Linux Graduates to Mainframes

SAN FRANCISCO (05/17/2000) - In a sign that the open-source movement is making inroads into the world of mainframes, IBM Corp. will announce today that it will offer customers a version of Linux that will run on its S/390 hardware.

The move merges the openness and flexibility of the Linux application environment with the scalability, reliability and security of the S/390 hardware platform, says Greg Burke, VP of IBM's division for Linux S/390.

"This is the first time that Linux has been enabled on a mainframe computer. In a sense, it validates the fact that Linux is now ready for prime time," Burke says. "If Linux can run on the biggest and baddest mainframe in the world that Fortune 500 customers use to run their businesses, then Linux is no longer just something to play with."

A leader in the open-source movement had a different take on the announcement, suggesting that IBM is wisely continuing to take advantage of Linux's popularity.

"What this really means is that it is no longer economically feasible to have your own operating system the way IBM had its system and Digital had VMS," says Bruce Perens, president of Linux Capital Group in Albany, California. "It makes more sense these days to have your system run Linux. The cost to maintain it is lower, customers' acceptance is increasing, and it is becoming the de facto operating system."

IBM is targeting existing S/390 customers who might want to use Linux applications or consolidate their existing Linux applications and access that data on their mainframes. Big Blue, which has made a commitment to support Linux across its product line, is hoping to grab the business of Internet service providers, application service providers, companies hosting e-commerce sites, business-to-business firms, financial institutions and others that need to connect back-end data to front-end customers. About three-quarters of corporate data is in mainframes, said Burke.

Today's announcement means that instead of having racks of servers, companies now can put their Linux servers, hundreds or even thousands of them, into partitions, or segments, on one S/390 computer. Running multiple copies of Linux on one machine improves performance and reliability, and the S/390 already has the industry's highest availability rate at 99.999 percent - about five minutes of downtime over three years.

"If you have the data and application on the same box, the response-time delay is eliminated," Burke says. "It's a network-in-a-box - in one server on the mainframe as opposed to having external networks and all the issues that they cause."

Observers praised IBM's move but suggested that the company may have a tough time convincing ISPs that they need Linux S/390.

"A problem will be marketing. The Linux crowd and the S/390 crowd are not natural bedfellows," says David Floyer, VP of research at ITcentrix Inc. in Framingham, Massachusetts, a developer of Web-based tools used to help companies assess software. "This shows a degree of imagination from IBM that I haven't seen for some time. For once, they seem to be with the market instead of two to three years behind it."

Bringing Linux into the S/390 fold also will open up corporations to a broader range of programmers.

"There aren't a lot of universities cranking out mainframe programmers these days, so if people wanted to take advantage of the skills out there, they could use Linux programmers for writing applications for mainframe data," says Mike Kahn, chairman of The Clipper Group, a consultant company based in Wellesley, Massachusetts.

But pricing could be a challenge for IBM, Floyer said, because Linux distributions are priced per license (for those that have a charge) and S/390 pricing is per millions of instructions per second.

"Our goal is to have a loose structure where you pay for what you use as opposed to [paying for] capacity across the entire system," Burke says, without providing specifics.

Linux for S/390 can be downloaded for free here. Customers who want middleware for integration and other services and support will need to pay for it.

IBM Global Services, SuSE Linux AG and TurboLinux Inc. will distribute Linux for S/390, which also will include IBM middleware that allows Linux applications to access data running on legacy applications on the mainframe.

For example, Apache Web server software running on a Linux partition of the S/390 processor will be able to connect to data in DB2 Universal Database running on OS/390 in another partition.

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