January 22, 2001, 1:25 PM — To the Unix community, it is now merely the rumble of distant thunder on an otherwise sunny day, but rising corporate interest in Linux-based mainframes could have them reaching for an umbrella in the next year or two.
Driving this heightened interest in mainframe Linux are the spiraling costs associated with buying and managing the mushrooming number of departmental Unix-and Windows NT-based servers. During the past few years, these systems took over the running of key Web-based applications now central to corporate users' competitive strategies.
In the past three months, top-tier Linux distributors including Red Hat Inc., TurboLinux Inc., and SuSE Linux AG have pledged or deepened commitments to work with IBM Corp. and deliver native versions of Linux that exploit Big Blue's mainframes. IBM will underscore that relationship by bundling Linux versions of key middleware products, such as WebSphere, MQSeries, and CICS, with the new versions of the operating system.
What is also inspiring corporate interest is this month's release of the long-awaited Version 2.4.0 of the Linux kernel, which features several critical high-end server capabilities, including support for IBM's S/390 and z900 mainframes. IBM Chairman Lou Gerstner also announced in December that IBM will invest US$1 billion in Linux during 2001, a good portion of which will go toward the development, marketing, and servicing of Linux on mainframes and supercomputer-class clusters.
Big Blue's streak
Evidence that corporate users are more than curious about the specter of Linux mainframes is found in the handful of recent customer wins scored by IBM. In December, Telia, Scandinavia's largest telecommunications company and ISP, installed a Linux-based IBM G6 mainframe to replace 35 Sun-based servers used largely to run its billing system.
Meanwhile, Grede Foundries, a $600-million-a-year metals company in Milwaukee, installed Linux on its existing S/390 to handle Web serving, file, and e-mail functions, taking those duties away from a large base of Unix-and Windows-based servers.
"Over the next year, I think you will see a number of wins where IBM convinces Sun Microsystems, Hewlett-Packard, and Compaq shops that their cost of computing can be lowered if they consolidate their midrange systems onto a single [mainframe-based] Parallel Sysplex system," says Dan Kusnetzky, vice president of system software research at IDC, in Framingham, Mass.
By pushing Linux on its largest systems, IBM increases its chance to sell more $1 million mainframes, which would go a long way toward shoring up sagging mainframe revenues. For their part, Linux vendors get to use a Big Blue club to beat down Unix competitors unwilling to work cooperatively.