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back to article Much ado about IBM's mainframe monopoly

The business and trade press has been abuzz with the news that the US Department of Justice had opened up an investigation of IBM's monopolistic practices with regard to the mainframe market. While it is always a welcome sight to see the DoJ at least interested in making sure monopoly power is not abused, it is a little late for …

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Make their own hardware

I see no difference in this stance from IBM than the stance from other companies including Microsft, Sun, HP or Apple. No one supports operating systems on non approved hardware. If these companies want a mainframe, then make the hardware. While it would be nice to emulate the OS on other platforms, there is no rule saying that IBM has to support it.

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FAIL

No different to Apple

The approach IBM takes is no different to Apples stance, if the justice department go after IBM then the should go after apple.

However, if a company is making a hardware platform and supplying the OS for it then they have the right to control what hardware an OS runs on and vice versa. As far as i'm concerned companies that want to break into the mainframe marke by supplying either an alternative processor or OS are capitalizing on the R&D investment that companies like IBM have made in both the hardware and software for their systems.

Instead of using IBM's name as a selling tool perhaps they should launch their own range of systems and OS's instead of essentially stealing other companies IP's.

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speaking of Apple and IBM

It is true that IBM nor Apple (or anyone else) is interested in supporting their software on non-approved hardware. And the Apple (v Psystar) and IBM cases are very similar. Both IBM and Apple just want a monopoly market for their own.

But there is a difference between being required to support your software on non-approved hardware and refusing to licence the OS. Or, in the case of Apple, trying to use a EULA or copyright law to prevent consumers from running some software on hardware not made by Apple.

And it is fair to point out that many companies such as Data General, HP and others have been required to adjust their marketing strategies due to violations of the antitrust laws. You can include Microsoft if you want but both the US DOJ and now the EU Commission seem to want to solidify monopoly power in Microsoft rather than affort the consumer a choice of software.

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It;s more complicated...

@Brian.

Mainfram OS is not "sold" that's the problem. It;s licenced by MIPS per CPU minute. It;s a continual fee, not a fixed price, and is as much a piece of the hardware as RAM or disk. The faster you want the iron to go, the more the OS costs. Splitting the OS price from the hardware is not done, there's simply no valid cost adjustment possible for it. So much of the hardware was designed exclusively for that software, how do you quantify it? I'll tell you; the price would be so high, 30 or 40% of the box if not more, that noone would ever choose to actually pay for it without also getting the hardware. IBM does not have to support the software, but the would have to charge for it. They'd also have to support their OTHER software that IS seperately licensed on it, and that's a whol nother bugger.

Apple chooses not to sell it;s software as well. Nothing illegal about that. They provide an OEM version with each unit and sell upgrades, but they do not sell retail boxed full versions. They've discussed it in the past. Excluding iLife, $400 is the epected retail price. Go on, but comodity hardware, install the OS, and see if you can get the same price/performance ratio: you can't. Now, where apple a merket unto themselves (a place where Dell, HP and others have all fallen to Apple's might) and they continued to do the same, once Microsoft is no more, then their continued action could be seen as an anticompetitive action to the hardware marketplace, and the bundling of the OS with hardware could be seen as anticompetitive to the software market. Fortunately, Apple has less than 10% of the market, and clearly can;t be considdered anticompetitive if there's a thriving market. Such is NOT the case for mainframes, so there very well may be a case forcing IBM to license the hardware or the software for others to resell (but likely not both).

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Grenade

Wrong level of abstraction

People don't want to run the IBM OS, they want to run apps. So, this being a free market, you're free to write a reimplementation of IBM's OS APIs. It is possible - e.g. Wine is a reimplementation of the Windows APIs. Sure, Wine is always lags behind Windows, but for legacy apps that's probably not a problem.

The problem is, these companies don't want to invest the huge amounts of time and money to reimplement the OS - they just want to do the low level hardware emulation and force IBM to give them the OS cheaply. That's not a free market, that's forcing IBM to give away bargains.

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Pirate

I see a difference...

Sorry, but there's a big difference between saying "we won't support it" and "we won't even sell you the license"... Oracle for example don't "support" RAC in any virtualized environment except for their own VM, but hell if you want to buy licenses for it to run on another virtualisation platform, they'll take your money no problem. IBM will likely try and take you to court if you try to do meaningul business on an emulated MF platform.

