IBM's Linux Plan Questioned by Aberdeen Report
by Dan Burger
What is behind IBM's multi-billion dollar investment in Linux technology? With that kind of money riding on the outcome of what is shaping up to be a war against Windows and Unix, IBM's plan better be a good one. According to a new report from Aberdeen Group, IBM's strategy can be analyzed by focusing on four areas--Linux distributions, IBM eServer platforms, infrastructure middleware, and application support. The big question for OS/400 shops is where the iSeries fits into this Linux plan.
Aberdeen's report, An Assessment of IBM's Enterprise Linux Strategy, was authored by Bill Claybrook, a research director at the Boston-based IT analysis firm. Claybrook is the Aberdeen specialist in Linux, open source software, and Unix. His 32-page report is based on three months of research, including interviews with IBM Linux team members and key people from the Linux community.
Linux is often cited, and not incorrectly, as the fastest-growing operating system in the computer industry and is being developed more rapidly than any operating system on the market today. As Claybrook notes in this report, Linux is making inroads into the enterprise on the low-end Web servers, file and print servers, email servers, and firewall servers. It is replacing Unix and Windows. As evidence of its impact, look no further than its use by major firms in the financial and telecommunications industries, where it is used to host mission-critical applications. All true enough, but keep in mind that Linux is being utilized in relatively small numbers, so increases in usage sound particularly dramatic when expressed in terms of percentage gains.
IBM stands out as the only company putting a serious effort into expanding Linux beyond Intel and Intel-compatible machines. The goal is clear, but getting there is not exactly a walk in the park. Compaq used to peddle and push Linux on its Alpha platform, and HP is pushing Linux on its Itanium platforms (but not its PA-RISC Unix machines), and Sun has acquired a low-end Lintel server vendor (Cobalt) and wishes people would stop asking about Linux on its Sun Fire server line, which is based on Sun's own UltraSparc-III processors. IBM is putting Linux on all of its servers. Period.
IBM says the foundation for its Linux strategy is based on customer input, its own technical validation, the enthusiasm of its development community, and the opportunity to establish standards that would benefit e-business.
Within the enterprise sector, IBM is demonstrating that it wants to be a leader for open source Linux development, application development, services, and middleware support. However, with regard to Linux on iSeries, the leadership role has been somewhat less apparent. IBM's strategy for developing an open server consolidation platform within the iSeries community is somewhat lukewarm, with or without Linux. This remains true despite the fact that iSeries supports OS/400, Linux, Java, Domino, WebSphere, Unix, and Windows 2000 Server applications.
This will change, IBM believes, as its message concerning open source benefits is more fully understood by the current AS/400 and iSeries installed base. The meat and potatoes of that message is that a single iSeries server can run both core business and e-business applications, while both are managed centrally yet run independently.
The iSeries camp at IBM also shines the spotlight on Linux when presenting its server consolidation story, which is all about enterprises managing technology more effectively. The benefits, proponents say, are reduced operational costs as well as improved productivity for users and staff.
But what has the overall IBM Linux strategy accomplished up to this point and how does the iSeries factor in to things now and in the future?
Highlights from the Aberdeen report indicate IBM's "Linux on all platforms" strategy may have a rousing "One for all and all for one" ring to it, but as things stand now it lacks the consistency to make it work. The major distributors of Linux (Red Hat, SuSE, and Turbolinux) have yet to provide products that span all platforms. Linux incompatibilities still exist among different IBM platforms and across various Linux distributions, even on the same platforms.
"The Linux on all platforms strategy was designed to give users the opportunity to move from one eServer platform to another (running Linux applications), depending on business needs and requirements, " says Claybrook. But, he cautions, the lack of Linux uniformity across all the eServers puts a dent in that plan. "Buyers, for example, might require IBM middleware and/or ISV applications that may not be available on their eServer platform of choice."
Because IBM will make its Linux middleware available according customer demand and market viability, Aberdeen sees the platform-related order in which this will take place as: xSeries, zSeries, iSeries, and pSeries. For the same business reasons, ISVs will move their applications to Linux in accordance to the same platform schedule. "There is a strong value proposition for Linux on IBM xSeries (Intel-based) servers, " says Claybrook with regard to IBM's probable inclination to make middleware for this platform its number one priority.
IBM believes the most important ingredient in deploying applications on Linux is delivering an open standards platform for deploying Java-based Web services applications--most importantly the WebSphere application server and the DB2 database.
Most of IBM's middleware runs on native, non-Linux operating systems, such OS/400 for iSeries. According to the report, less than one-fourth of the 300 IBM middleware products have been ported to Linux on xSeries servers, and the other server platforms substantially trail that rate. DB2 UDB is about to go into beta on iSeries (predicted for January) and WebSphere Application Server, Advanced Developer Edition for Linux will go to beta soon according to Craig Johnson, who heads up iSeries product marketing for Linux and Windows integration. "Plans can change, " Johnson says, "but we would like to have both products available by the middle of 2003."
Applications and middleware for Linux on iSeries has been slow in developing, which is attributable to the lack of a business impetus to drive the process. It is expected that these developments will continue at a relatively slow pace. "We are working with other software products as well," Johnson says. The most likely candidates are other WebSphere-related products and management-related products under the Tivoli brand.
