Linux Looms Large At IBM

IBM's big plans for Linux are getting bigger every day. While the Armonk, N.Y., company's initial goal was to enable Linux on the mainframe, it is now working to effectively cluster large-scale Linux configurations.

IBMs big plans for Linux are getting bigger every day. While the Armonk, N.Y., companys initial goal was to enable Linux on the mainframe, it is now working to effectively cluster large-scale Linux configurations. The result should mean more scalable and reliable server and mainframe applications for such things as e-mail, Web hosting and enterprise resource planning.

IBM has put Linux on a 512-node cluster under the LosLobos supercomputer project at the University of New Mexicos Albuquerque High Performance Computing Center, said Daniel Frye, director of IBMs Linux Technology Center in an exclusive interview with eWeek following IBMs third annual Linux summit last week in Austin, Texas.

"Initiatives that allow [Linux] to effectively host 100 million mailboxes and run huge backbones for mail systems are exciting for us," said Greg Olson, co-founder and chairman of Sendmail Inc., in Emeryville, Calif. Sendmail uses an IBM Linux mainframe for development and runs a host of Linux servers.

IBMs LosLobos supercomputer consists of 256 Netfinity PC servers. The Intel Corp. 733MHz IA-32 processor-based computer system is expected to provide a peak theoretical performance of about 375 gigaflops of processing power.

The improved scalability will be reflected in IBM products and new technology going forward, and several announcements are expected on the mainframe, server and solution side in the next few months, Frye said.

IBM is not alone. The open-source community is working on clustering as well. The Linux 2.4 kernel, expected to be released at the end of this month, will also include symmetric multiprocessing scalability to eight CPUs; large file system support, even on 32-bit architectures; and the ability to address up to 64GB of physical memory on Intels large X86 servers.

Some 320 staffers from IBMs Linux and open-source technical community congregated at the summit to examine the companys execution in the Linux field to date and to brainstorm for new and creative ideas. Further network consolidation on IBMs S/390 mainframes was also a major topic of discussion.

Earlier this year, IBM announced Linux software, middleware and services for the S/390. "But what is fascinating is that our customers are saying Linux on the mainframe is good enough for many markets," Frye said.

Mark Ryan, chief technology officer for Atlanta-based, which runs Linux but not yet on a mainframe, said he planned to investigate this possibility. Running Linux on an IBM mainframe has a number of features that are particularly appealing, especially the ability to reassign the workload if a CPU is lost, as well as its reliability, Ryan said.

"We recently switched from a Sun Solaris Netscape environment to running [Linux-based] Apache on IBMs Netfinity 4000R servers," Ryan said. "We use about 65 of these servers for our images and maps. It has solved many issues I previously had, and I have every confidence that the platform will be fully scalable and completely enterprise-ready going forward."

Sendmails Olson said Linux was clearly enterprise-ready at the server level for applications such as mail servers, commerce servers, Web servers and e-commerce application servers. "But, over time, as the Linux platform continues to prove itself in the mission-critical arena, other mission-critical applications like financials and CRM [customer relationship management] would migrate as companies moved to a unified Linux platform," he said.

IBMs Frye agreed, saying Linux was becoming a "highly disruptive force" that will do for applications what the Internet had done for networks—become a common, open, pervasive platform that created an explosion of innovation in e-business applications.

And IBMs eye is on that ball. The companys Linux strategy involves enabling all its hardware, software and services with Linux; building a set of alliances through distribution processes; and contributing to the open-source community to help accelerate Linux, Frye said.

"At the summit, we were able to bring people from across all areas of our company—from the S/390 mainframes all the way down to the ThinkPad—and theyre all talking about the same operating system," he said. "This spans everybody in IBM and is unlike anything weve ever done."