Linux on mainframes gets cheaper

Computer World –

Call it a big-iron boost for Linux.

IBM this week will introduce hardware, software and pricing features designed to make it cheaper for users to run Linux applications on their S/390 mainframes.

Key among the features is hardware called the Integrated Facility for Linux. It will let users of IBM's Generation 6 and Generation 5 mainframes add processor capacity exclusively for Linux applications without increasing charges for all other software on the server.

The feature removes a key obstacle to deploying Linux applications on mainframes, said analyst Tracy Corbo at Hurwitz Group Inc. in Framingham, Mass.

"I think it's a great way to leverage the power of the mainframe and not incur the traditional costs associated with mainframe software," she said.

IBM's move builds on its announcement earlier this year to formally support Linux applications on the S/390. Driving the change is the growing user demand for the open-source operating system, said Pete McCaffrey, an IBM program manager. More than 4,000 mainframe users have downloaded Linux for OS/390 since it became available early this year, he said.

Under typical capacity-based mainframe software pricing, a user adding hardware capacity to run new Linux applications would automatically have to pay higher fees on all other system and application software running on the mainframe.

With the new feature, users will be able to isolate and run Linux applications on a separate partition on their S/390 servers. IBM controls pricing only for its own software.

But several other mainframe software vendors, including Computer Associates International Inc., BMC Software Inc. and Compuware Corp., have agreed not to increase their license fees for customers who increase their mainframe capacity in order to run Linux applications, according to Pete McCaffrey, an IBM program manager.

IBM will offer a special price of $125,000 for each processor that is added to a mainframe to run Linux applications. That's about one-third the price it would have cost customers to add capacity for other applications, McCaffrey said.

Software, Too

Another enhancement being announced this week is the S/390 Virtual Image Facility for Linux software, which will give users a way to partition an Integrated Linux Facility into hundreds of small Linux servers that can be brought online as needed.

"It means I don't have to buy servers and replicate hardware costs every time I need to add capacity," said Michael Rogers, president of Metahost.Net, an application service provider located in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Metahost plans to soon start offering Linux-based office applications running on an S/390 mainframe.

"There is nothing that can scale as well or offer as much security as a mainframe" for running Linux applications, Rogers said.

In another move to cut the costs of Linux software, IBM is also introducing a new per-processor pricing plan under which users will be assessed a flat one-time fee based on the number of processors dedicated to Linux applications, in addition to an annual maintenance fee. Under the current pricing method, users typically pay a monthly license charge based on the overall capacity of the system.

Steps suuch as these should go a long way toward spurring deployment of Linux applications on mainframes, said Rich Smrcina, a systems software specialist at Grede Foundries Inc. Grede is a $600 million producer of metal castings in Milwaukee.

"I was really hoping IBM would do the right thing by users and not tie Linux" into the kind of costly pricing schemes that are associated with other mainframe software, Smrcina said.

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