IBM Loads Linux on Mainframes

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IBM Loads Linux on Mainframes
R. Krause - June 9, 2000

Event Summary

May 17, 2000 [Source: IBM] Linux software, services are available for S/390 server.

Responding to demand by S/390 users, IBM is now providing Linux software and services for the S/390 enterprise server. This is the latest initiative in IBM's strategy to complement the Linux operating system throughout its offerings. Linux for S/390 will be offered by the companies SuSE and TurboLinux. In addition, IBM Global Services will offer complete Linux for S/390 services and support. IBM is also making available key middleware.

A major advantage of Linux for S/390 is the access that mainframe users will have to the applications being written for Linux, including hundreds of open source applications already available on the Internet. In addition, major software developers such as BMC and Software AG are supporting the effort with applications. Computer Associates and Compuware also are planning to support Linux for S/390.

IBM's decision to provide support for Linux for S/390 is a key element of the company's application sourcing strategy to allow users the freedom to choose operating systems, middleware and programming languages best suited to their e-business applications. IBM's enhancements to Java, XML, the WebSphere software platform and the upcoming new version of OS/390 are being developed to provide customers the maximum in choice.

Market Impact

This is a continuation of IBM's strategy of providing Linux, top-to-bottom, on its server products. [Note: IBM calls the S/390 a server, much of the market thinks of it as a mainframe.] Dell computer is (arguably) ahead of IBM in its implementation of Linux, but we believe IBM takes the prize for breadth of offering. Compaq has implemented Linux, but has a narrower product set than IBM, and HP appears still to be solidifying its Linux strategy. (Sun "allows" Linux to support UltraSPARC hardware, but otherwise does not support Linux.) Breadth of offering is not an advantage in-and-of-itself, but it does allow IBM to provide more potential solutions to customer needs. Although this strategy is still in its early stages, we believe it will provide competitive advantage in the long term.

Another, more tangible benefit will be the ability to partition the S/390 to allow something like the Apache Web Server to run from a separate "virtual machine" which is actually part of the 390. This potentially saves the customer from needing to buy another system to act as Web server. Of course, combining two (or more) disparate functions/servers on one system means you now have a single point of failure for all those functions. Although IBM's mainframes are known for their reliability, this may be a higher-risk scenario than some users are willing to accept.

To take the next step, IBM needs to provide factory-installed Linux as a "standard option", i.e., selectable through online ordering. IBM has plans to do so for the Netfinity series of servers, but it is not clear whether that will extend to the other server lines, nor to other products (e.g., notebooks), in a timely fashion. Clearly it is in IBM's best interest to do so, but organizational inertia is expected to be large.

User Recommendations

Users planning Linux implementation(s) will be heartened by IBM's continuing commitment to provide it across the product line. Once IBM takes the next step (as described above), it will make life even easier for Linux-philes, especially if they are current IBM customers.

The other area of interest is the S/390. Although mainframes are not for everyone, they clearly serve a purpose for large "back office" installations, such as that for the central database for an e-commerce site. IBM's ability to partition the S/390 into multiple "virtual machines" provides flexibility to customers, allowing them to derive multiple partitioned uses from the one large, reliable system.

Small shops, Windows-only shops, and Solaris-only shops will have little if any interest in this announcement. IBM has made it clear they are trying to supplant Sun in the Internet infrastructure, so we expect that more Solaris-only shops will be hearing from IBM Sales in the future. However, we are not certain there is (presently) a compelling reason for current Sun users to switch from Solaris to IBM-based Linux. There may be other reasons to move from Sun to IBM, but we do not see Linux itself as a key reason, except as part of a larger strategy.

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