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Volume 18, Number 3 -- January 19, 2009

Freeborders Expands its AS/400 Tech Center

Published: January 19, 2009

by Timothy Prickett Morgan

You probably knew that the AS/400 and its progeny were popular in India because of the first several waves of outsourcing and offshoring that hit the shores of America in the late 1990s and the early 2000s as companies tried to cut cost. But apparently there is some play now for the AS/400 in Chinese offshoring operations.

A privately held company called Freeborders that is located in San Francisco and operates software development and data centers in China, announced last week that it has expanded a so-called "center of excellence" based on the AS/400. (The company said AS/400, not iSeries or Power Systems i, so they have the lingo down.)

Freeborders was founded in 1999 with the express purpose of selling various IT services--mostly application development and maintenance--delivered from China to North American companies. The company created its own product lifecycle management (PLM) software package to manage its software products, and in 2003 it started selling it to customers who were not in services engagements. That part of the business must have not done as well as Freeborders would have liked, since in March 2008 the company sold that PLM software business to Lawson Software. Freeborders got a big break in 2007 when travel Website Expedia bought programming services for some of its projects. Today, Freeborders has offices in San Francisco (where it is headquartered) and New York in the United States, in the industrial town of Reading in the United Kingdom, and development offices in Shenzen and Hong Kong in China.

Freeborders did not say precisely what hardware and software it has in its center, but it did say that it now has consolidated its hardware and software expertise into one location in China (presumably Shenzen, not the more expensive Hong Kong). The company added that it has a contract to support a key core banking program that runs on the i platform that is used in 66 countries today. Freeborders inked the offshore deal with the banking software provider in September 2007, but has not disclosed what package it is supporting or who the vendor is.

"Our clients continue to maintain a solid commitment to the AS/400 because of the reliability, convenience, and low cost of ownership of the platform and they demand a development partner that is just as passionate about it as they are," explained Jean Cholka, the chief executive officer at Freeborders. "With the expanded Freeborders AS/400 center of excellence, we are demonstrating our long-term commitment to this platform by investing in ongoing training, support, and innovations that help assist and modernize our clients AS/400 solutions."

The center, says Freeborders, can do custom programming, application and data conversion from the AS/400 to other platforms or visa versa, remote support, and remote application tweaking and maintenance. The company also has expertise, it says, in adding native GUI interfaces with existing applications, adding Web services wrappers around legacy applications, and even reverse engineering applications if you happen to have lost your source code.

Pity there isn't such a center of excellence, say, in Endicott, New York, where IBM was founded and where there is plenty of programming talent in an area that has among the lowest cost of living in the United States.


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