Consolidation Projects Push Linux on Big Iron

More than cost, server consolidation efforts are helping push Linux into IBM mainframe environments.

Mainframe shops aren’t simply deploying Linux because it’s free. In fact, Big Iron Linux adoption is succeeding in spite of the fact that Linux running on S/390 or zSeries is by no means an inexpensive proposition.

"[Linux on the mainframe] has costs associated with it … We’re saying go into this with your eyes wide open, go into this with these costs in your plan," asserts David Mastrobattista, a senior analyst with consultancy Giga Information Group Inc. However, he says, "Even with these costs, when you’re looking to do heavy- duty server consolidation, the mainframe is still going to be the lowest TCO alternative."

Mainframe shops can run 15 Linux LPARs on their systems without violating the terms of their IBM licenses, notes John Phelps, vice president and research director of servers and storage with Gartner Inc. After that, however, they must expend $45,000 for IBM’s z/VM virtual environment, which enables them to deploy as many Linux partitions as they can support on a single processor.

Even here, Phelps notes, IBM has made significant changes to the pricing and licensing of z/VM in its z/OS and z/OS.e operating environments. "[z/]VM does cost something; however, its costs have been dramatically reduced in order to make [Linux] a more viable option. The cost is $45,000 per [z/VM] engine, and the maintenance is $11,000," he explains.

IBM has tried to soften the pricing blow in other ways as well. Recently, for example, the company relaxed its z/VM licensing and maintenance pricing requirements to push Linux on mainframe systems. The upshot of it all is that on its new z800 systems, Mastrobattista says, IBM has "actually packaged the z/VM licensing fees [for the z800] and the maintenance of the box in a three-year package for under $400,000."

For massive server consolidation efforts on larger, multiprocessor mainframe systems, IBM’s Integrated Facility for Linux (IFL)—which ranges in cost from $125,000 to $200,000—is a requirement: "For customers who run, say, a 10-way z900 system, if they want to run [z/]VM, they’re going to have to pay 10 times the cost of [z/]VM and 10 times the cost of maintenance," asserts Gartner’s Phelps. "But if they install the IFL engine, then they don’t have to worry about it."

According to Lionel Dyck, a systems programmer with a large healthcare provider based in California, it’s usually impractical to acquire an IFL for anything less than a full-scale Linux server consolidation effort.

"It’s not cost-effective to run a single Linux server on an IFL," Dyck comments, noting that his company is currently in the midst of a proof-of-concept test involving Linux server consolidation on a mainframe IFL. "We’re currently doing a financial analysis for TCO unanticipated costs. We’re a mainframe shop and understand the need for management software, service, and support."

Mainframe shops aren’t necessarily adopting Big Iron Linux because it’s free, according to a mainframe systems programmer with a global IT services company based in the Southwest. "Any shop that did their homework would know in advance that they need to acquire software support contracts, system management tools, etc," he points out.

Instead, he argues, mainframe shops are embracing Linux on the mainframe because it lets them exploit one of the most stable platforms in the open systems space (Linux) on the most stable hardware platform in existence (S/390 or zSeries).

"Consolidating multiple server images on an S/390 system [makes] even more sense, economically, and in terms of reliability. S/390 hardware is much more reliable than anything based on an Intel architecture," he concludes.

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.