Linux helps bring mainframes in from the cold

The pre-built installation server will provide users with the cost and reliability benefits that come with the open OS, says Novell

Novell hopes the cost benefits associated with its newly announced SUSE Linux Enterprise Server Starter System for IBM System z will help prove to IT managers that the mainframe is not yet a footnote in the history books.

The Massachusetts-based software maker announced this month that the pre-built installation server — which it says simplifies the installation of SUSE Linux Enterprise Server on IBM System z mainframes — will provide users with the cost and reliability benefits that come with the open OS.

"For people in the Linux side, installing SUSE Enterprise Server on a System z looks exactly like installing it on a traditional PC server," says Ross Chevalier, chief technology officer and chief information officer at Novell Canada.

Chevalier says the starter system is perfect for organisations which have asked themselves both, how to get better leverage out of their mainframe investments as well as how to leverage open source operating platforms, without retraining staff. He singled out effective cost management, reduction in complexity and better risk mitigation as some of the most effective benefits using Linux on System z mainframes can deliver to enterprise users.

"It's not only about getting the best return on my investment, it's also about reducing complexity and risk," Chevalier says. "If I'm reducing the physical number of platforms, reducing my power consumption, and reducing all my management interfaces, I'm taking the complexity out. Plus, with SUSE Linux Enterprise Server running on top of the IBM System z family, it helps to mitigate concerns around loss of data, redundancy of data and overall security."

Dan Kusnetzky, principal analyst and president at Florida-based Kusnetzky Group, was not surprised at the announcement, saying one of SUSE's biggest market segments, prior to being acquired by Novell, was providing Linux for mainframe deployments.

"If one considers the deployment of web services, database services or some other service to support today's web-based applications, it would, in all likelihood, be more cost effective to host those services on a single mainframe than on dozens of industry standard systems," Kusnetzky says. "The major area of cost reduction would be to reduce the cost of system administration and operations."

Warren Shiau, leader analyst of IT research at Toronto's Strategic Counsel, agrees, saying Novell's announcement helps companies that are hung up on the potentially high migration costs behind a move to Linux on IBM System z.

"The biggest thing that prevents companies from doing things IT-wise, even something that they know they'll benefit from in the long-run, is switching cost," Shiau says. "So you build tools to make it easier, which is the idea here. If you significantly reduce installation cost, time and effort, your product becomes more attractive and you get people who've been putting off deployment to start deploying."

And for Shiau, continued expansions of the mainframe market demonstrate to him the long-term viability and interest the technology has from many organisations in this space.

Historically, the biggest problem with mainframes, he said, has been that they've had a proprietary stack sitting on them — meaning even if the hardware is commoditised, it's still an expensive and locked-in platform.

"But there are several things that have been going on to change this includes huge reductions in mainframe hardware pricing, IBM opening up its middleware stack and putting it on the z-Series, and the z-Series running Linux," Shiau says.

As the cost of mainframes comes down and the more open the platform becomes, he says, the more companies are going to start considering moving a lot of their major workloads back onto the "new" mainframe.

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