HP, Oracle and Intel have launched a broadside against IBM's mainframe division, with the aim of stealing its customers. This follows HP's posting on its website in August of a call to IBM's mainframe customers to move onto HP's Itanium-based Integrity servers, bolstering its case with alleged problems relating to mainframes such as skills and software shortages, high costs and performance problems.

The joint initiative, the Application Modernisation Initiative, was launched last week at OracleWorld by HP CEO Mark Hurd.

As well as HP's servers, the programme features Oracle Fusion middleware, and HP's professional services. The plan also incorporates a number of SOA and grid concepts and is about migrating legacy applications from mainframe environments - often the core systems that still run the IT infrastructure in many global corporations and most financial institutions.

"There's a growing challenge which customers face, which is this whole issue around legacy," said Paul Evans, worldwide director of application modernization services at HP. Legacy software is still holding back users, he said.

"The problem is these legacy environments are 10, 20, 30 years old," but customers perceive a risk in moving to an environment based more on distributed services, Evans said. "What we've done is we've taken pieces from Intel, HP and Oracle and [composed] them into a reference architecture," he said.

Businesses face the risk of not being able to manage change, and many companies trace constraints on businesses to the limitations of older information systems architecture, HP said. A mainframe-based environment can make it difficult to attain the low-cost responsiveness that enterprises need from their applications, especially on older mainframes, the company said. But modernising also presents risks in the process and final result, HP said.

Although HP wants to encourage migration to the HP-Intel-Oracle combination, the companies only want users to do so if it makes business and technological sense, HP said.

The Oracle Grid Computing Platform will be featured as part of the programme as well as the Oracle Database 10g with Real Application Clusters. Also featured from Oracle are Oracle Fusion middleware, including the company's application server, and Oracle Enterprise Manager/Grid Control.

HP, meanwhile, will assess which mainframe applications are critical to a business and which ones can be improved. Decomposition tools will be used to analyse code in older applications. HP Integrity servers will be positioned for redeployments of mainframe applications; the HP Virtual Server Environment Reference Architecture also will be featured. Architectural design and consulting will be provided by HP, Intel and Oracle.

Analysis

While the aim is “to reduce costs and mitigate risks”, the new venture is expected to help the vendor trio “capture a greater share of the migration and modernisation of mainframe-based applications than they would on their own,” according to Dwight Davis, vice president, Ovum Summit.

HP estimates that the market for application modernisation systems is $25 billion and growing.

Davis says there is no doubt that many applications could benefit by being re-hosted on modern, standards-based systems, “but some customers will question whether it makes sense to have a specific target platform defined before analysing the nature of their legacy applications and the best options for migrating and modernising them."

He added: “The trio's promotion of a specific reference architecture platform on which to rehost legacy applications carries risks as well as benefits for customers, and not every assessment will lead to the reference architecture platform that HP, Oracle and Intel have defined with the initiative.”

"The HP/Intel/Oracle partnership presents a credible alternative to IBM. But where HP is behind some [of] its competitors is in offering a broader range of technology choices. EDS, for example, brings together Sun, EMC, Dell, SAP, Oracle, and Microsoft," said analyst Barry Rubenstein, programme manager for application outsourcing and offshore services at IDC. "To be sure, this alliance represents just one choice for HP customers, so it will be interesting to see if HP does the same with other software vendors, though on the hardware side I'm thinking that HP won't be working with Sun or Dell."

The alliance, though, is missing an industry-specific component, Rubenstein said.

"Having a reference architecture is a good first step, but to enable true transformation (and not just re-engineering) of the application portfolio, a vendor must have vertical solutions that address industry-specific problems. That will be the next step for HP," said Rubenstein.

An initial assessment as part of the programme costs US$50,000. But moving to the distributed environment can present significant savings, Evans said.

Original reporting by Infoworld