SUSE Linux future on the IBM System z

As noted in earlier posts, IBM’s decision to bring Linux to the mainframe a decade ago saved the mainframe from becoming a niche platform. Linux on the System z along with the mainframe’s unmatched virtualization capabilities will propel it into the future as a cloud-capable platform and for whatever comes next.

That’s why Attachmate’s acquisition of Novell for $2.2 billion late in November raises some concerns. Part of Novell is SUSE Linux, one of the two Linux distributions certified for System z. For many years SUSE, essentially, had 100% of the mainframe Linux market while Red Hat focused on the distributed systems market. That dynamic, however, is changing.

Red Hat has steadily chipped away at the SUSE mainframe share. Today Red Hat, according to some market analysts, has 25% share to Novell’s 75%. Red Hat clearly has demonstrated market momentum in the past two years.

If Attachmate follows what it has done with previous acquisitions, such as NetIQ, Novell will be run as its own business unit. That means, presumably, it will continue to pursue strategies to build SUSE in the mainframe market.

In announcing the acquisition the Attachmate CEO said: “This acquisition will add significant assets to our current portfolio holdings, and the Novell and SUSE brands will allow us to deliver even more value to customers… Moreover, we look forward to maintaining and further strengthening Novell and SUSE solutions to meet market demands.”

If you are a SUSE Linux mainframe customer that sounds pretty encouraging. However, high up in a slightly different acquisition announcement from Novell was this:  Novell also announced it has entered into a definitive agreement for the concurrent sale of certain intellectual property assets to CPTN Holdings LLC, a consortium of technology companies organized by Microsoft Corporation.

So Microsoft and some partners are buying a chunk of Novell’s intellectual property. That shouldn’t raise any concerns except for one thing; SUSE includes Mono, a .NET application server. In theory SUSE Linux on the z running Mono would allow an organization to run .NET applications (essentially Windows apps) on the mainframe.

DancingDinosaur has not found any SUSE on z user that has successfully implemented .NET apps on the mainframe. A few have tried but reported that Mono on z wasn’t ready for prime time.

This raises two questions:

  1. Will Mono on z be improved so it, indeed, is ready for production deployment?
  2. If Mono on z is part of the intellectual property Microsoft purchased, would it be interested in improving Mono performance on the z?

If Mono is not part of what Microsoft purchased, question #2 is moot. In any case, as a Novell spokesman pointed out, Mono is open source so Microsoft shouldn’t be calling the shots anyway. The Mono community can be found here and Mono for the z (s390) here.

It would be nice if Mono worked as promised on the System z, giving mainframe users another avenue for expanding mainframe workloads; this time for Windows workloads. If you know anyone who has tried it successfully on the z, please let me know.

 

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