Will the newest deeply discounted IBM System z enterprise Linux machines, dubbed Enterprise Linux Server, save the mainframe, especially during slow economic times? IBM reports Linux System z capacity doubled from third quarter 2007 to third quarter 2009. That beats z/OS MIPS growth in that period.
On the other hand, the UK-based magazine The Register reported that revenue overall declined 26% in 3Q 09, and the aggregate MIPS capacity shipped fell by 20%. As author Timothy Prickett Morgan pointed out about Enterprise Linux Server: “It takes a lot of cheap Linux MIPS to make up for expensive z/OS MIPS.”
IBM’s new discounted System z Enterprise Linux Server package is unlikely to make up that difference very fast. According to the IBM announcement, “With potential savings of up to 80%, the new IBM Enterprise Linux Server provides attractive, off-the-shelf pricing.” And a save-as-you-grow pricing model further discounts incremental capacity.
Clearly, IBM has identified Linux on System z as the most immediate growth opportunity for the mainframe. To that end, it is willing to slash prices to capture market share against the likes of HP and Sun in the enterprise Linux segment.
Linux on z is looking more and more like the future of the mainframe. Reed Mullen, IBM’s System z consolidation and virtualization initiative leader, only partly agrees. “Linux is one element of the future of the z.”
Right now it appears companies are turning to Linux on z mainly to consolidate distributed Oracle servers and save a bundle on software licensing fees. Linux server consolidation certainly is a great use case for Linux on the System z, a no-brainer from a payback standpoint, especially with IBM discounting prices.
But there needs to be more than just Oracle server consolidation on Linux. Mullen reports growing interest in running WebSphere applications on z Linux. Cognos 8 on Linux on z also shows promise although there are not many System z shops that have adopted it. Some, however, are kicking the tires.
SUSE’s Enterprise Consolidation Suite for z with Mono, a .NET application server that runs on SUSE Linux on z, opens some interesting opportunities. However, Novell has not publicly identified any .NET-Mono-Linux on z users. Reed suggests there actually are System z shops trying it, but he isn’t naming names either. Until independent analysts like me can actually talk to users, it’s just vaporware. Germany-based EFiS Financial Solutions AG is a recent SUSE Linux on z user, but there is no indication they are using .NET with Mono.
The Enterprise Linux Server entry price, for a BC-class z including 2 IFLs, z/VM, three years of maintenance, and some other goodies runs $212,000. A serious enterprise player, however, will want to run 10 IFLs, notes Reed. IBM is offering steep discounts for those extra IFLs too.
The new deal certainly will appeal to existing System z shops that want to expand their Linux on z workloads with an additional machine. It may even attract the business units of these organizations that previously relied only on distributed Linux platforms. What it is unlikely to attract will be virgin customers, those that have never had a mainframe. They still face a huge learning curve. Given I’ve previously argued that the z is overpriced, however, Enterprise Linux Server is a welcomed start.