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Mainframers drop EU antitrust complaints against IBM

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IBM's iron grip on its big iron business just got a little tighter. Three small companies that have been trying for years to carve out little niches in the System z mainframe market have all withdrawn their complaints with the European Union's antitrust authorities.

The most interesting of the dropped complaints against Big Blue with the EU came from TurboHercules, the French company established in September 2009 by Roger Bowler, the creator of the open source Hercules mainframe hardware emulator. TurboHercules was founded by Bowler to commercialize the Hercules emulator, which allows mainframe operating systems and applications to run on x64 and Itanium processors running Windows, Linux, Mac OS, or Solaris as the host environment for Hercules. The Hercules software can emulate the System/360, the System/370, the ESA/390, and the z mainframe hardware architectures.

Bowler did a number of clever things in establishing TurboHercules, the first of which was to position the emulator as a disaster recovery option for real mainframes – with the supposition that clauses in IBM's mainframe software licenses would allow these licenses to fail over in the event of a system crash.

He then approached IBM France to try to get approval for real licenses of IBM z/OS, z/VM, and z/VSE operating systems to run on Hercules. As you might imagine, IBM had no interest in this. The other clever thing that Bowler did was co-headquarter his company in Paris – under EU political cover – and Seattle, Washington, right down the road from Microsoft. The Windows software giant pumped $37m into Platform Solutions, a maker of clone mainframes that IBM eventually ate to settle antitrust lawsuits, and kicked an undisclosed amount of money into TurboHercules back in December 2010. Microsoft likes any technology that helps Windows hurt the mainframe.

In October 2009, the US Department of Justice opened up a probe into IBM's mainframe monopoly in the wake of several complaints file by clone mainframe seller (and former PSI partner) T3 Technologies, Neon Software Enterprises (which made software called zPrime to accelerate mainframe workloads), and TurboHercules filed with the European Union. The EU opened up its own investigation into IBM's mainframe business in March 2010.

In its 10-Q filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission last week, IBM said that in May of this year T3 had withdrawn its appeal of a ruling in the US courts that had dismissed its claims against Big Blue as a reseller of Platform Solutions clone mainframes. IBM also said that T3 has withdrawn its EU complaint, which alleged antitrust behavior on the part of Big Blue. Stephen Friedman, president at T3, was unavailable for comment at press time.

IBM's filing also said that Neon Software had dropped its EU complaint, which stands to reason since Neon agreed to stop reselling and distributing the zPrime tool back in early June after the lawsuits were a-flying between the two companies in East Texas. The zPrime tool was launched in July 2009 and 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. These engines are approximately one-quarter to one-fifth of the price of a standard engine. The zPrime tool got around governors that IBM had 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 – and helped customers to radically cut their mainframe hardware and software costs.

That leaves TurboHercules. As of this morning, the company's website is offline, and it is looking at its options.

"We can confirm that, for business reasons, TurboHercules is no longer pursuing its EC complaint," a spokesperson for TurboHercules tells El Reg. "We are using the summer period to explore new business opportunities."

Bowler is still at the company and apparently has his thinking cap on.

IBM refused to comment on the dropping of the three EU complaints. But sitting in Upstate Manhattan as I do, not far from the Poughkeepsie, New York mainframe factories, I could swear I could hear an echoing bwah-haa-haa-haa off in the distance. . . ®

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