Linux is Coming to the AS/400

The open source operating system Linux is finally coming to the AS/400. By next year, IBM promises to offer Linux running natively in an AS/400 partition. A demonstration version of Linux on the AS/400 will be shown in Rochester this fall to selected customers and business partners, and a beta version of Linux for the AS/400 will be available early next year.

Linux is gaining a growing and loyal following of independent software vendors as well. "Linux is an operating system that was built on and built for the Internet," says Ferber.
IBM announced the deployment of SuSE Linux for its RS/6000 servers and workstations last June. Big Blue also plans to start AS/400 sites on SuSE Linux, distributed by SuSE Linux AG of Nuremberg, Germany—because of its enterprise and network support features. Eventually, most major Linux distributions will be available for the AS/400.

"IBM is not distributing the Linux kernel itself," says Tim Alpers, systems software product manager at the IBM Rochester Lab. "We're establishing relationships and partnerships with various Linux distributors, and some of those distributors will provide a distribution for the AS/400." The Linux kernel can be loaded onto the AS/400, and run in a secondary partition defined by OS/400.

By deploying Linux in a partition, the system can take advantage of system resources, says Alpers. "Plus, you're running on the horsepower that the AS/400 brings to the table, especially with our latest systems."

Research from IDC (Framingham, Mass.) finds that Linux has been gaining ground with license shipments jumping from 15% of server operating system boxes in 1998 to almost 25% last year. In addition, the percentage of companies running Linux in some capacity has doubled over the past year, increasing from 17% to 34%, according to a survey of 400 IT managers by Evans Marketing Services, Santa Cruz, Calif. While this number includes all companies with any servers running Linux, the number of companies running Linux on more than 25% of their servers increased from less than 2% to almost 13%.

Linux is gaining a growing and loyal following of independent software vendors as well. "Linux is an operating system that was built on and built for the Internet," says Rob Ferber, chief technology officer with OpenSales Inc., San Mateo, Calif. "And it comes at a price point that's hard to beat." While OpenSales' product runs on all major platforms, Ferber notes "we love Linux the best, because we think it delivers the best reliability, the best scalability, at the best price point." Ferber notes that he has "front-line production systems that have been running Web sites that have been continuously up for a year and a half. The longer the times these machines stay up and stable and operational in a hands-free manner, the easier my life is, the easier the technical infrastructure's life is, and the less burden on the company."

Along with plans for the AS/400, IBM is throwing considerable weight behind Linux. Big Blue announced it was porting Linux to its SP parallel processing architecture, which currently supports AIX. IBM is also installing binary interfaces that enable its AIX and 64-bit Project Monterey servers to run Linux. IBM also disclosed that it has the Linux operating system up and running on its next generation POWER 4 microprocessor, due out next year. IBM's WebSphere application server platform also supports Linux applications.

IBM initially considered offering Linux on the AS/400'sIntegrated Netfinity Server (INS), just as Windows NT /2000 is currently offered, says Alpers. "The advantage with INS is that Linux today is very largely an Intel-based play. However, INS doesn't have SMP capability at this point in time." IBM may still consider supporting Linux on INS at some point in the future, Alpers continues. "We picked the option we thought would be most influential in the marketplace," he states. "If the marketplace prompts us to put it on INS, we have that full capability as well, though it will take some time and effort."

Another option was to implement Linux through the AS/400's PASE (Portable Application Solution Environment), a set of runtime APIs that enables AIX applications to run on an AS/400. However, that would have limited AS/400 Linux to deployment on runtime libraries, and developers would not have access to Linux applications source code, says Alpers. "Having the kernel itself brings additional flexibility, and ties you right into that whole open source development community. Any time you want to make changes, you can make them and load them into the OS/400 partition."

The worldwide Linux development community distinguishes the operating system from any other platform on the market, notes OpenSales' Ferber. "If I need a patch, and if no one else is writing it, I can write it myself. Or, you can get a bug fix on an open source product in a matter of hours, where it would be months with a proprietary offering."

Those sites that want to deploy AS/400 Linux will need to upgrade to next year's version of OS/400, which is likely to be V5R1, Alpers states. "There's some enhancements that we're making in our partitioning support in the next release. We'll be bringing dynamic allocation of resources capability within partitioning, as well as being able to carve up processors within partitions. Some of that capability is necessary to support how we're implementing Linux in a partition."

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