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Dell guns for IBM mainframes with Clerity gobble

Have UniKix, will travel

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Dell is hungry for more server revenues while building out a portfolio of software at the same time - and the acquisition of mainframe application rehosting company Clerity Solutions hits both targets with the same bullet.

The PC and server maker has been in an acquisitive mood lately, snapping up security software and appliance maker SonicWall for an estimated $1.2bn three weeks ago and buying thin client maker Wyse Technology this week for an estimated $350m to $400m. Dell also bought data backup software maker AppAssure at the end of February for an undisclosed sum, estimated by El Reg to be in the range of $50m to $100m.

Those amounts are being thrown around because Dell doesn't count that cash as relevant enough to meet the reporting requirements of the Securities and Exchange Commission and both companies, like Clerity too, are privately held. Dell surely paid a whole lot less for Clerity, which is a much smaller company than Wyse, much less SonicWall.

Clerity is located in Chicago, and has 70 employees who are all now joining Dell. Rather than putting the Clerity application rehosting tools into its new software group under president John Swainson, formerly of CA Technology and IBM, the company plans to tuck under the wing of Dell Services group.

Clerity was founded in 1994 by Brandon Edenfield, who is still the company's president. Back in June 2006, Clerity had 25 employees porting, among other things, old dedicated word processing systems from Wang and HP3000 MPE-based minicomputers from Hewlett-Packard to more modern platforms. Then it bought the mainframe application rehosting business from Sun Microsystems and got its hands on the UniKix rehosting tools.

Equally importantly, it started giving a pay check to Shwetank Srivastava, the lead developer for the UniKix tools nearly two decades ago - a pay check.

The burning question everyone is asking: What is UniKix?

UniKix has a long history, so breathe in now: the rehosting environment - which mimics IBM's COBOL application environment, CICS transaction monitor, and Job Control Language for managing batch jobs on mainframes - was originally spun out of Bull, the French mainframe and Unix server maker, in the early 1990s as a vendor called UniKix.

At that time, Unix servers were getting powerful enough to take on more than departmental tasks, and having a CICS environment and a relational database allowed mainframe shops to move their COBOL applications to a Unix environment without giving up the way they coded those applications.

In 1997, Fisher Technology Group bought UniKix and ported the code to Windows, and in 1999, PeerLogic, a middleware company, acquired the UniKix tools to take its run at the mainframe. In August 2000, as the internet bubble was bursting, Critical Path, a maker of email and messaging software, acquired PeerLogic for $416m in stock.

By September 2001, Sun was getting ready to launch its high-end "StarCat" Enterprise 15000 UltraSparc-III servers, rather than just talk about how these machines were big iron. Sun wanted a mainframe rehosting environment that turned them into virtual IBM mainframes and so it bought the UniKix tools. By 2006, the bloom was off the mainframe rehosting rose and Sun had much bigger problems - so it sold off UniKix to Clerity.

Clerity says it has over 1,300 sites worldwide using its migration and rehosting tools today. At the time Sun bought the UniKix business from Critical Path more than a decade ago, that business had 300 customers with 900 installations and Sun was expecting to do around 50 mainframe replacements a year and generate maybe $100m in hardware, software, and services revenues a year. Sun boosted the UniKix installed base to 1,400 sites by the time it sold it to Clerity in 2006.

As a peddler of x86 server iron, Dell might have an easier time chasing mainframe customers than Sun had with its Sparc-based systems in the wake of the recession after the dot-com bubble burst. Servers using x86 processors have only gotten that much more power, and Linux and Windows have both matured as operating systems, too. ®

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