Replacing 3000 meant dozens more servers
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IBM divests Powerhouse development tools

IBM has sold off the Application Development Tool operations from its Cognos acquisition, moving the Powerhouse, Axiant and Powerhouse Web customers and products to Unicom Systems, Inc. Financial details of the transaction were not reported as part of the news, which was broken to customers in the last few days of 2013.

Unicom structureThe new owner of Cognos software, support operations and contracts, as well as customer accounts, is a division of Unicom Global, a 32-year-old company that's led by CEO Corry Hong. According to an IBM VP of mergers and acquisitions, Hong's business enterprise holds and manages more than 30 corporate entities in operations throughout the US, Germany France, UK, Ireland, Belgium, Italy, Spain and Switzerland. Unicom says on its websites that it acquires publicly-traded companies as a regular part of its expansion.

The parent company, which is a privately held concern, has strong ties to IBM's mainframe and midrange customer base. The latter is represented in Unicom's SoftLanding division, makers of program change management, automation and performance management on the i Series. 

Hong said the scope of the PowerHouse tools' installed base impressed Unicom. "Application development tools play a key role in enterprise technology," he said in a release, "and PowerHouse is the most widely installed 4GL in the industry, with customers continuing to achieve substantial economies in reducing application development efforts.

“This is a strategic acquisition for [this division of] UNICOM Global. We appreciate IBM’s trust in selling us the Cognos Application Development Tools suite, and IBM’s confidence in our ability to effectuate such a complex global transaction. We will collaborate with IBM to ensure smooth transition for customers."

A letter to PowerHouse customers made a clear statement that as of Dec. 31, 2013, Unicom has full responsibility for customer support contracts as well as development plans, sales and license renewals.

That last element has been a classic point of negotiation and some contention for the PowerHouse customer. For example, one site discovered last fall that a license transfer from an A-Class to the CHARON emulator was going to cost the HP 3000 shop more than $100,000. IBM told its PowerHouse customers on the day of the sale that for any renewal quotes for Powerhouse software, "please take no action. A new quote will be issued to you by Unicom. Further instructions on how to process your renewal with [Unicom] will be provided to you shortly." 

Unicom is also the owner of the US Robotics product line, customers and technology, as well as a maker of products for the IBM Z Series and the i Series. The latter is the latest generation of IBM's AS/400 line, thought of as a complement to the highly-integrated structure of the HP 3000. Cognos had terminated development for the Series i version of its PowerHouse toolset and sent the product into Vintage Support in 2005. Five years later the MPE version of the product moved into the same category.

A few members of the Powerhouse community speculated on what the latest change of ownership might mean for the customer base. Consultant Ken Langendock said on the PowerHouse mailing list, "I would hope it means it will continue to improve. IBM has not wanted to do anything with the product since the takeover [from Cognos]. I have been trying to find out if they added a patch for Oracle 12c and nobody will answer me. If I had a wish, it would be that Powerhouse will work with MySQL."

PowerHouse was the most widely installed 4GL in the HP 3000 community as well, ranging from simple Quiz reporting included in MRP software like MANMAN all the way to complete suites. IBM bought Cognos in 2008. While some IBM operations have a stellar track record for customer service, Dave Vinnedge of Accuride reported in in 2012 that his Cognos experience didn't match that.

“I have not yet seen a lot of diligent customer service practices, at least on the Cognos side of IBM,” he said. “For example, my boss started receiving the 2010 PowerHouse support renewal notice every 15 minutes. It took over a day for my boss to be sure that IBM knew that there was a problem -- and two more days for IBM to fix it.”

IBM's VP of Mergers & Acquisitions Robert White said in a letter to customers the deal is "a move we believe will benefit our Cognos ADT customers by including it as part of the broader portfolio of UNICOM application offerings." White's letter described Unicom as "providing enterprise software, computing hardware, telecom platform, IT services, IT real estate, M&A and financing services for Fortune 500 and Global 2000 companies, and federal, state and local government organizations."

The holding company also has an IT real estate arm. Unicom reports that its greatest asset for the entity is "expertise in storage, security, enterprise and carrier communications" and says it has the "largest portfolio of purpose-built turnkey platforms." Another group, Unicom Engineering, is a light-manufacturer of appliances, with primary facilities in Canton, Massachusetts; Plano, Texas, and Galway, Ireland.

The company also offers 30 standard products and a large selection of turnkey platforms and appliances. Offerings include solution design and system integration services, ways to deploy what the company calls "the best-fit, form and functional platform for their application," in a scope from robust enterprise security appliance to a highly integrated carrier-grade rack mount system.

The Unicom press release announcing the acquisition gave special mention to HP's Allbase database as among those supported by Powerhouse, but failed to describe the IMAGE/SQL databases that PowerHouse taps on HP 3000 servers. But it says that its Global Services unit "is a component of the company's strategy of providing IT infrastructure and business insight and solutions to clients."