OS/400 Rehosting Specialist CrossWorks Closes Down
February 2, 2004 Timothy Prickett Morgan
If you were looking to buy legacy OS/400 application rehosting software from CrossWorks in the past few weeks, you might have noticed that the company’s Web site is down. And if you looked up the company’s phone number on the Internet (isn’t Google cache great?), you also might have discovered that the phones are dead. That’s because CrossWorks has closed its doors.
CrossWorks sold a product line called Cross400. The programs allowed RPG III, RPG IV, and RPG/400 applications to be rehosted to Windows, Linux, or Unix (AIX, Solaris, and HP-UX) platforms. CrossWorks was based in Hopkins, Minnesota, and had been selling its tools for years against California Software, Unibol (which ended up as part of California Software after a complicated and legally messy merger), PKS Software, and a host of other application modernization software makers. The company was actually founded in 1996 as Pioneer Software Development, and in September 1999 it revamped its products and marketing plans and relaunched itself as CrossWorks.
In November 2002, CrossWorks’ rival California Software said in a press release that it would offer support and competitive upgrades to Cross400 and Cross36 customers. California Software did this because it had heard that CrossWorks was rumored to be the legacy OS/400 application rehosting biz. Back then, George Adzick, president of the company, said he was mystified about the rumors that California Software alluded to.
In August 2003, CrossWorks announced that it was developing an “integrated reengineering environment,” which it called Cross2Java IRE, for managing RPG-to-Java conversion projects. (Maybe this is what California Software had caught wind of?) That product contained a set of tools for analyzing RPG applications, editing source code, testing the new application, hooking it up to a database, and packaging or deploying the converted application. CrossWorks was in talks with several providers of RPG-to-Java translators, and it had planned to bundle a translator with the Cross2Java IRE when it shipped. Last summer, CrossWorks was in negotiations with several prominent providers of RPG-to-Java translators and Cross2Java IRE Version 1.0 was slated for the end of 2003. The company said that it would target tier-two independent software vendors and large corporations that developed their own RPG applications, and that it would support two Java environments: IBM’s WebSphere Application Server and the open-source JBoss Application Server.
It took me a while to track down people at CrossWorks, but I finally did get ahold of Adzick, and he confirmed that the 25-person company had been shut down quietly a few weeks ago. He explained that, as far as he could tell, there were not enough OS/400 shops that wanted to move RPG and CL applications to Unix and Windows platforms for the number of players chasing the market opportunities. His best guess was that the OS/400 application market was worth about $12 million a year, including the key players. This is why CrossWorks was moving away from rehosting and toward actually rewriting RPG applications for Java. He said that the financial backers of CrossWorks simply did not want to put any more money into the old OS/400 rehosting side of the business, and they lost hope for the new RPG-to-Java tools announced last summer. Eventually, CrossWorks simply ran out of money.
When I spoke to the sales people at California Software, before confirming that CrossWorks had closed its doors, the sales people there said that the company had been contacted by some CrossWorks accounts that were interested in getting support. I eventually spoke to Bruce Acacio, CEO of California Software, and he said his company is interested in picking up assets from CrossWorks and will support its customers, but that he had not been able to contact the owners of CrossWorks to talk about a deal.
California Software might not be the only company that can get some play out of the CrossWorks assets. Any big server vendor with a Unix, Windows, or Linux server line that wants to take a run at the iSeries line might be interested licensing the technology in Cross400 or Cross2Java IRE. Sun Microsystems, Hewlett-Packard, and Microsoft might be interested in using Cross400 to create an API set for RPG and CL applications so they can run on Unix, Linux, or Windows boxes.
There is precedence for this. In the 1980s, Digital sold compilers for the VAX line that took a run at the System/38 and System/36 RPG application base, as it was being essentially ignored by IBM as the company was working out plans that ultimately created the AS/400. Both HP and Sun took a run at the AS/400 base with partnerships with the former Unibol in the mid-1990s. Sun has been more aggressive lately in the mainframe area, and it may now show some interest in the AS/400 and iSeries base. There are murmurings inside HP, too, about a marketing plan to attack the OS/400 server market, much as IBM has tried to sell the iSeries to abandoned HP 3000 minicomputer users. This is ever the way in the computer business.
Sun offers the best approach, perhaps, but the money is not big, because most OS/400 shops are happy (if sometimes grumpy or disappointed) where they are. In September 2001, Sun acquired the UniKix CICS mainframe rehosting tools owned by a small company called Critical Path. The tools created by UniKix in the early 1990s were bought by Critical Path, a messaging software specialist that bought the mainframe rehosting tools to take a run at the IBM mainframe base. In 2001, as the dot-com bubble burst, Critical Path sold these tools to Sun, its parther, to redouble its efforts with its messaging products. The UniKix software was sold under the names Trans, Batch, and Path/3270, and as the names suggest, they allow the rehosting of transaction processing, terminal protocols, and batch processing of mainframe applications onto Unix servers. When Sun acquired these assets from ClearPath two years ago, about 300 companies with 900 installations had rehosted CICS and other mainframe applications using them. Sun has been targeting customers with fewer than 1,000 MIPS of processing power in their mainframe complexes, simply because IBM guards these accounts ferociously. Sun’s run rate for mainframe replacements using these tools is about 50 a year, and that represents about $50 million to $100 million in sales for the company. With about 20,000 mainframe footprints in the world, Sun reckoned that the opportunity to move mainframe shops onto Unix servers represents about $1 billion in sales. Sun isn’t trying to get mainframe shops to move all their applications over in one fell swoop, but rather is asking them to try moving a few applications, in the hopes that it will convince them to move more. Microsoft is doing the same thing with its Services for Unix API set for Windows, which lets Unix and Linux applications be moved over to Windows and recompiled into a Unix-like environment.
Whether a similar opportunity exists in the iSeries market is the subject of debate, and one that the demise of CrossWorks has certainly set tongues wagging about.