IBM targets Linux at mainframe users

IBM Corp. has announced a suite of service and support options for Linux on its S/390 systems in response to what it claimed is growing user demand for the open-source operating system by mainframe users.

Under the initiative, Linux for S/390 will be sold by Nurnberg, Germany-based SuSE Linux AG and TurboLinux, Inc. in San Francisco, both of which are Linux vendors. IBM Global Services, the company’s professional services unit, will offer technical support and middleware integration services along with SuSE and TurboLinux.

The recent announcement formalized Linux support on S/390 systems. IBM has been making free Linux code available on the mainframe platform since January, but users who take the free software don’t get any service and support.

In its announcement, IBM said the fact that more than 2,100 mainframe users have downloaded the code since January prompted its decision to launch formal Linux service and support offerings on the S/390.

IBM’s move “gives users an industrial-strength platform for running their Linux applications,” said Mike Kahn, an analyst at The Clipper Group Inc. in Wellesley, Mass. “It is a bit of a radical concept, and one that certainly wasn’t a mainstream idea until this morning.”

The ability to run Linux jobs on mainframes, in proximity to traditional big-iron workloads and databases, should make applications based on the open-source operating system easier to manage and increase their scalability and performance, Kahn said.

“It is an extremely interesting move because the S/390 offers a range of possibilities that doesn’t exist on other (computing) platforms,” said Dan Kaberon, parallel sysplex manager at Hewitt Associates LLC in Lincolnshire, Ill., one of the nation’s largest benefits outsourcers. One example is OS/390’s VM/ESA guest support capability, under which users can run “thousands of Linux virtual machines on a single piece of hardware,” Kaberon said.

But the cost of running Linux applications on mainframes, with their traditional capacity-based licensing schemes, could prove to be daunting, said Carl Greiner, an analyst at Meta Group Inc. in Stamford, Conn. “It will be more effective for users to put (Linux applications) on cheaper RISC-based processors than on a mainframe until IBM can fix its current software pricing scheme” he said.

The fact that Linux still isn’t as robust as other flavors of Unix, including IBM’s own AIX operating system, also will limit interest among mainframe users, Greiner predicted.

“It may or may not be useful (this year),” Kaberon said. “But it is going to become more and more useful over the next several years. . . . We are just going to watch this very carefully.”

Beta versions of most of the software will become available in the third quarter, with general availability slated by the end of the year, according to IBM.