IBM continues its big iron Linux push

On Monday, IBM executives detailed plans to make the installation of copies of the Linux operating system on S/390 machines easier for nonmainframe personnel, as well as less expensive. In addition, a number of IBM partners, such as management platform vendors BMC Software and Computer Associates International plan to announce products to monitor and manage Linux running on Big Iron. For instance, CA is expected to announce agents and other products that will help IS staff manage Apache and IBM WebSphere Web server applications on Linux on the S/390.

Although IBM has seen huge growth in the use of its mainframes for some of its bigger users, fierce competition from high-end Unix server vendors like Sun Microsystems Inc. has forced Big Blue to discount the licensing fees for the product. Facing declining revenue, the firm is now trying to lure customers back by offering relatively inexpensive Linux software and related support services.

Recently, IBM posted a Linux port on the Web for mainframe shops to play with. It also has been working to port some of its applications, such as its DB2 database software and MQSeries applications messaging software to run on Linux on the mainframe.

At the SHARE technical user conference, IBM S/390 Vice President Nancy Roath said the firm would offer the Virtual Image Facility For Linux product. This will let Linux-based IS staff install hundreds of copies of the Linux operating system on the S/390 without needing heavy-duty mainframe-specific skills, IBM executives say.

Currently, to run that many copies of Linux, users must rely on the mainframe's Virtual Machine (VM) mode. The highly complex VM operating system allows IS staff to run multiple instances of an operating system on the same physical server; each virtual machine shares CPU and other server resources. Without VM, the number of Linux copies that can be run is highly limited-only one copy of Linux per processor in native mode.

This program will also let users without VM skills install and run Linux on the S/390. The Virtual Image Facility For Linux costs US$20,000 to purchase and $5,000 per year after that for maintenance.

Linux will also be cheaper to run than it has been. Currently, IBM prices its mainframe software by factoring in the number and power of the CPUs the customer uses. The company will now allow IS shops to run dedicated Linux CPUs on the mainframe software without raising the overall CPU usage cost on the mainframe. Instead, users will pay $125,000 for the necessary changes to run the dedicated Linux CPU, which would cost less than if they were running traditional OS/390 apps. The feature requires IBM to introduce special microcode to the machine.

The Linux CPU will only be able to communicate with the other CPUs in the machine by an external channel connection running out and back into the box. These offerings will be available by the end of September; the third party management tools for Linux should be available in the fourth quarter.

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