Has the Linux 'dream machine' arrived?

IBM's pitch to make the mainframe the premier e-business platform is getting a little help from an unexpected place: Linux.Big Blue promised earlier this year to port Linux to all its server platforms.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor on
IBM's pitch to make the mainframe the premier e-business platform is getting a little help from an unexpected place: Linux.

Big Blue promised earlier this year to port Linux to all its server platforms. But to many that commitment sounded like little more than a platitude.

Now, however, even IBM seems to be surprised by the popularity of its Linux for S/390 port.

To date, there have been 1,100 downloads from IBM's DeveloperWorks Web site of IBM's mainframe Linux variant.

And customers say the combination of the mainframe operating system's legacy transaction capabilities, combined with Linux's hosting strengths, makes for a powerful commerce platform.

IBM: Mainframes now sexy IBM is working with a select group of pilot customers to develop and test business applications for Linux on S/390. On Thursday it opened its first e-Transactions "think tanks" in New York and France.

Customers say the combination ... makes for a powerful commerce platform.| The move to bring Linux to the mainframe comes at a time when IBM is continuing to try to build momentum for its message that the good, old mainframe is a very hot e-commerce platform.

IBM is pitching OS/390 Version 2 Release 9 -- the latest release of one of IBM's mainframe OSes, due to begin shipping on Friday -- as an industrial strength e-business system.

When coupled with the highly available, reliable S/390 hardware, IBM says, the platform is tailor-made for demanding commerce applications.

Match made in heaven "Customers playing with it (Linux for S/390) are finding interest in running multiple instances of Linux on a single server," said Rich Lechner, vice president of e-business for IBM's Enterprise Systems Group.

"This is very interesting for ASPs (application service providers) and ISPs," Lechner said, as is the capability to run middleware such as the Apache HTTP server right on an IBM mainframe.

Grede Foundries, a Milwaukee producer of manufacturing parts, is test-driving Linux on S/390 inside its business operations center.

Currently, the company maintains all its central accounting and shipping software and related data on its S/390 mainframe. Its Windows NT-based corporate intranet is linked back to this mainframe, giving employees access to the data.

"When the time is right, we want to move that intranet to the mainframe," said Rich Smrcina, systems software specialist for Grede. "The factor is speed. If Linux and the data can both reside on the mainframe, the data will be able to flow significantly faster."

Smrcina said the Linux platform also brings to the mainframe ready ports of interesting middleware, ranging from Apache to Samba to the Bind DNS server software.

And there's more ... The mainframe is hardly the only server platform where IBM's made a commitment to Linux.

"There's a plan for Linux compatibility on the AS/400," said Miles Barel, program director of Unix brand marketing for IBM's Enterprise Systems Group. "There will be both interoperability and application compatibility aspects."

He declined to offer further details.

Barel said IBM has a three-pronged Linux strategy across all of its platforms.

It is making certain there will be a common Linux application environment across its servers, meaning it will provide a set of libraries and interfaces that will allow core Linux applications to be compiled for different hardware/software platforms.

Contributing to open source IBM also is contributing some of its AIX Unix technologies, such as its journaling filing system, to the open-source process.

The company is considering adding others in the areas of cluster technology, SMP scalability, systems management and security, as well, Barel said.

Finally, IBM is focusing on making sure all its development tools and core applications are ported to Linux.

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