The Fast400 Saga Ends: IBM and Stracka Settle Lawsuit
by Timothy Prickett Morgan
All things, good or bad or in between, come to an end eventually, and the settlement of the lawsuit between IBM and Jim Stracka, one of the creators of the Fast400 governor buster for AS/400 and iSeries machines, and the cessation of the distribution of the Fast400 product by its distributors is definitely one of those cases where an in-between thing has come to an end.
While few of us in the iSeries community have ever been fond of the green-screen interactive software tax, Stracka and his partner, Leif Svalgaard, actually did something about it and created a tool that allowed customers to crank up the interactive performance of their AS/400 and iSeries servers even after IBM had slugged it down using a governor, created in software and called CFINT. IBM has been slugging OS/400 servers since 1993, when it began distinguishing "servers," or machines with low prices, decent generic performance, and very limited or no 5250 green-screen performance, from "systems," which are machines that have the 5250 capability activated either fully or in increments. Each of those increments of 5250 processing capacity involved nothing more than IBM messing around in microcode to allow the 5250 protocol inside OS/400 to be allowed to run on a set amount of processing capacity in an OS/400 server--and charging a lot more money for the privilege of using it, of course.
The Fast400 saga started four years ago, when a company called TigerTools, claiming to be based in Williamsport, Penn., and run by a guy named Chance Taylor, who was actually Jim Stracka working under an assumed name, launched the Fast400 governor buster. Stracka kept the identity of his head programmer, Svalgaard, a secret. Svalgaard is arguably is the best known machine-level language programmer in the OS/400 world, certainly outside of IBM and maybe inside the company as well. Exactly who figured out how to circumvent CFINT and how remains something of a mystery, but presumably Svalgaard figured it out and Stracka decided to make a business out of this. Stracka was the founder of iSeries security specialist PentaSafe, which was sold off to NetIQ in October 2002, one year after the launch of TigerTools. Svalgaard was one of the key coders at PentaSafe. Stracka and Svalgaard concealed their identities for fear of recrimination from IBM, and the identities of the two only became known to the OS/400 community in August 2004 when Stracka went public with a May 2004 lawsuit in Harris County, Texas, against Big Blue. The suit alleged, among other things, that Stracka and Svalgaard were roughed up by the FBI when Stracka tried to sell the Fast400 tools to IBM for $25 million.
The entire history of the Fast400 saga is in the links at the bottom of this story, and I am not going to go through it blow-by-blow. Suffice it to say, Fast400 has been a big thorn in IBM's side for years, but IBM was largely responsible for allowing that thorn to grow in the first place. IBM's aggressive pricing for 5250 processor capacity made people think they could base a business on breaking the governor, and holes in its own microcode allowed Svalgaard to break the CFINT governors. You reap what you sow in this world, even if you are a giant corporation. None of this should have ever been necessary.
Whatever happened behind the scenes to bring the Fast400 matter to a close is not known. IBM refused to comment on the matter, as did Stracka's lawyer in the case, Ron Krist of the Krist Law Firm in Houston. I attempted to reach Stracka himself on the matter on Thursday morning, and got his answering machine several times. I tried to reach Ron Lerma, who runs Fast400 North American distributor California Sales Company, and Colin Wells, who runs European Fast400 distributor Storage Solutions Group; neither was available, either. What I knew when I wrote my Breaking News story last Thursday morning was what Fast400 posted on its Web site:
November 16, 2005
Dear Valued Customers and Interested Persons:
As you may or may not be aware, the makers of Fast400 have been involved in litigation with IBM during the recent months. That litigation has recently been resolved and all parties have accepted and agreed to the resolution.
As part of the resolution, Fast400 will no longer be available for purchase and/or distribution. While we will continue to service those contracts we currently have with our valued customers; those contracts will not be renewed.
In short, at the conclusion of your current customer contract, Fast400 will no longer be available.
We regret any inconvenience this may occasion.
If you need technical support, please email Leif Svalgaard at email@example.com
Thank you, for your past support and confidence.
Exactly how this case got settled is a mystery, and when I finally did reach Stracka on Friday morning, he said, as I suspected, that there was a gag order relating to the settlement. It is hard to say who got what out of the settlement, but in my story last week I predicted that IBM will indeed have control of the Fast400 code after the last Fast400 customer is sunsetted, and Stracka confirmed that much. If I were Big Blue, that is the only way I would have settled the matter, too. If there is one thing IBM doesn't want, it is for this TigerTools cat to get out of the bag again. As for Stracka, he was understandably aloof about what exactly happened. "We decide to settle the matter and move on down the road separately," he explained. As for the whole Fast400 experience, he was that "it was an interesting four years" and that he "didn't really expect it to turn out the way it did." He has other, unspecified plans for the future involving the technology market, but he will not be involved in governor busters--that is for sure.
October 29, 2001: TigerTools Says It Can Remove OS/400 Governors
November 5, 2001: IBM Issues a Statement on TigerTools' Fast400
November 26, 2001: Fast400 Governor-Buster Code Changes Hands
December 3, 2001: IBM Tries to Crush Fast400 with PTF Patches
May 13, 2002: SSG Relaunches Fast400 Governor Buster for OS/400 Servers
June 3, 2002: IBM Fights Fast400 Governor Buster with Licensing Contracts
February 24, 2003: FAST400 Undaunted by Revamped iSeries Line
July 7, 2003: Market Insight: IBM, FAST400, and 'The Matrix Reloaded'
August 16, 2004: Fast400 Founder Sues Big Blue
August 30, 2004: New Fast400 Reseller Is Raring to Go
November 15, 2004: CSC Offers Trade-Ins to iSeries Shops Buying i5s and Fast400