According to Claybrook's findings, there were fewer than 50 applications at the time of his research. This compares to more than 200 applications available for zSeries. Examples listed included primarily applications with open source roots: Samba, PostgreSQL, Squid, and Apache. About 50 percent of the 20 or so infrastructure applications available on Linux for iSeries are included in most Linux distributions. Other currently available applications noted in the report include RiTA Server, eMerchant, and JAVIAS.
One of the latest solutions announced by an ISV is the email solution from Bynari, which was originally designed to run on xSeries but is now available on iSeries. See the article Bynari Tries New Approach for Selling Microsoft Exchange Killer in the July 16 issue of Midrange Stuff, OS/400 Edition. Bynari's email solution provides an option to Domino, which is not the choice for all iSeries shops.
"IBM is extremely interested in applications that do not run on OS/400 today. Bynari, Symantec (for a firewall), and Sage are great examples of ISVs making never-before-available applications available to iSeries customers," Johnson says. "We are talking with ISVs on a daily basis about Linux. We have the Linux Test Drive Center, in Dallas, Texas, that ISVs can sign up for and gain access to Linux partitions, and other programs that help ISVs bring solutions to market."
"Most ISVs that port applications to Linux for eServer platforms port to Red Hat Linux, Red Hat Linux Advanced Server, or SuSE Linux," Claybrook says. The reason for this, he says, is because these are the primary Linux distributions that IBM makes available on eServer platforms. To simplify the porting process for ISVs, Red Hat is working toward reducing the number of versions of Red Hat Linux that are available on eServer platforms.
When you do the comparisons, systems management processes such as security, backup/restore, change management and network management are more difficult and time-consuming in a multi-site/multisystem environment. Therefore, server consolidation within existing AS/400 shops is an advantage that will become increasingly recognized. There will indeed be more shops using Linux on iSeries to provide file serving, print serving and Web serving capabilities.
"The role for Linux on iSeries pretty much involves the installed base of AS/400 users," Claybrook says. "I don't think we will see people, outside the installed base, going out to buy an iSeries machine to run Linux." Convincing a new customer to purchase an iSeries based on this benefit is not going to be easy. Not with iSeries sticker shock being what it is.
IBM introduced, in January 2002, a dedicated Linux server for iSeries based on the Model 820. This model is geared to make it easy for the iSeries installed base, and hopefully new customers, to consolidate multiple servers onto one server primarily running Linux applications. It was designed specifically for workload consolidation and such tasks as Web serving, file and print serving, and mail serving as well as providing firewall protection.
It is yet to be seen whether the extension of OS/400 applications with Linux applications--offering such opportunities as the integration with DB2/400 or a Java or C program on Linux working with OS/400 programs, data, and services--will make sense for traditional OS/400 businesses. This will make sense for some enterprise organizations, but the market is limited primarily due to price barriers and the fact that iSeries is relatively unknown outside of its historic niche.
The market for Linux on iSeries is primarily existing iSeries customers who want to integrate Linux with OS/400. "Most of our customers using Linux are in the small and medium size business level," Johnson says. "We see our customers using Linux for infrastructure, replacing some competitive systems (consolidation), and running multiple Linux partitions. We also see them rolling out new applications and using Linux for a specific function, such as a firewall. Customers are also taking RPG applications and data to a Web site to conduct business. So in that way they are extending their applications with Linux."
Are there enough Linux applications that can run on iSeries to actually interest the iSeries customer? Right now there are relatively few to choose from. That figure will grow, but is never likely to approach the number of applications that are available to IBM xSeries customers. Out-of-the-box PowerPC Linux applications will run on iSeries, as will applications compiled for PowerPC Linux. (These will also run on pSeries, Apple PowerBook, and other PowerPC platforms.) Intel Linux applications require re-compiling to run on PowerPC, and open source applications available on the Internet can be downloaded and compiled for PowerPC as well. When Linux compilers are available for the iSeries Linux distributions, we may see an uptick in compiled Linux programs. It is also likely that applications will be developed on PowerPC workstations or servers and then run on iSeries. Even now cross compilers are available that support writing applications on Intel systems and compiling them to run on PowerPC platforms.
IBM software that supports Linux PowerPC will lag behind other platforms--specifically xSeries--because IBM recognizes the financial opportunities are greater in the xSeries area. Currently, the iSeries emphasis is Java oriented with the Java Virtual Machine and the Java Toolbox as the only examples in the works. A Linux ODBC driver is planned for the next OS/400 release (and has been available as a beta program), but until then data access is realized by using NFS for stream files or by using JDBC for Java access to the database. Early adapters are also using Samba as a file sharing mechanism for Linux.
Since the introduction of Linux support with OS/400 V5R1, the iSeries has been capable of running Linux in a secondary logical partition. For Linux to run in LPAR mode on iSeries servers, OS/400 must be running in the primary partition. Logical partitioning allows Linux instances to run in a fraction of a processor or across as many as four or eight processors. Each partition can run a different Linux distribution or release if customers wished. OS/400 V5R1 and V5R2 supports up to four partitions per processor. It follows that a two-way iSeries can support up to eight partitions, a four-way iSeries can support up to 16 partitions, and so on up to a maximum of 32 partitions. Shared processor partitions can run OS/400 V5R1 or V5V2 and/or Linux.
Several summaries taken from the Aberdeen report are available on the company's Web site at http://www.aberdeen.com/ab_company/hottopics/ibmlinux/default.htm and the entire report can be purchased from Aberdeen for $495.
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Last Updated: 12/08/02
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