Based on the enthusiastic response from corporate customers the last two months, IBM deepened its commitment to Linux on Friday with the announcement of a pilot project to work with selected users and developers to create applications that exploit its S/390 mainframe.
Big Blue said it will work with these users and developers in its new e-Transactions "think tanks," which open Friday in New York and France, where they can develop and test their applications.
IBM claimed there has been a little more than 1,100 downloads of its version of Linux for the S/390 from its DeveloperWorks site at www.ibm.com/developerworks/, despite the lack of any promotion on the company's part.
This past January, Irving Wladawsky-Berger, then a newly appointed vice president of technology and strategy for IBM's server group, said many corporate customers were already demanding that IBM bring key Linux-based desktop capabilities closer to the transactional capabilities of the S/390 series.
Users will be able to set up a Linux partition on the mainframe, making it easier to import both Linux and Unix applications directly into the OS/390 environment, Wladawsky-Berger said.
"We want to give them the choice as to whether they want certain functions to be run in a distributed fashion or to bring them inside the 390 itself with minimal rewriting of the application," Wladawsky-Berger said.
IBM officials point out that many of its larger customers that are trying to run applications for tasks such as e-commerce and supply chain management on their databases have a lot of difficulty doing so if those applications are tied to only one server platform. The cost of porting those applications to other platforms often is cost prohibitive, company officials said.
Linux gives larger shops a more cost-effective way around that problem because applications written for Linux can be more easily and cost effectively ported to other server hardware.
Touting the S/390's ability to scale Linux, Dimension Enterprises Inc., an applications solutions provider in Herndon, Virginia, said it successfully ran 41,000 Linux for S/390 images, or separate Linux systems, under IBM's VM (Virtual Machine) operating system. The company specializes in building data centers for larger customers.
"If you look at the concentrations of machines, equipment, and services an ISP or an ASP (application service provider) must assemble, you are looking at facilities with 10,000, 20,000, and even 50,000 square feet of floor space, and 5,000 to 10,000 machines. If you do the math on that, it is a very large cost of ownership," said David Boyes, principal engineer for knowledge transfer services with Dimension.
Boyes said his company chose IBM's 35-year-old VM operating system to govern thousands of Linux servers because of it basic ability to treat each Linux server as a virtual machine.
"The concept of a virtual machine works well in this type of environment. If you look at what the hosting providers do, they are dedicating systems for each customer. You can try to partition it, but that approach is error prone. If you make a mistake in your DNS configuration files, you screw not only one customer, but a whole lot of customers," Boyes said.
Quoting figures from the Tower Group, a market researcher, IBM officials said the number of Linux users has swelled from about 1,000 in 1992 to 9 million in late 1999. Tower also predicted that spending worldwide on the open source operating system among the top 100 financial institutions will grow 32 per cent a year from the $50 million spent in 1998 to about $200 million expected to be spent in 2003.