IBM Introduces Linux-Only Mainframe

Runs Linux partitions only

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

The announcement came Friday in anticipation of the LinuxWorld Expo trade show in New York City. At the show, Big Blue is demonstrating the potential of its systems running Linux and announcing the success of its Linux strategy.

In 2000, IBM began offering support for Linux partitions on its mainframe computers, but the average Linux hacker might have run into problems using the machine. While the machine ran Linux, a primary partition running the mainframe operating system was necessary to manage system tasks such as resource allocation. Consequently, enterprises who wanted to run Linux on the mainframe needed staff with mainframe skills to keep the systems running.

With Friday’s announcement, IBM now offers a special package offering mainframe systems that do not need a z/OS partition to run Linux partitions. “The key is our z/VM software – its what allows us to manage the 100s of processes,” says Pete McCaffrey, director of the zSeries mainframe group 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 for server consolidation. Enterprises can substitute Linux partitions on the mainframe for individual servers running infrastructure applications like file-and-print and email.

IBM believes moving these applications to a single server offers the enterprise lower maintenance costs. In addition, because z/VM can allocate resources to a partition based on load, a machine will not go unused when its load drops.

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

Although the Linux mainframe still relies on mainframe-centric technologies like FICON-based storage, McCaffrey believes shops with no mainframe expertise can deploy the product with minimal issues. “Our objective with this offering is to make it as load-and-go as possible,” he says. IBM’s services organization will do much of the work in a mainframe installation.

Enterprises have three choices of Linux distributions on the mainframe, TurboLinux, SuSE Linux, and Red Hat Linux. While open-source databases such as PostgreSQL are emerging as enterprise options, IBM pushes its own DB2 as a preferred database solution.

Moreover, IBM views Linux today as a platform for infrastructure services, rather than enterprise applications. “The applications that are available [for Linux] continue to move up the food chain,” McCaffrey says, noting, “Today the sweet spot remains Web serving and mail serving.”

About the Author

Chris McConnell is Product and Technology Editor for Enterprise Systems.