Novell Partners with SNA to Make Mainframe Linux Easier
Published: February 5, 2008
by Timothy Prickett Morgan
Mainframes are very efficient machines, but no one every called them inexpensive. If you are a mainframe shop that doesn't know a lot about Linux and you want to try out Linux on a mainframe, you have to go through a lot of grief--the same as for any other server, with some twists added for the mainframe architecture--to get Linux running on the box. This takes time, and time is money--particularly when you are talking about mainframe cycles. That's why commercial Linux distributor Novell has teamed up with Sine Nomine Associates to make Linux easier to install on mainframes.
According to Justin Steinman, director of marketing for Linux and open platform solutions at Novell, the company chose to work with SNA for two reasons. First, SNA is a company that has a lot of mainframe expertise as well as experience with open source operating systems and their use on mainframes. The company was instrumental in bringing Linux to the mainframe eight years ago (along with Marist College, near IBM's headquarters in Upstate New York), well ahead of IBM's own plans. And last year, in the wake of Sun Microsystems' making its Solaris Unix variant available as an open source project, SNA began porting OpenSolaris to the mainframe--again, well ahead of IBM's official plans.
Novell paid SNA to create the SUSE Linux Enterprise Server Starter System for System z, according to Steinman, because in a virtualized mainframe environment where some programmers are just kicking the tires on Linux, they do not need to get outside of the firewalls in front of mainframes or get access to network resources. They just want to plunk a Linux image and some application RPMs on top of the z/VM mainframe hypervisor and let them roll. That, in a nutshell, is what the SLES Starter System for System z is all about. (In effect, it is the mainframe equivalent of a LiveCD version of Linux, but instead of running on the CD or DVD, it is running off the image in z/VM.)
This Starter System for System z is based on SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 10 SP1, and is set up so it can do the install from a CMS window on a mainframe rather than the YAST install and management tool that is used to do a real SLES 10 installation. The product includes compressed disk images for SLES 10 SP1 and RPMs for the software in the distro, and the SLES 10 software is preconfigured to be set up for the virtualized I/O resources controlled by z/VM on the mainframe. The stack also includes a software development stack based on open source compilers and IBM's WebSphere Community Edition tools for creating Web applications. The starter system has been designed for SLES 10 SP1 only, and cannot do earlier SLES releases or other mainframe-compatible Linuxes, such as RHEL 4 and 5, or OpenSolaris images. (There's no technical reason why SNA could not create a similar tool for RHEL 5 or OpenSolaris. It is more that no one has asked the company to do it--yet.)
What the Starter System for System z is not, by the way, is a production environment for deploying Linux applications on a mainframe. The Starter System is free, and can be downloaded at www.novell.com/mainframe. The press release put out by Novell kinda hinted at this limitation, but without network connections, the Starter System is not really useful for production anyway. To help the Linux-on-mainframe effort along, IBM is offering trial z/VM licenses to mainframe shops who want to kick around the Linux operating system; the trials are good for 90 days.
Once the trial is done, of course, IBM wants to sell customers extra mainframe capacity and Novell wants to sell licenses. A basic SLES 10 license $11,999 per mainframe engine (that's per processor core, not per machine). A license including standard 9x5 tech support costs $14,999 per engine and a license with priority 24x7 tech support costs $17,999.
A year and a half ago, Novell claimed that SLES was installed on 80 percent of the IBM mainframes in the world that are using mainframes and Linux together on top of z/VM, and Steinman says that this percentage has not changed since SLES 10 was announced in July 2006. Steinman was not at liberty to say how many machines have Linux running on them, how many cores are under Linux within the mainframe base, or how much licensing revenue this generates for Novell. "All I can say is that it is a healthy portion of our Linux business and that SUSE Linux is by far the dominant Linux on mainframes," Steinman says.
Which leaves us to do some estimating, doesn't it? So here goes. In the first quarter of 2007, IBM said that about 1.2 million aggregate MIPS worldwide (out of 11.1 million MIPS total in the worldwide mainframe installed base) were deployed running Linux on so-called Integrated Linux Facility engines. (The IFL is just a fancy way of saying a mainframe engine sold at about 25 percent of list price running z/VM.) My guess is that there are about 1.6 million MIPS running Linux through the end of 2007. I would guess further that around 2,500 machines worldwide--or about a quarter of the mainframe footprints out there--have Linux engines on them. That works out to an average of 640 MIPS per machine, and that is probably on the order of two engines per machine, on average, across a pretty wide variety of mainframe engine speeds in the installed base. Call it two engines on average to make the math easier. That's 5,000 engines in the Linux installed base, which then gives Novell around 4,000 engines. It is hard not to imagine them all being on 24x7 support, but chose the lower annual fee of $11,999. That's $48 million a year in licenses and support, and if the engine count is twice that, it could be just under $100 million a year in licenses and support. In fiscal 2007 ended October 31, Novell had software license, maintenance, and support sales of $670.5 million, with the remainder being for services. Linux product revenues came to $76.6 million, while Open Enterprise Server accounted for $44.9 million in sales. Given this, my final gut guess is that $100 million is way too high, and so is $48 million. Novell's Linux license and support revenues for the mainframe are probably on the order of $20 million to $25 million a year on some 2,500 engines worldwide.
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Novell Gives Mainframe Shops Cross-Platform Linux Licenses
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