Lets be clear - this isn't about IBM worrying over support issues - this is about IBM maintaining 100% financial control of the mainframe space and its "over a barrel" customers (many of whom now seem to be suffering from Stockholm syndrome with these weird zLinux IFL plays)

Cue the MF oldtimers telling me how I know nothing etc etc...

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Where is my

x86 based OpenVMS to run on any hardware I have? Or OSX? And when there is a bug in Herdules is IBM liable for it? The Linux folks can't even get simple API iformation from MS without how many court cases - should MS be forced to create a validation suite to show that a Windows clone is as bad as Windows?

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Anonymous Coward

Sounds familiar

I think there's another company that makes iShit and says you can't run our OS on non-approved hardware. Apple deserves a smackin' for it, and so does IBM.

If I've got ancient crap that I've got to run, and I can do it on Hercules, I should be able to.

Here's one place where I hope MSFT whips out the can 'o lawyerly whoopass.

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Bronze badge

@Brian S Paskin

It's not a matter of supporting the operating system - IBM simply won't license the software on such emulated platforms. The lack of support is a pretext - IBM were compelled to license mainframe operating systems on "plug-compatibles" back in the late 1970s/early 1980s on competition grounds. Competitors, like Amdahl produce compatible mainframes and they were chock-full of microcode. The only requirement was the hardware had to comply with the PoP (principle of operations, or specification of the hardware environment). It's fundamentally completely irrelevant how that hardware specification is implemented.

However, there are two problems. Firstly, the cost of the software to run on the hardware is so out of proportion then the savings on using an emulator (or equivalent IBM MIP rating) will be relatively modest. IBM long ago ceased to make most of their money in this area from the hardware - (which is the primary reason for competitors withdrawing from the market). It's the software lock in that rules, and products like DB2 and CICS costs obscene amounts of money.

The second problem is that it is debatable if the competition authorities will now view IBM as having what is called in the EU "market power". Back in the late 1970s, IBM had the corporate market for enterprise computing in something close to an arm lock. That is no longer the case - the IBM mainframe is now a niche product and a relatively small part of the whole. If IBM mainframes are deemed to compete with farms of x64 servers, then the case for opening up competition in that area is diminished. The fact that a number of companies have locked themselves into the cosy embrace of IBM is not going to figure. You are equally stuck if you've sold your soul to Siebel or SAP.

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Going for Apple next?

IBM's OS/360 is the only IBM OS that can legally run on the Hercules emulator. After all, it wasn't copyrighted (oops!) so it happens to be fair game.

But IBM wised up to that, just like Apple. IBM operating systems belong on IBM hardware, Apple operating systems belong on Apple hardware. Microsoft's license says either keep it on the same hardware that came with it, or pay up for the general retail license.

Apple's license is just as restrictive about IBM's license. And Apple will go after any hackintosher who tries to sell clones. But does anybody sue Apple for its monopoly of Apple hardware? No. Apple is cool, despite being the very incarnation of Big Brother.

What's good for Apple is also good for IBM. Their software means their license means their terms.

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Grenade

"there is no simple way to legislate fairness in business"

De-legislation could work wonders.

Level the playing field. Begin by dumping a whole lot, if not all, of the "Intellectual Property" cancer. Trademarks could stay and so (obviously) could trade secrets, but anything related to patents, copyright on APIs and restrictions on reverse engineering should be thrown on the scrap heap of history. A lot of rent-generating cushy positions would suddenly be opened to the wonders of the oft-praised "ecosystem". Yeah, I know, it's an "ecosystem" if you get to determine where others may put their shrubberies, and it's "unfettered capitalism in need of regulation, destroying the hopes of the small innovators" if you feel the heat.

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Silver badge

As for enlisting MS help

"You could probably get Microsoft to fund a lawsuit to crack open IBM's z/OS and mainframe middleware license"

Doesn't Microsoft have a clause in their EULA that forbids you from running their (desktop) OS in an emulator?

I'm sure they do.

I'm not certain they would be overly interested in opening that particular can'o'worms

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Bronze badge
Linux

Whay are they bothering?

If IBM was a de facto monopolist, I'd see the point of investigating them (just like happened many years ago, when IBM *was* a de facto monopolist). But today, they are just keeping their market share at a reasonable level, by protecting their trade secrets and copyrights. Nothing unfair about that (and the same goes for Apple IMHO).

If you want a free O/S there is one handy. You do get what you pay for.

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FAIL

@Brian Miller

> But does anybody sue Apple for its monopoly of Apple hardware? No.

