IBM ships 1,000th Linux-based eServer z900 mainframe

Hoping to offer proof that Linux-based mainframes are making inroads into the Unix- and Windows-based server markets, IBM on Monday announced it has shipped its 1,000th eServer z900 mainframe after just nine months of availability.

The company receiving the unit is Boscov's, one of the largest family-owned department stores in the country, which intends to replace 44 servers running Windows NT that comprises its server farm.

"We think a mainframe running Linux is a good solution for our business. Over the last several years we have added one server per month to our server farm. The increasing complexity and difficulty of backing up the large and growing server farm was becoming a major concern to us,'' said Harry Roberts, the CIO of Boscov's Department Stores.

Boscov, which has 35 stores mostly in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Maryland, intends initially to move its file and print workloads from the NT-based servers to virtual servers running under Linux.

IBM officials claim that the increasing number of users buying Linux-based mainframes as a way to consolidate servers is largely responsible for the company reporting three consecutive quarters of double-digit growth.

Market researcher International Data Corp. recently released its report on worldwide server market share for this year's second quarter that showed IBM gaining 5.3 per cent share while the company's chief rivals including Sun Microsystems Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co., and Compaq Computer Corp. lost share.

Some analysts believe IBM is beginning to tell a convincing story about the cost savings on products and support that both large and smaller shops can realize by substituting a single mainframe in place of a small server farm.

"What has happened is Linux, the mainframe and [IBM's] VM -- with VM being the key -- have come together and allowed users take physical images and run them virtually on a mainframe. There is a significant cost savings in a Linux-VM combination that can run on an older IT infrastructure," said David Mastrobattista, senior industry analyst with Giga Information Systems in Philadelphia.

Surprisingly, it is IBM's Virtual Memory (VM) operating system, first introduced in 1964, that makes it feasible for the z900 mainframes to operate hundreds and sometimes thousands of remote Linux servers from a single location. While z900 mainframes can run a single copy of Linux, most users are realizing that VM is really what makes it worth their economic while to deploy the open-source operating system.

"What we like about it is being able to take the same physical image and not have to reconfigure things. We just need to change the location of the physical server," said Matthew Johnson, IT manager with a medium-size publishing company in the Chicago area.

Over the course of this past year, IBM officials have pointed to comparison they and consultants have done that show that approximately 1,000 z900 running multiple copies of Linux can do the same work as 25,000 Sun servers, as well as saving users substantially on energy costs.

According to IBM, a common configuration of 750 Sun servers costs about US$620 a day in electricity to run, while a single z900 running the same workload costs $32 a day. Users can also save on floor space given the 400 sq. feet necessary for an IBM z900 and the 10,000 sq. feet needed for the Sun server farm.

This sort of costs savings are confirmed by several analyst firms including IDC and the Hurwitz Group.

In one scenario Dan Kusnetzky, vice president of systems software for IDC, said users could literally save millions of dollars in personnel and management costs by replacing an entire server farm with a single mainframe over a four-year period.

In his example Kusnetzky said 40 systems supporting a Web site would require about eight people per shift for three shifts to cover a single 24-hour period. Those 24 people, if they are worth $250,000 a year each, including benefits, would mean a company could spend $24 million for four years.

"But if you could reduce that to one person per shift and do all the management from one central system, you only have three people per shift and you spend $3 million over four years. Saving that kind of money would more than pay for the IBM hardware and many other things needed to support that configuration," Kusnetzky said.

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