HP, Pals Gang Up on Mainframes

UPDATED: Warning: This is not your traditional mainframe migration program.

HP , Intel Corp.  and Oracle  announced today that they plan to lure customers off of mainframes, a new assault on what has typically been a strong-selling system for IBM .

HP CEO Mark Hurd revealed the Application Modernization Initiative (AMI), a variation from the typical one-vendor migration offer, during his keynote speech at Oracle OpenWorld in San Francisco today.

“Personally, I’m not a big fan of mainframes,” Hurd said to a trickle of laughter from the audience here. “Mainframes are very costly to maintain. More than 65 percent of [IT] budgets are spent keeping them running.”

Before the event, Paul Evans, worldwide director of application modernization services for HP, told internetnews.com the goal of the movement is to help customers move applications from mainframe systems to Intel-based HP UNIX servers running Oracle software.

This trinity combo, he said, will better enable customers to run service-oriented architecture (SOA) environments.

SOA, or distributed computing, is what most of the world is moving to today to leverage Web services  and other more dynamic applications that litter the Web 2.0 landscape.

“[Customers] are wondering what they are going to do with their legacy systems, which are not flexible or agile,” Evans said, noting that they often go to conferences and leave wondering how they can do SOA on their Big Iron boxes.

“They’ve got a decreasing skill set in the area in terms of people who know about legacy systems. Baby boomers are beginning to retire.”

Evans said HP believes 10 percent of the large corporate market our on the move to modernizing their current computing systems around SOA.

The AMI portfolio, offered by HP’s services group, can help with this move to SOA, Evans said.

Key ingredients of AMI include Integrity systems working within the HP Virtual Server Environment (VSE) reference architecture and the Oracle Grid Computing Platform, which features Database 10g with Real Application Clusters, Oracle Fusion Middleware and Oracle Enterprise Manager/Grid Control.

The virtualization aspects of the Oracle clusters used in concert with HP’s VSE will prevent downtime in data centers to allow the customer’s transactions to run as normal, said John Pickett, worldwide manager of HP’s mainframe alternative program.

Meanwhile, IBM mainframes could take 30 minutes to get back online, causing some missed transactions and therefore missed revenue.

Still, Hurd said he’s aware that many companies are running very important applications on their legacy mainframes, albeit with the programming equivalent of band-aids to keep the older systems humming.

“It’s a big deal for them,” he said. “We’re going to make it easier for customers to move from mainframes to open standards. We will re-engineer the software, re-host it and help you choose the best architecture, like an SOA.”

HP, Intel and Oracle are all offering architectural design and consulting support for the AMI, whose product and services are available now.

Ovum research analyst Tom Kucharvy said that while mainframes are not going away, the AMI program is “well worth doing.”

“Wherever it makes sense to migrate from the mainframe, it’s helpful because there is a long-term operational cost and it is difficult to find COBOL programmers to really keep the machine operating at peak,” Kucharvy said. “You can operate the mainframe using Linux, but it’s not quite as efficient to run those workloads.”

“Overall, Unix systems will make continual inroads into mainframes, although the mainframe will continue to play an important role in many large organizations.”

IBM would agree with that sentiment.

Despite HP’s insistence about the rigidity of mainframes, IBM is taking steps to infuse its System z mainframes with SOA-flavored software from its WebSphere line.

The systems vendor unveiled a number of software components to make distributed computing a reality on Big Iron.

internetnews.com’s Erin Joyce contributed to this report from the OpenWorld show.

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