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IBM punts Linux-only mainframes

Big MIPS, deep discounts

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It's nearly a year before the next generation of mainframes is expected from IBM, and that means the marketing and sales people are going to have to get clever about packaging and pricing to peddle more MIPS. That is what the new Linux-only, mainframe-based Enterprise Linux Server is mostly about.

IBM has been selling Linux on mainframes for years. In fact, it's the adoption of Linux by some 1,300 customers that has helped prop up the mainframe business over the past nine years. As of today, 3,000 of the 6,300 unique third party applications that are available on the mainframe platform run atop Linux and IBM says that third quarter MIPS shipments for Linux-based mainframe engines was more than double that of the third quarter two years ago.

(The mainframe business nonetheless had a 26 per cent revenue decline in the third quarter of this year, and the aggregate MIPS capacity shipped fell by 20 percent. It takes a lot of cheap Linux MIPS to make up for expensive z/OS MIPS).

The Enterprise Linux Server the latest of IBM's System z Solution Edition configurations, five of which debuted in August and one, sporting an SAP software stack, was quietly announced in October 2008 when the System z10 Business Class (BC) editions debuted. The z10 BC servers have from 20 to just under 3,000 MIPS of processing power (across from one to five z/OS engines) plus an optional ten Linux engines and ten coupling facilities for running IBM's Parallel Sysplex clustering software. The higher-end System z10 Enterprise Class (EC) servers were announced in February 2008 and have as many as 64 engines and a MIPS range of just 200 to just shy of 30,000.

IBM has offered Solution Edition versions of its AS/400 family of midrange boxes for years, and even did a Linux-only, discounted version of its Power-based servers back September 2004 called the OpenPower servers. With both the AS/400 Solution Edition and OpenPower machines, IBM gave customers discounts on the hardware to help promote the sale. This is by no means a new idea.

With the System z Solution Editions, IBM is preconfiguring System z10 BC and EC mainframes with SAP, data warehousing, security hub, disaster recovery, WebSphere middleware, or application development stacks. IBM said in August that the original Solution Edition bundles were priced to be within 20 per cent of the cost of putting a similar solution on an Integrity server from Hewlett-Packard, which worked out to a 50 to 80 per cent price reduction compared to pricing for assembling the same hardware and software together in an a la carte fashion.

With the Enterprise Linux Server version of the System z Solution Edition, IBM is configuring a BC or EC machine with Integrated Facility for Linux (IFL) mainframe engines, which are designated only to run Linux from Red Hat or Novell. (Yes, IBM really does talk this way). In the United States, the EC version of the Linux bundle box has six engines and can scale to 64, while the BC version has two engines and scales up to ten. Each Linux engine is configured with 16 GB of main memory, plus the z/VM hypervisor for managing Linux instances, I/O connectivity to disks and networks, plus hardware and software maintenance for a term that runs from three to five years.

The entry Enterprise Linux Server BC box costs $212,000 with two Linux engines and presumably three years of support. IBM does not provide list pricing for its components, but assures El Reg that "customers can expect a sizeable discount" compared to setting up an EC or BC box to run Linux and buying the parts piecemeal. Moreover, as customers turn on Linux engines and add to the box, IBM says each incremental unit of MIPS costs less and less for hardware, software, and support. This is what IBM refers to a its "save as you grow" pricing model.

IBM had already cut pricing on IFL engines on its mainframes back in August, and presumably this Linux-ready box takes the pricing beyond the engines to the whole system. And that is about the only way IBM is going to be able to make the case for consolidating infrastructure workloads running on Windows, Unix, and Linux boxes to Linux partitions on mainframes. It has to close the pricing gap that is widening as x64 server makers are cramming more CPUs, memory, and I/O into 2U and 4U rack boxes.

These Enterprise Linux Server mainframe bundles do not include licenses to Red Hat Enterprise Linux or Novell SUSE Linux Enterprise Server, by the way. You have to buy those separately. Novell has aggressive pricing that let's you get Linux for $10,200 per engine (instead of the $15,000 list price), and if you want to prepay for five years of support, you can get the mainframe version of SLES support for $7,499 per engine. ®

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