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IBM and the labors of TurboHercules

Apr 15, 2010, 23:04 (0 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Jonathan Corbet)

"Once upon a time, IBM was seen as the dark force in the computing industry - Darth Vader in a Charlie Chaplin mask. More recently, though, the company has come across as a strong friend of Linux and free software. It contributes a lot of code and has made a point of defending against SCO in ways which defended Linux as a whole. But IBM still makes people nervous, a feeling which is not helped by the company's massive patent portfolio and support for software patents in Europe. So, when the word got out that IBM was asserting its patents against an open-source company, it's not surprising that the discussion quickly got heated. But perhaps it's time to calm down a bit and look at what is really going on.

"The story starts with the Hercules emulator, which lets PC-type systems pretend to be IBM's System/370 and ESA/390 mainframe architectures. Hercules is good enough to run systems like z/OS or z/VM, and, according to the project's FAQ, it has been used for production use at times, even if that's not its stated purpose. The project is licensed under the OSI-certified Q Public License.

"Enter TurboHercules SAS, which seeks to commercialize the Hercules system. The company offers supported versions of Hercules - optionally bundled with hardware - aimed at the disaster recovery market. Keeping a backup mainframe around is an expensive proposition; keeping a few commodity systems running Hercules is rather cheaper. It's not hard to imagine why companies which are stuck with software which must run on a mainframe might be tempted by this product - as a backup plan or as a way to migrate off the mainframes entirely."

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