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IBM, Novell to slash Linux prices for mainframes

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With System z mainframe revenues down 39 per cent - and MIPS mainframe capacity shipments off 20 percent in the second quarter - IBM is keen on boosting mainframe sales. And it wants to use Linux as a lever.

Commercial Linux distributor Novell has a more than 80 per cent share of Linux revenues on IBM's mainframe platform. The company has been shipping its SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 11 since the end of March, and it wants to get more mainframe shops to add SLES 11 to Integrated Facility for Linux engines.

These are special low-cost 64-bit mainframe engines that use z/VM to partition the engines and manage multiple Linux instances on them. Novell makes a lot more money selling a support contract on a mainframe engine than it does on an x64 or Power server, so it wants to keep pushing SLES 11 hard into mainframe shops.

IBM, Marist College (in upstate New York and near Blue Blue's Poughkeepsie mainframe stomping grounds), and SUSE Linux (the formerly independent German Linux distro that was eaten by Novell in late 2003) worked together on an official Linux port to the mainframe in 1999 and delivered it in 2000. The first enterprise-grade SUSE Linux for the mainframe was delivered with SLES 8 in 2003, including official support at what x86 and x64 shops would call an outrageous price. But it looks like a bargain to mainframe customers used to paying IBM's outrageous monthly license fees for z/OS, z/VM, and z/VSE and their related middleware and database programs.

The word on the street is that Big Blue and commercial Linux distributor Novell are getting ready to announce big price cuts on support contracts for Linux on the mainframe (to help boost sales of IFLs) and for SLES 11 on the mainframe. In addition to pricing, Novell and IBM want to use some new technology that comes in SLES 11 as a lever, hoping to get more companies interested in putting Linux on mainframes in the first place.

Apparently, half of the mainframe shops in the world use Linux in some share or form, according to surveys done by IBM and Novell. (Not just on the mainframe, but on any platform). And both companies - because of the juicy profit margins that come with mainframe Linux support contracts - want to see more big iron running SLES 11.

First, let's talk about a few mainframe-specific features in SLES 11. Novell has added cross-architectural debugging, which allows a System z core dump to be downloaded from a mainframe and analyzed on an x64 server. SLES 11 also allows for mainframe processor cores and memory capacity to be dynamically added and removed from Linux guest operating systems running atop the z/VM hypervisor and the IFL engines.

SLES 11 also gives mainframe shops the disk subsystem performance analysis data and tools for disks attached to mainframes using the SCSI over Fibre Channel protocol. And it has made way fo the z10 engine's inherent NUMA clustering. It can boost Linux performance by scheduling processes to run on engines that are close to the appropriate data sets in the NUMA cluster's cache or main memory. (This is called CPU node affinity).

SLES 11 on the mainframe now supports the large memory pages (1 MB) of the z10 processors, and it has had its IPv4 HiperSocket networking tweaked and IPv6 networking added. The Mono open source .NET/C# runtime environment also runs on mainframes and is supported for the first time in SLES 11 (This is true across all server platforms where SLES 11 runs).

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