IBM guns down Neon's mainframe accelerator in Texas
SET zPrime SHUTDOWN
The hired legal guns were blazing, and when the smoke cleared, the US District Court for the Western District of Texas, located in Austin, granted a permanent injunction in favor of IBM in a long-running lawsuit Neon Enterprise Software, killing the controversial zPrime mainframe acceleration program.
The zPrime tool was launched in July 2009 in the middle of the Great Recession and a lull in System z mainframe sales as customers awaited the System zEnterprise 196 mainframes that came out a year later, when the economy recovered somewhat. IBM was in no mood for such shenanigans: it never is when it comes to its mainframe business.
The zPrime tool allowed portions of workloads that run on standard System z mainframe engines using the z/OS operating system to be run on so-called specialty engines that are approximately one-quarter to one-fifth of the price of a standard engine.
Specifically, the zPrime tool got around governors IBM put into its mainframes restricting such offloading – to System z Application Assist Processor (zAAP) for offloading Java and XML workloads, or to the System z Integrated Information Processor (zIIP) to accelerate DB2 databases.
Because mainframe shops generally pay metered usage fees for mainframe systems software, such zPrime offloading cuts into IBM's hardware spending and, more importantly, puts a big bite in the monthly software bill that Big Blue can send out to mainframe shops using zPrime.
Soon after zPrime's launch, IBM started telling customers that their license agreements for mainframe software prevented them from using zIIP and zAAP engines using the zPrime tool, which Neon countered was not the case at all.
By December 2009, quite predictably, the lawyers were called in, with Neon suing IBM in the Texas court basically arguing that there were no provisions restricting the use of zPrime in IBM's mainframe software contracts and that in essence IBM's mainframe barn door was open, the horse was out, and IBM was trying to seal off the exit after the fact.
Neon alleged that IBM's unfair business practices (trying to scare off zPrime buyers) was in violation of the Lanham Act and of the unfair competition laws in California, and that threats of litigation against mainframe shops who used the zPrime tool violated the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act and provisions of the act that created the Federal Trade Commission.
In January 2010, IBM countersued, alleging that "Neon's business model expressly depends upon Neon inducing IBM's customers to violate their agreements with IBM" and somewhat comically said that Neon was "no different than that of a crafty technician who promises, for a fee, to rig your cable box so you can watch premium TV channels without paying the cable company."
Obviously, the US District court in Texas agreed. Neon issued a statement late yesterday saying that the court had issued a permanent injunction against Neon and its distribution partners and affiliates that precludes them from marketing, selling, licensing, renewing, installing, distributing, importing, or exporting the zPrime tool.
A salient chunk of the injunction was reprinted in the statement:
"The US District Court has ruled that (1) only workloads expressly authorized by IBM may be processed on Specialty Engines (including zIIPs and zAAPs) and (2) IBM's contracts, including the IBM Customer Agreement and the License Agreement for Machine Code, prohibit software (a) that enables workloads not expressly authorized by IBM to be processed on Specialty Engines or (b) that circumvents IBM's technological measures in Machine Code that protect the Built-in Capacity of Specialty Engines and enables workloads not expressly authorized by IBM to be processed on Specialty Engines."
That settles that.
Neon has agreed to ask licensees and customers to remove and destroy their copies of the zPrime tool, and Neon will not renew, extend, or transfer any existing zPrime licenses or warranties.
Although the settlement did not say this, it is likely that IBM itself has control of the zPrime code. Neither IBM nor Neon were available at press time for comment. ®
I remember when
the tech showed us which relay to pull out on the 402 accounting machine to make it run twice as fast. We were cautioned to replace it after finishing whatever rush job, because the motor in that unit wasn't as hefty as the one used in the 403 (which was the same machine, minus a relay and plus a heftier motor)
So many comments, so little knowledge.
The zIIP and zAAP are sold cheaply *specifically* with conditions controlling their use. The alternative is that you get to pay full freight for those engines. IBM is doing nothing anti-monopolistic, nothing that isn't clear and above-board. zPrime customers were no different from someone buying farm gas and using it in their daily commute -- knowingly cheating by going around the rules. I suppose the folks saying "You bought it, you can do what you want with it" think this is OK, too?
#Dave 13: Your ignorance of the industry is showing. If you bank, fly, have insurance, or a lot of other daily activities, you use mainframes. Companies aren't "locked in", stupid, or insane: they spend a lot of time analyzing costs. Squatty boxes are frequently *not* cheaper, especially when you consider the cost of managing 3-9x the number of machines you think you need (production x3, QA x3, dev x3...).
#Kebabbert: Your post is particularly irrelevant. Nobody is talking about plugging things in, nor leasing machines. For that matter, mainframes have spares built in, and can be upgraded on-the-fly -- I suppose you think that because you bought one CPU, you should be able to use all the CPUs that are in the box? That's self-defeating: the alternative is that you always have to pay for them all, at full-speed. That would be stupid. And "There are no new companies basing their business on Mainframes. Only old companies upgrading"? Really? You know this how? You're flat-out wrong, by the way -- there aren't a lot of 'em, but they exist. And certainly existing companies are adding applications, not just upgrading.
Guess what, your experience in your little corner of the industry isn't necessarily representative. Good lesson to learn; might avoid you looking foolish in the future.
Balls in the vice
Must be nice for all those IBM customers to know they can't fart without paying IBM rates.
Is there really such a cost/performance advantage to mainframes to make such lock-in worth it? Or are these customers all dependent on legacy stuff that they just have to grin and accept each turn of the vice handle?