There's something a little strange about seeing Computer Associates CEO Charles Wang and IBM S/390 chief David Carlucci sitting cosily side by side on a platform, announcing a package of cooperative licensing and distribution measures for the mainframe. As Samuel Johnson said of women preaching and dogs walking on their hind legs: "It is not done well; but you are surprised to see it done at all." (I'm sure that Tivoli, IBM's own system management arm and a CA arch-rival, would agree with this sentiment.)Neither IBM nor CA is a stranger to "coopertition", but it has taken the two mainframe heavyweights a very long time to see eye-to-eye on numerous software pricing and product support issues. But these are indeed unusual times for the IT industry, and old adversaries (even those as old as IBM and CA) are now far more willing to bury the hatchet in an attempt to develop new business through cooperative ventures.
And so it was that, as part of its wide-ranging set of announcements for the OS/390 platform, CA revealed that it has been working closely with IBM on tightly unified pricing structures and new packaged solutions, particularly in the e-business space. Further, the two companies had developed new distribution channels for the packages. At the same time, CA announced Unicenter TNG for OS/390, which establishes the mainframe as an equal player alongside Unix and NT within CA's distributed management environment (slightly ironic, in view of the product's centralised history; but then, Tivoli has had to reinvent the S/390 in much the same way). OS/390 systems will now be able to take advantage of TNG's Web-based management tools, share standard reporting functions with other platforms, and employ the product's predictive capabilities.
Now if you think that all this indicates an unprecedented period of peace and light for the S/390 business, bear in mind that the focus of these announcements is not the S/390 mainstream; don't expect any fundamental simplification of pricing or product complexity at the top end. No, the shared channels and packaged products are aimed at the Multiprise 3000, IBM's new system for the mid-range market.
The Multiprise 3000 (and the 2000 before it) lives in "Plug and Play" territory. It brings with it a new pricing scheme -- the Growth Opportunity Licence Charge -- numerous financial sweeteners, and a vast range of packaged offerings built around e-commerce, data warehousing, Web hosting, groupware and ERP. This is the system for, among others, SME businesses with modest resources but major ambitions in terms of e-business growth. This is the machine that makes the S/390 an attractive alternative to any Unix or supercharged NT server on the market, with the added benefit of virtually unlimited scalability (although it won't scale up to the full Sysplex level). This is also the machine -- in case you missed the offer -- that brings with it a free upgrade from VM/VSE to OS/390 for three years; the latest desperate attempt by IBM to move its 10,000-plus relatively contented VM/VSE users onto a more revenue-rich platform.
Above all the Multiprise 3000 is the machine (so the marketers would have us believe) that takes us beyond the era of irrational group-based pricing models and ISVs that won't toe the line. And if the machine has any hope of penetrating the SME market, as it should, it really must shed this image.
So CA and IBM walk hand-in-hand into Multipriseland -- even if CA is making rather more noise about the agreement than IBM (compare the relative Web site coverage, for instance). With luck, there will be many future examples of closer cooperation between IBM and CA, particularly over pricing: the past animosity has never benefited customers. Anyway, what's wrong with dogs walking on their hind legs?
Mark Lillicrop is Director of Research at IT market analyst Xephon (www.xephon.com)
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