The mainframe returns – as a platform for large-scale Linux

There are several ways to build large scale Linux server environments, with x86 and public cloud being obvious ones. But there’s another option too, as I reminded myself when I caught up with Adam Jollans, program director for LinuxOne product marketing at IBM. LinuxOne is a solution built by IBM using the mainframe platform as its base, but it’s solely focused on running Linux workloads.

We discussed the way some organisations are using LinuxOne to keep mission-critical open source solutions running without service interruption and, just as importantly, to keep them secure. Typical workloads his customers run include core banking services – where resilience is essential, not just desirable – and similar solutions for Telcos and SPs. These are services that must scale to hundreds or even thousands of virtual machines, doing so both cost-effectively and without risk.

The characteristics of such mission-critical workloads clearly resonate with the traits of the venerable mainframe. After all, the mainframe is regarded by many, even those who have never seen one, as the gold standard for IT resilience and availability. Unfortunately for IBM, and arguably for the wider world, the mainframe is also widely thought of as being out-dated, expensive, and difficult to manage – even though this hasn’t been true for a long time, and is certainly not the case with LinuxOne.

Linux admins, managing mainframes

LinuxOne is built on modern technology, and the management tools available from IBM and other vendors, such as CA Technologies, Compuware and BMC, have done much to simplify everyday tasks. Just as importantly, a trained Linux administrator can look after the platform using the same skills they use on any other Linux system.

While the scalability, security and resilience characteristics of the mainframe are now widely recognised, IBM is still faced with the perception of the mainframe as expensive. True, they’re not cheap, but neither is any system designed to run very large workloads. Indeed, some cost comparison studies indicate that LinuxOne is at least as cost effective as x86 systems to run applications at high scale.

It’s clear that IBM has a significant challenge to educate the market on the qualities of LinuxOne. Perceptions can be difficult to change, especially those that have been actively promoted by other vendors over many years. That said, LinuxOne is picking up new customers in both developed markets and rapidly growing economies around the world. The planned take-over by IBM of Linux and cloud specialist Red Hat will undoubtedly shift the market dynamics in this area, too.

For anyone who operates Linux systems at very large scale to support services which must run without fail, especially where those services have a mainframe history, it may be worthwhile taking a broader look at the options and not just defaulting to x86 or the public cloud.

Read more from the Freeform Dynamics Core Infrastructure & Services team here.

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