IBM Rolling Out Its First Linux-Only Mainframe

Big Blue today will introduce two new Linux-based high-end computing systems in a move that will mark the first time the company will sell a mainframe system configured solely to use the open-source software.

IBM today introduced two new Linux-based high-end computing systems in a move that will mark the first time the company will sell a mainframe system configured solely to use the open-source software.

Over the last two years, IBM has been a leader among computer makers in embracing Linux and has rolled it out as an option across its server line, including mainframes.

But todays release of a new Linux-based zSeries 900 mainframe represents a milestone for open-source proponents, as it is the first IBM mainframe that will only be offered with Linux and thus exclude the companys proprietary Unix-based software, which until just over two years ago was the sole operating system offered with such systems.

Linux has enjoyed rapid adoption in data centers worldwide, but the operating system has largely been used in edge-of-the-network systems, rather than business-critical systems.

However, the introduction of a powerful Linux-based zSeries should fuel the adoption of the OS into more powerful and business-critical back-end systems. The zSeries system, with pricing starting at about $400,000, is capable of handling thousands of transactions per second and and doing the work of hundreds of virtual servers, IBM said.

IBM also announced a new Linux-based iSeries server targeted at small businesses, which will be capable of handling the work of up to 15 servers. Pricing for the server will start at just under $50,000.

Both servers, which can come equipped with up to four 64-bit microprocessors each, are scheduled to begin shipping this quarter. IBM is expected to show off the new high-end systems next week at the LinuxWorld Conference and Expo in New York.

Prior to todays announcement, John Morris, an IBM vice president who oversees the zSeries line, said the company had seen an increasing customer interest in using Linux in mainframes. The combination, he said, can help companies reduce their operating expenses by using open-source software and transitioning from multiple low-end servers to a single mainframe.

"More and more businesses are using Linux on the mainframe to help them achieve dramatic savings in space, energy and support costs," Morris said.

In one such example, Boscovs Department Stores LLC, based in Reading, Pa., last year decided to replace its 44 Windows NT servers with a single zSeries mainframe running Linux.

Harry Roberts, Boscovs chief information officer, said the increasing costs associated with operating dozens of servers spurred the company to switch to a Linux-based mainframe.

"Over the last several years, weve added one server per month to our server farm," Roberts said. "This meant adding a new server administrator for every 10 servers. The increasing complexity and difficulty of backing up the large and growing server farm was becoming a major concern."

Morris said Boscovs represents just one example of an increasing trend.

"The cost savings benefits of Linux and the ease of management when compared to a server farm are prompting customers like Boscovs to explore how Linux on the mainframe solves business problems with unmatched flexibility and efficiency," he said.

While Microsoft Corp.s Windows still remains the most widely used operating system, Linux in recent years has enjoyed the fastest growth, according to International Data Corp., a market research company based in Framingham, Mass.

Overall, IDC estimates that more than 40 percent of servers use a Microsoft operating system, while Linux, at 30 percent, has grown to become the second most popular server operating system.

But Linuxs popularity has largely been centered on low-end servers for use in such simple tasks as Web-page serving, with larger corporations rejecting the open-source software. That view was backed up by a survey of corporate executives released by Goldman Sachs last November.

In a poll of 100 executives with Fortune 1000 companies, the brokerage found that only 24 percent favor adding Linux to their data center mix, and that only 3 percent envision using Linux on their business-critical servers in the next three years.