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ComputerWire: IT Industry Intelligence

IBM Corp wants to catch the wave of server consolidation for print, file, and Web serving by providing Linux-only configurations for its zSeries mainframes and iSeries midrange servers that carry a lower price tag than plain vanilla zSeries or iSeries machines,

Timothy Prickett Morgan writes.

IBM will today provide a preview of two upcoming server announcements it will make at the LinuxWorld show in New York next week and at its annual PartnerWorld show in San Francisco next month. Calling the new machines Linux-only is a bit of a stretch, of course, since the zSeries "Raptor" mainframes and the iSeries Model 820 servers will have z/VM and OS/400 installed on them (respectively) to act as partition managers.

According to Peter McCaffrey, director of zSeries product marketing at IBM, the new machines are based on feedback and market success that IBM has had last year in promoting the mainframe as a platform on which enterprise customers can consolidate their Unix, Linux, and Windows workloads. "Customers have really embraced Linux on the mainframe to help drive down costs." The new Raptor server, which will reportedly have from one to four of a tweaked version of IBM's G7 mainframe processors, will debut initially as a Linux solution; after the machine is shipping sometime around the middle of March, IBM will announce Raptor servers that will support its z/OS operating system (and maybe others). But these machines will only officially run Linux and will not be enabled to run other operating systems.

The reason why this is the case is that the Linux-based Raptors will have lower prices. McCaffrey says that a uniprocessor Raptor server equipped with a reasonable amount of memory and disk, the z/VM license (only good as a Linux partition manager) plus three years of maintenance and software services will sell for around $400,000. A uniprocessor "Freeway" zSeries 900 mainframe with the same features sells for around $750,000. The Raptor will be able to support hundreds of virtual Linux servers, he says, but the economics start to make sense once a customer puts 20 virtual Linux servers on a uniprocessor Raptor. He also adds that with the workload manager built into z/VM, companies should be able to get anywhere from 80% to 95% sustained CPU utilization on the Raptor running Linux, compared to a 10% to 20% CPU utilization on individual Intel-based Linux servers. Any economic analysis has to take this into account.

The iSeries Model 820 configured for Linux comes in single-, dual- and quad-processor versions, and these machines support three, seven or fifteen Linux partitions. (OS/400, unlike z/VM, does not allow hundreds of logical partitions on a single physical machine, but rather four partitions per processor. One partition on each server has to be dedicated to running OS/400, which eats one-fourth, one-eighth, and one-sixteenth of maximum number of partitions on a single Model 820 server, respectively.) Sources at IBM say that pricing for these iSeries for Linux servers has not been finalized, but that customers should expect a 15% to 20% discount compared to the cost of buying a regular Model 820 server using the same hardware, plus whatever normal discounts they can negotiate off list price.

Both the zSeries and iSeries Linux servers can be configured with commercial Linux distributions from SuSE and Turbolinux; Red Hat is expected to have support for these two boxes, and indeed the entire eServer line, in short order, perhaps by the time these two Linux-only servers ship in sometime in March.

IBM says that 11% of the mainframe processing power that was shipped in the fourth quarter of 2001 were dedicated to supporting Linux workloads. The impression that one gets from IBM is that if Linux had not been available, mainframe revenues would have declined. IBM clearly believes that the trend to consolidate servers and to use Linux for print, file, Web or email serving could unite on less-costly, Linux-enabled zSeries and iSeries servers and thereby increase their sales. What customers will believe could be, of course, another story. A lot will depend on particular situations. Customers with existing zSeries and iSeries servers supporting their core ERP applications will be inclined to listen to IBM's sales pitch and maybe even run some numbers to see if they could save some money by consolidating Unix, Linux, or Windows applications onto Linux partitions on these zSeries or iSeries servers. It is hard to imagine IBM having the same success with die-hard Unix shops or Wintel shops, however. They have no experience with mainframe or OS/400 servers, and because people costs are such a big component of data center costs, probably have no desire to start building up that experience.

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