year after.

As a result, T3 jumped ship and formed an alliance with California-based FSI, which made software for Intel-based servers to emulate mainframe computers. T3 says it owned patent licenses that let it sell Intel-based servers running on IBM's 31-bit mainframe OS. It built and sold a sub-80 MIPS system under its own brand name, the tServer, using IBM components and other third party hardware and software.

But in 2001, the US Department of Justice dissolved a 49-year-old consent decree IBM had signed which kept tabs on its business practices — saying IBM had proved itself by supporting open systems.

Less than a year later, T3 claims, IBM met with its company's president and demanded it kill its relationship with FSI, and stop selling IBM-compatible mainframes using the software.

T3 refused and IBM responded by terminating its mainframe licensing agreement with the company at the end of 2002.

According to T3, IBM then began a campaign of forcing customers to switch from a 31-bit mainframe to a 64-bit mainframe, while refusing to sell T3 a license to make its software compatible with IBM's new 64-bit z/OS. In 2004, IBM announced it would stop service and support for its 31-bit system.

This leaves T3 high and dry. Their customers can't get technical support for the 31-bit version, and can't use the new 64-bit OS, which IBM does support. PSI is accusing IBM of the similar shenanigans on the Itanium-side of mainframe copying hardware, prompting T3 to follow suit.

As of this publication, IBM has not returned requests for comment on the legal action.

Meanwhile, PSI's case appears to have gotten the nod from Microsoft in the form of $37m worth of Series C funding. PSI has also partnered with HP and NEC to craft its Itanium-based servers that run IBM's mainframe OS.

Earlier this month, leading mainframe reseller QSGI announced it is leaving the mainframe business because "a leading OEM" had blocked its ability to refurbish boxes. It is mulling an antitrust lawsuit against its unnamed OEM. ®

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