Red Hat, IBM Commit to Better Mainframe Linux
Published: May 22, 2007
by Timothy Prickett Morgan
As part of the festivities at the Red Hat Summit user and partner conference in San Diego two weeks ago, Red Hat and mainframe maker IBM outlined a broad partnership deal that the two had inked to make Linux on System z mainframe a better option for customers. The two said the partnership is being driven by customer demand among governments and corporations worldwide who want Red Hat Enterprise Linux to work as seamlessly on mainframes as IBM's own z/OS operating system does.
The deal is also being driven by the desire to make money and to tap into an opportunity that both companies see to sell high-end systems and services to customers who like mainframes, or who think they need the qualities of a mainframe even if they do not like mainframes. For instance, financial services companies, who have decades of experience on mainframes, are very happy to pay a premium for Linux platforms if the mainframe's legendary security can wrap around Linux.
"We are seeing a lot of interest in Red Hat Enterprise Linux on System z," says Tim Yeaton, senior vice president of worldwide marketing and general manager of Red Hat's Products Division. "We are now at a point where there is a lot of interest, it is a solid offering, and people are looking to consolidate from different platforms onto mainframes."
While IBM charges a lot less for an Integrated Facility for Linux engine than it does for an engine running Linux, Red Hat and Novell charge a lot more for a Linux license on each mainframe engine. A mainframe engine--by which is meant a single activated core in a complex of many cores--might cost $400,000 a pop (depending on how you negotiate), but an IFL engine costs a quarter or less than that price (depending on the mainframe model). IBM is giving big discounts on mainframe engines running Linux because it wants to position the mainframe as a consolidation box for outboard X64 and RISC/Unix boxes running infrastructure workloads as well as for a new class of Linux-based applications that customers want to install. Roughly 20 percent of the aggregate MIPS capacity that IBM has sold in the past few years comes after Linux; if you do the math, this works out to about 5 to 7 percent of mainframe processor revenues for IBM. This is not a lot of money compared to the MIPS, but it sure beats a kick in the teeth.
Red Hat likes mainframes, too, because it can charge $15,000 per mainframe core for standard support and $18,000 per core for premium support for RHEL 5, just as it did for RHEL 4 before it. That's a factor of 29 higher price per core than on a two-socket X64 server using dual-core processors from either Intel or Advanced Micro Devices. This is a big premium, and mainframe shops can push 100 percent system utilization using the z/VM partitioning on the IFL engines, but X64 servers cannot get close with any of the current partitioning technologies available (including the integrated Xen hypervisor in RHEL 5) while mainframe shops are used to paying hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars per month for their z/OS platforms.
IBM and Red Hat are hoping to cash in on mainframe security, given that the z/OS-based System z mainframe has been given the highest ratings by Common Criteria, achieving the EAL 4+ certification under the Controlled Access Protection Profile (CAPP), Role Based Access Control (RBAC), and Labeled Security Protection Profile (LSPP). As part of the new partnership announced two weeks ago, IBM is sponsoring the EAL 4+ certification of RHEL 5 on System z mainframes.
The two companies are also working together to give mainframe-class handholding and the depth of knowledge that mainframe shops are used to getting from Big Blue. The engineering teams at IBM's System z division and at Red Hat are now working together to provide additional capabilities inside future RHEL products that are tuned to the unique architecture of IBM's mainframes, and have committed to work with the open source community and the mainframe community--which do not cross paths very often, to be honest--to identify the kinds of things that can be done to make RHEL work better on mainframes. The first example of this joint development will be a variant of RHEL 5 that provides labeled security protection that allows a mix of classified and unclassified data to be housed on the same system.
Both companies have integrated their pre-sales and post-sales technical support, too, and Red Hat has created a dedicated support team expressly for System z mainframes, will commit specific engineering resources to System z development, and will name lead architectures on the System z mainframe in North America, Europe, and Asia/Pacific. So far, 18 engineers have gone through an IBM boot camp to get depth on mainframes.
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