Startup Makes Mainframe Play

Californian startup PSI has got a mainframe up its (presumably massive) sleeve

July 29, 2005

3 Min Read
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Rumors of the mainframes demise may be premature. Just days after IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM) announced a major overhaul of its zSeries technology, stealth mode startup Platform Solutions Inc. (PSI) has revealed its plans for a new “open mainframe.”

For years, detractors have been attempting to bury the mainframe, which is regarded in some quarters as out-dated and decidedly uncool (even by data center standards). (See Mainframe Skills Shortage Looms and IBM Celebrates a Birthday.)

But this week, after three years in the development lab, and $1.2 billion worth of R&D, IBM announced its new high-end mainframe and virtualization technology, linking the device with other pieces of data center hardware (see IBM Unveils z9 Mainframe and IBM's Got Virtual Vision). And PSI attempted to go one better.

Whereas IBM’s z9 runs various flavors of the z/OS operating system and Linux, PSI CEO Michael Maulick says his system will offer Linux and z/OS, plus Windows and Unix. The startup has also developed specialized mainframe virtualization software, he adds.

The as-yet unnamed PSI device will be based on Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC) Itanium processors and will be the size of “a large refrigerator,” says Maulick. Yet the mainframe “uses no more power and cooling than an HP Superdome," he claims, referring to the high-end Unix server from Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ).The CEO says a key benefit of the PSI mainframe is that users will be able to use multiple operating systems in one box, rather than relying on separate pieces of hardware. That feature, combined with virtualization and the security for which mainframes are still valued, will provide incentive for large installations. “Customers are screaming for flexibility and choice."

In that vein, Maulick, no doubt wisely, claims he is not going head-to-head with IBM. Instead, he suggests the hardware giant partner with PSI as a way to extend its own mainframe capabilities. Still, the incentive for IBM to do this won't be clear until PSI's gear is in the field.

The first version of PSI's mainframe, which will be generally available in the first half of 2006, will be a 64-processor model, although Maulick says other devices are in the pipeline. A high-end, 128-processor box, will be launched in the second half of next year.

So far, PSI has racked up two beta customers, one of which is clothing firm L.L Bean.

Mike Kahn, managing director of analyst firm The Clipper Group Inc., warns that wooing customers will be crucial to PSI’s success. “Their first challenge, which I think they are meeting head-on, is credibility,” he says. “They are not rushing; they are trying to build up examples of trust.”PSI’s core technology was spun out of Amdahl in the late 90s, and the company was officially founded in 2003 by a team of former Amdahl engineers, which included Ron Hilton and Bill O’Connell. Hilton is now PSI’s CTO and O’Connell is Maulick’s advisor.

The company received its first round of funding, worth more than $10 million, in the fall of 2003, according to Maulick, and clinched “far more” in an undisclosed second round last year. PSI’s investors include Blueprint Ventures, Goldman Sachs & Co., Intel Capital, InterWest Partners, and Investcorp.

PSI currently has fewer than 100 employees, although Maulick expects to double the workforce over the next 12 months, mainly in sales and support.

IBM was unavailable for comment on this story.

— James Rogers, Site Editor, Next-Gen Data Center Forum0

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