IBM Introduces Linux-Only Mainframe

IBM Corp. has offered Linux as an option on itsz/Series mainframe for nearly two years, but there was a catch: Linux ran in apartition managed by z/OS. Now IBM offers a mainframe than can run Linuxpartitions only.

The announcement came Friday in anticipation of theLinuxWorld Expo trade show in New York City. At the show, Big Blue isdemonstrating the potential of its systems running Linux and announcing thesuccess of its Linux strategy.

In 2000, IBM began offering support for Linuxpartitions on its mainframe computers, but the average Linux hacker might haverun into problems using the machine. While the machine ran Linux, a primarypartition running the mainframe operating system was necessary to manage systemtasks such as resource allocation. Consequently, enterprises who wanted to runLinux on the mainframe needed staff with mainframe skills to keep the systemsrunning.

With Friday’s announcement, IBM now offers a specialpackage offering mainframe systems that do not need a z/OS partition to runLinux partitions. “The key is our z/VM software – its what allows us to managethe 100s of processes,” says Pete McCaffrey, director of the zSeries mainframegroup at IBM. z/VM allows the mainframe to run multiple “virtual machines”,allowing Linux partitions that are not tied to hardware.

IBM pitches Linux-on-the-mainframe as a means forserver consolidation. Enterprises can substitute Linux partitions on themainframe for individual servers running infrastructure applications likefile-and-print and email.

IBM believes moving these applications to a singleserver offers the enterprise lower maintenance costs. In addition, because z/VMcan allocate resources to a partition based on load, a machine will not gounused when its load drops.

Cutting out z/OS also cuts much of the cost of themainframe. McCaffrey says the cost of a Linux mainframe with a three-yearmaintenance contract and a three year software subscription to z/VM is nearlyhalf the cost of a similar z/OS mainframe package.

Although the Linux mainframe still relies onmainframe-centric technologies like FICON-based storage, McCaffrey believesshops with no mainframe expertise can deploy the product with minimal issues. “Ourobjective with this offering is to make it as load-and-go as possible,” hesays. IBM’s services organization will do much of the work in a mainframeinstallation.

Enterprises have three choices of Linux distributionson the mainframe, TurboLinux, SuSE Linux, and Red Hat Linux. While open-sourcedatabases such as PostgreSQL are emerging as enterprise options, IBM pushes itsown DB2 as a preferred database solution.

Moreover, IBM views Linux today as a platform forinfrastructure services, rather than enterprise applications. “The applicationsthat are available [for Linux] continue to move up the food chain,” McCaffreysays, noting, “Today the sweet spot remains Web serving and mail serving.” –Chris McConnell