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Gorging Dell crams Canadian legacy-app rebore outfit into cakehole

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Michael Dell is on a binge. Not drinking, but buying software companies. Dell has made its second acquisition of the week aimed at legacy applications running on proprietary mainframe and minicomputers from IBM by snapping up Make Technologies. This is Dell's third acquisition this week, and the fifth in the past month.

With the acquisition of Clerity Solutions earlier this week, Dell has gotten its hands on the UniKix mainframe application rehosting environment, which mimics IBM mainframe's COBOL application environment, CICS transaction monitor, and Job Control Language for managing batch jobs on mainframes, and 3270 Pathways, which emulates the green-screen protocol that mainframes use to communicate with the outside world.

With the Make Technologies acquisition, Dell now owns a tool that can reach into mainframe and midrange applications, generally written in COBOL or RPG but also including PL1, Natural, PowerBuilder, VisualBasic, and other languages, and see how they are interconnected, how they are actually used in production, and generate new application code in modern programming languages that can run on the same platforms (where appropriate) or other ones (more likely). Generally, the conversion is from COBOL to Java and from CICS to a services-oriented architecture n-tier app.

Make Technologies was founded in 1999 in Vancouver, British Columbia, and like Clerity, will be rolled into Dell Services under Steve Shuckenbrock instead of into Dell Software under John Swainson. Dell did not disclose the financial details of the acquisition, but said the 100 employees currently working at Make Technologies will be joining Dell and that it would close the deal by the end of the second quarter of its fiscal 2013, which ends in July of this year.

The Canadian app modernization company already counted Oracle and IBM as its partners, with both companies using the tool to take legacy apps and gussy them up. (It is better to modernize an app and keep a customer than to let someone else do it and lose the customer.) Bill Bergen, who is president and CEO at Make Technologies, was president of Oracle Canada before joining his current firm in 2006 and before that he worked at IBM Canada as the British Columbia branch manager. Make Technologies has not said how many customers it has, but lists 33 flagship customers on its web site, including Canadian government agencies as well as ExxonMobil, TD Bank, CIBC, Fidelity, and Pacific Blue Cross. The privately held company does not release its financials, but did brag last October that it had made the Deloitte Technology Fast 500 list and its revenues had grown by 230 per cent between 2006 and 2010. Revenues grew by nearly 700 per cent from 2004 through 2009. The company was gabbing in July 2010 that its revenues grew by 177 per cent in its fiscal year ending in May of that year.

Dell is eager to have its own intellectual property these days in the software racket (and in storage, networking, and systems as well) and with Make Technologies, Dell now has its hands on the TLM Enterprise Suite 6, a set of app modernization tools that was launched in March 2011.

This suite includes a repository, which crawls the legacy systems and catalogs all of the applications running on the machines as well as figuring out how they are interdependent, what data they rely upon, and how frequently (or infrequently) they are used. The analyzer module watches how users employ applications in their daily work and based on that usage reverse engineers applications requirements that would be necessary if a company would have to do a legacy application modernization project by hand. The designer module is used to model applications based on these requirements, and the code generator spits out code based on the models and the data workbench integrates live data with the remodeled and recoded app as it is still being generated by the legacy application to keep the two systems in synch as far as data is concerned.

Last June, Make Technologies wrapped up a special edition of TLM Enterprise Suite aimed at independent software developers, called ISV Suite, that is geared to helping third party application providers who sell and support code on legacy environments to get modernized. This includes modules that help ISVs get their codes running on cloudy infrastructure and supported on smartphones and tablets.

The Make Technologies tools are not just used for application modernization, of course. They can also be used to develop new code based on the modeler - and hence, Dell has just backed its way into the application development tool market. ®

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