Microsoft Pushes Mainframe-To-Windows Migrations

On Tuesday, Microsoft and ISV partner MicroFocus announced new members of the Mainframe Migration Alliance (MMA). These include Covansys, Fujitsu Software, Getronics, Information Analysis, Modis, MSS International, NetManage, ObjectStar International, Transoft, Tata Consulting Services and Tata Infotech.

Microsoft and MicroFocus announced the alliance last April. Since that time, Cognizant, EDS, Fujitsu Consulting, Satyam Computer Services, Sonata Software and Sophisticated Business Systems have joined the alliance.

This week, the MMA launched a community Web site containing case studies, best practices, a partner directory and tools for calculating the return on investment for mainframe migration projects.

Microsoft, Redmond, Wash., claims it has snagged "dozens and dozens" of customers--including Bertelsmann and Tulane University--that have migrated mainframe applications to Windows-based servers.

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One Microsoft executive said customers are moving their applications to Windows-on-Intel to cut costs as well as cope with a dwindling supply of mainframe expertise in the workforce. "The pressure to reduce costs is pushing customer harder than ever before," said Tim O'Brien, senior product manger for Microsoft's platform strategy group. "I'm not seeing the numbers from IBM to support that [growth]."

Still, it does not appear that sporadic migrations off the mainframe have hurt IBM and Unisys, two of the remaining mainframe vendors that are battling back.

Research firm Gartner Group, for example, notes that while Microsoft, as well as Unix vendors Hewlett-Packard and Sun Microsystems, have created mainframe migration programs, the mainframe still enjoys 15 percent to 20 percent annual growth in net new MIPS.

Despite continued mainframe sales, MicroFocus CEO Tony Hill predicts increasing migrations to Windows and other platforms, including Unix and Linux, as customers see price/performance gains.

"We're at the beginning of this," Hill said, adding that a four-way Intel server can go head to head against 70 percent of the installed base of mainframe servers running under 500 MIPS. "Mainframe migration only make sense when you can bring together all the ingredients."

For its part, IBM has reported continued revenue growth in its mainframe business since the re-engineered 64-bit x900 mainframe debuted in 2001. And in an interesting twist, IBM last year launched its own program to push NT-to-mainframe migrations. IBM declined to comment for this story.

Meanwhile, Unisys continues to develop its ClearPath mainframe. This week, the Blue Bell, Pa.-based vendor is expected to announce new Application Modernization Services for its ClearPath customers and its latest ClearPath mainframe upgrade code-named Dorado.

Unisys executives said Dorado reduces the threat of migration by increasing performance by more than 50 percent and offering support for Linux, .Net and JBoss application workloads.

Microsoft's partners say they have not witnessed a flood of migrations from the mainframe to Windows. They are seeing more business application workloads developed on Windows platforms.

"I can't say that I'm seeing organizations specifically migrating applications from Cobol to VB, [but] we have a lot of clients moving applications off the mainframe to non-mainframe systems--such as databases off DB2 and to SQL or Oracle, or moving financial apps off AS/400s to financial systems running on Windows," said Rand Morimoto, president of Convergent Computing, Oakland, Calif.

"People are not specifically contracting [us to do] mainframe to Windows migrations, but applications by applications are being peeled off," he said.

According to Gartner analyst John Phelps, IBM gains about 100 new mainframe customers each year and loses between 150 to 200 customers to Windows, Unix and AS/400. To Phelps, the mainframe will not go the way of the dinosaur, in large part because IBM and others revamped their platforms for modern application workloads.

"Definitely, there will be some migrations, but is it a mass exodus? No way," Phelps said.

One Unisys executive insisted that the mainframe is alive and kicking.

"We haven't seen our customer base migrate to Windows, period," said Chander Khanna, vice president of Systems and Technology at Unisys. Khanna said Unisys has a close partnership with Microsoft for migrating Unix/RISC applications to Windows, and that the mainframe is a separate and healthy endeavor. "We don't expect people will migrate to Windows because we combine mainframe attributes and openness."