Meta Group roasts Linux on mainframes

A report from an influential analyst group says Linux mainframes will soon be irrelevant, and adds that Linux is good for nothing more than simple, non-critical applications

Market research company Meta Group has something to say about the current growth of Linux on mainframes: Don't believe the hype.

In a report published this week, Meta Group said that while mainframes running Linux have some advantages in the short term, after a two years or so they will be irrelevant, as the cost of Intel-based servers continues to drop and their management capabilities improve.

The company also said that Linux is not yet mature enough to handle critical business applications.

IBM and other vendors have recently been hawking Linux on mainframes to customers who want to consolidate many separate servers into a single, relatively low-maintenance machine. Mainframes are ideal for consolidation because of their ability to run many different partitions, each with its own operating system. They also tend to be incredibly resilient, with features such as hot-swap processors and memory meaning that zero downtime is common.

However, Intel-based servers are emerging with mainframe-like capabilities, and it is these machines that Meta Group ultimately sees dominating data centre computing. "Longer term (2005-07), as Unix/Win2000-based systems flesh out increasingly robust, mainframe-like management capabilities, the justification for paying the mainframe's significant cost premium will fade," said the report, entitled Linux on the Mainframe: Nice Place to Visit, But....

Meta Group argues that IBM's mainframes will not be able to match the price/performance improvement of systems based on commodity hardware, which it pegs at about 35 percent a year. AMD and Intel are both introducing high-end 64-bit processors, respectively the Opteron and Itanium 2, that are aimed at lowering the cost of high-end computing power.

Meta Group predicts that by 2007 the Linux-based data centre workload, which will make up 15-20 percent of the market, will be almost exclusively running on Intel-based hardware.

The company says that, at least for the moment, Linux isn't capable of running more complex, critical applications, such as email notification systems. "We caution users that current Linux incarnations are relatively immature, as evidenced by the interminable list of errors/patches on Linux providers' Web sites," the report said.

It criticised Linux vendors for requiring users to constantly update their software to fix errors. "Controlling/managing 'version churn' is an increasing Linux burden, with many users turning to vendors such as SuSE to keep Linux and future applications synchronised," Meta Group said.

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