The mainframe will become cheaper to use and stay viable in the face of challenges from distributed-server platform vendors such as HP Inc., according to Neon Enterprise Software Inc. CEO Lacy Edwards.

But in order to reach this goal, the young Sugar Land, Tex.-based company is facing a huge challenge from the industry’s biggest mainframe player, IBM Corp.

In June, Neon launched zPrime, software which will let users move tasks from the main processor on IBM zSeries mainframes and onto zIIP (System z Integrated Information Processor) or zAAP (System z Application Assist Processor), which are lower-cost specialty processors within the mainframe.

While zIIPs are intended for DB2 processing and zAAPs are intended for Java and XML workloads, the processors are capable of running other workloads.

“Customers have been moving away from mainframes because they’re too costly,” said Edwards, adding that when it comes to reliability and security nothing comes close to matching mainframe computing. “We think that if the cost comes in line, more customers will choose the mainframe.”

Because IBM’s licence fees are determined by how much work is being done in the mainframe’s core processor, NEON said its software stands to cut into IBM’s licencing revenues and save customers huge dollars in the process.

IBM has taken issue with this. The company argues if mainframe user needs more processing capacity, they are supposed to buy additional general processing power from Big Blue themselves. The company sent a letter to its customers this summer advising them to avoid zPrime, which it said breaks the terms of agreement for its mainframe systems.

IBM spokespeople did not respond to a request for comment.

Dale Vecchio, a research analyst specializing in IT modernization for Gartner Inc., said that while zPrime can bring value to IBM mainframe customers looking to reduce MIPS costs, the proposition isn’t without its risks because of IBM’s opposition to the software.

“The product is not being accepted by IBM with open arms,” he said, adding that any vendor that slows or eliminates the normal growth trends of IBM’s platforms and MIPS should expect to face its full sales and marketing arsenal.

Vecchio said that even though Neon does not appear to be violating any copyright, patents or other proprietary information with zPrime, he expects IBM to continue its PR attacks in the short term.

Edwards said that instead of sending thousands of letters to its customers, IBM should have just sent him one letter, outlining its arguments for why zPrime breaks the zSeries mainframe’s licence agreements.

“The customers we’ve talked to are absolutely livid by the way they’re being treated by IBM on this issue,” he added.

In the long haul, according to Vecchio, Big Blue will most likely shift its focus from this PR battle and turn its attention to closing the technical loophole in their implementation of specialty engines and try to render zPrime’s product obsolete.

“Since they control the platform, both hardware and operating system, they can certainly do that with little challenge,” said Vecchio.

“IBM has been moving to total control and dominance of the platform and has been actively attempting to eliminate many of the traditional mainframe ISVs from their install base. They now develop and offer for sale many products that compete with those from traditional ISVs such as CA, Compuware, Software AG and BMC.”

Other than going down that potentially dangerous road, Edwards said, IBM’s only other option would be to add a section to its licensing agreement that prohibits customers to specifically use zPrime — a move that he said, would infuriate most of IBM’s customer base.

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