IBM and Red Hat Partner for Big Iron Linux

Officials imply that the IFL bundle will be discounted—although no terms have been disclosed

Novell Inc.’s SuSE is probably the Linux distribution most favored by mainframe customers—although it’s far from the only game in town.

Last week, Red Hat Inc. moved to shore up its own standing in the market, partnering with IBM to give customers a more affordable way to run Red Hat Enterprise Linux on mainframe systems.

The two companies announced a new Big Iron bundle that includes an Integrated Facility for Linux (IFL) engine and a subscription for Red Hat Linux Enterprise v4.0 for zSeries. In addition, Big Blue and Red Hat announced plans to expand their co-marketing efforts to include Red Hat Linux running on zSeries.

“Today's news with Red Hat will help businesses speed the advantages of Linux on the mainframe," said zSeries vice-president Terri Virnig in a statement.

IBM and Red Hat officials both implied that the IFL bundle will be discounted, although no terms have been disclosed.

IFL engines provide the most affordable way for most companies to roll out large-scale Big Iron Linux deployments. The idea, said David Mastrobattista, zSeries marketing manager with IBM, in an interview last year, is that customers can purchase IFLs exclusively for mainframe workloads, independent of the capacity (billed in terms of MSUs) of the system itself. This helps them avoid additional charges for zSeries software and middleware, if necessary.

IBM says approximately 1,700 customers had embraced mainframe Linux (either as a pilot or in production environments) by the end of last year. In addition, confirms Colette Martin, a zSeries program director with IBM, more than 200 ISVs have introduced almost 700 applications for zSeries—encouraged, in part, by IBM’s “chiphopper” program, which provides ISVs with the resources they need (including IBM training, support, and marketing muscle) to develop software offerings for zSeries and pSeries.

Even though Linux is by far the most visible of the mainframe’s resurgence, profits—at least on par with conventional z/Series workloads—remain elusive. Several ISVs have questioned whether Big Iron Linux yet provides a sustainable business model, citing lackluster demand from customers. Even IBM officials acknowledge that other workloads are helping to drive resurgent mainframe revenues. IBM’s Mastrobattista has stated that three-quarters of the mainframe capacity IBM ships is earmarked for new workloads. In addition to mainframe Linux, other applications are also driving uptake.

“Today, 74 percent of the MIPS that we ship out are in support of the newer workloads, things like SAP, Siebel, PeopleSoft, e-business, WebSphere, DB2, business intelligence, [and] data-mining applications,” he told Enterprise Strategies last year. “These are all what we call the newer workload applications, and in the late 1990’s, that number was below 20 percent of the MIPS shipped.”

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About the Author

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

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