Linux for the Mainframe Today

By Bill Claybrook  |  Posted 2010-04-07 Print this article Print

Linux for the mainframe today

Mainframes are over 40 years old. Several years ago, mainframes were being written off as expensive, dated computers that were capable of running only large business applications. Not anymore. Mainframes have evolved rapidly during the past few years, with innovation from Linux and IBM.

Today, mainframes are inexpensive, faster and smaller than older mainframes. And, when used in server virtualization situations, they can provide significant savings on floor space and power. Take, for example, the IBM System z10 Business Class server. The System z10 gives you equivalent capacity, an 83 percent smaller footprint, and up to 93 percent lower energy costs than 232 x86-based Linux servers. Cost per mips is one way that IBM compares the cost of mainframes.  

Today, the cost per mips for the System z10 is a small fraction of the cost per mips for mainframes sold in 1980. This means that you get significantly more speed and capacity for the dollar now than you did with older IBM mainframes. You can get an IBM System z10 Business Class mainframe for around $100,000 and it gives you significant capacity with its new 4.4GHz, quad-core processors. Not bad when compared to the high prices of older mainframes.

Server virtualization

Most of the server virtualization options are x86-based, and consolidating workloads onto mainframes [Herein, the word "mainframe" is synonymous with IBM S/390, IBM zSeries (z990, z890, z900, z800) and IBM System z9 and z10 servers] is often overlooked, but now it is becoming popular.

In many situations, it is the most cost-effective approach to server virtualization because mainframes aren't as expensive as they previously were, plus they have gotten much more powerful over the years. And you get the benefits of a mainframe such as increased hardware reliability, extreme I/O throughput, and less downtime. Those benefits just come with mainframes, and you won't automatically get them from server virtualization on x86 servers or any other architecture.

IBM's Rehosting Applications from Competitive Environments (RACEv) tool is an excellent tool for evaluating your workloads, and to determine if they are a fit for Linux on the mainframe. The RACEv tool utilizes a set of workload categories, ranked according to how well they fit the mainframe. A RACEv evaluation tells you the cost savings you can expect to get by consolidating workloads onto Linux for the mainframe versus other server virtualization technologies such as VMware. It is a sophisticated tool that will give you a much-needed hand in helping you to decide what server virtualization technology is right for your data center, so you can save even more money for your company.

Bill Claybrook is a marketing research analyst with over 30 years of experience in the computer industry, with the last 10 years in Linux and Open Source. From 1999 to 2004, Bill was Research Director, Linux and Open Source, at the Aberdeen Group in Boston. He resigned his competitive analyst/Linux product marketing position at Novell in June 2009 after spending over four and half years engaging in cloud computing, software appliances, virtualization technologies, and numerous aspects of Linux platforms. He is President of New River Marketing Research in Concord, MA. He holds a Ph.D. in Computer Science. He can be reached at

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