It has taken a decade but Linux has finally firmly established itself in the mainframe world. As recently as 2Q 2012, IBM was reporting two-thirds of its top 100 customers had deployed IFLs, the assist processor for running Linux on the mainframe. Overall, one-third of its System z customers have deployed IFLs. Regardless of whether you are running Linux on the z today or not, Linux on z along with Java saved the mainframe from becoming just another niche technology instead of the versatile core enterprise platform it is today.
SUSE Linux Enterprise is the dominant version on Linux on the mainframe. SUSE now is owned by Attachmate, which says it will runs it as an independent business unit to ensure it continues to focus on the benefits of open source. SUSE has about 65% of the mainframe Linux market. Ubuntu and Fedora have negligible presence among mainframe Linux.
Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) holds most of the remainder on the mainframe Linux market. Red Hat also offers Fedora, another Linux distribution intended primarily for individuals. After making steady inroads into SUSE’s mainframe Linux market share, progress appears to have slowed in recent months. At its annual Red Hat Summit last June the company celebrated crossing the $1 billion annual revenue threshold, a major achievement for any organization but especially for one built around an open source product. The Red Hat event returns to Boston in 2013, June 11-14.
The Red Hat gathering focused on the current hot IT issues—cloud, mobility, and cloud storage—but the mainframe was noticeably absent. There has been some shifting of responsibilities among Red Hat personnel regarding the mainframe, but DancingDinosaur has been told it remains an active initiative. DancingDinosaur believes RHEL on the mainframe can certainly play an integral role in driving RHEL adoption throughout the enterprise, especially as it spreads through IBM’s various hybrid computing and cloud initiatives. And having two active Linux on z providers is good for mainframe computing.
This coming fall marks the first SUSECon event, something SUSE intends to make into an annual event. Planned for Orlando FL, Sept. 18-21, the event already is promoting Doug Balog, general manager, IBM System z, as a keynote. Balog is responsible for IBM’s worldwide System z server business. The conference promises to address enterprise Linux in the data center, cloud technology and infrastructure, and Linux systems management; basically what you’d expect.
In the meantime, SUSE released the second Service Pack for SUSE Linux Enterprise 11, which includes advanced exploitation of the latest IBM zEnterprise hardware, improved systems management, increased performance, and better problem analysis and resolution. For example, new support for SSD makes it transparent to the DASD device driver, meaning no change required to use SSD
In terms of Linux functionality on the mainframe users see little differentiation between SUSE and RHEL from a product functionality standpoint. Makes sense since both are based on the Linux open source kernel. DancingDinosaur has profiled mainframe shops using each distribution. The choice often comes down to familiarity, services, and vendor attention to the customer. As hybrid computing gains traction among mainframe and Power shops and eventually PureSystems shops, however, the vendor—SUSE or Red Hat—that best addresses these new optimized multi-platform environments may gain an advantage.
For now, distinctions are minimal. A leading insurance company reports that it ended up using both distributions on its mainframe, starting first with Red Hat and then switching to SUSE and, a few years later, switching back to Red Hat. As the project manager noted: “Either one works fine; you simply have to consider if your company already has a relationship with one of the vendors, your workload requirements, and any cost differences for code and support.” You also need to consider vendor readiness to support future initiatives like cloud, hybrid computing, mobile, and social business.
But changes are coming fast. IBM is inviting the industry to tomorrow’s virtual announcement of what it bills as the next generation zEnterprise system. Check it out. DancingDinosaur will cover it in the next post.