Well... yes actually. Psystar tried, and lost. Their claim was so ludicrous it was thrown out by the judge.

(They're trying again, with a different judge and a slightly reworded claim. That second claim is so new that nothing's happened with it yet, but I expect it'll eventually get thrown out).

Icon: Psystar

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MDR

A better use for Hercules

The discussion about what to run on Hercules (or any other z/Series emulator) has missed one particularly useful environment - application development. Until recently, IBM offered a Flex-ES based system with a specially licensed z/OS bundle known by the catchy abbreviation ADCD (Application Development CD, which was really a DVD). If I recall correctly, this package carried a price tag of about $20,000 - not cheap but not hugely expensive. This was not intended to replace a production mainframe, but to provide an environment for developing and testing application software.

IBM and Fundamental (the developer of Flex-ES) have apparently had a falling out of some sort. It seems to me, however, that Hercules would be an ideal platform for the ADCD.

PS: I believe you can legally run MVS 3.8j on Herc, but that is a very aged OS, too

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Happy

Just licencing?

If he's forced, perhaps Fat Sam should do what Dirty Larry has done over at SunOracle. Make the price differential for licencing software on "your" hardware and "their" hardware massive so that it becomes uncompetititve.

e.g. "Sure you can licence zOS for your crappy 2U commodity box. There's a per-core licence factor of x50 compared to POWER7..."

just like "oooh mummy look at my cost per transaction on this TPC test, so low compared to theirs..." from the Beardy Boatman.

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Happy

MIBM has a Mainframe Monopoly

Yes of course IBM has a monopoly. I do not believe it was by design, it got there as the other competitors (and there were several) could not offer what IBM did (does).

Yes it's everyone hate IBM time and admittedly they were at one time a bad monopoly. That pretty much changed with the consent decree. IBM essentially stumbled BIG time in the 1990's and frankly I am amazed they are still around as inept management coupled with shortsightedness should have brought them down. I can say both good and bad things about iBM (frankly I have bad mouthed them for a few years). One thing that everyone should realize that with GUIDE and SHARE, IBM would have probably gone the way of the dinosaurs. Those (currently only SHARE exists) 2 groups went a long long way to making IBM a reasonably great company.. I was a manager of a GUIDE project and saw quite a bit of pushing from GUIDE to IBM some basics that (until recently) IBM really accepted and took to heart and instilled in a lot of employees what good can come out of user groups.

Without such acceptance by the user community IBM would be a painful memory. The front line people fought and fought against the MS brainwashing and we did win (most of the time) but IBM's shortsightedness in cutting back on College level courses essentially let MS run rough shod over IBM in the very field IBM helped create.

Will it ever get back to where it was, probably not as there is a need for small servers around and people that have been brainwashed by the MS mentality will still be here in 20 years, although it would be great if MS lost out to LINUX. Its hard to say but IBM if it keeps its mind on tyhe straight and narrow should comeback to the 1980's position it did have.

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Happy

@Goat Jam

"Doesn't Microsoft have a clause in their EULA that forbids you from running their (desktop) OS in an emulator?

I'm sure they do."

No it was an early badly written EULA that could be interpreted that way. It was quickly rewritten when it was pointed out. They did it to prevent 50 copies of Windows being run on a single box and only buying a single license, claiming that you are running it on a single pc. You can now happliy do this, but it's one license per instance.

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You are wrong

on this. The IBM mainframe CPU probably has the worst performance/price ratio, ever. How can you not agree that 1 MIPS == 4 MHz x86 is not bad??? The latest IBM mainframe CPU for 50.000USD(?) performs roughly as one fast Nehalem. But the Nehalem cost 1000USD or so.

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WTF?

@Kebabbert

Yes and my security truck is rubbish cos it only goes 50mph and only does 10mpg.

Whereas your MX5 can do 90mph (downhill only, it struggles a bit going up again) and sips a mere 30mpg.

Oh, could you move these gold bars to my palace please?.

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MDR

1 MIPS == 4 MHz x86

You're confusing the MIPS cpu (originally an acronym for Microprocessor without Interlocked Pipeline Stages, which is a RISC architecture) with the abbreviation for Million Instructions Per Second. MIPS as used by IBM has nothing to do with any CPU architecture except and is only relevant when comparing on z/Series system to another.

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Pint

@Lost All Faith

OK, I wasn't aware of that.

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