IBM to Pump Up Linux on Power Processors
January 26, 2004 Timothy Prickett Morgan
It’s been four years now since IBM caught the Linux bug (clearly a flu virus), and Irving Wladawsky-Berger, vice president of technology and strategy at Big Blue and one of the shakers behind the company’s move into Linux, reminisced a bit at the LinuxWorld trade show in New York about how the growth rates for Linux shipments and revenues–not to mention some 6,300 enterprise Linux customers, including 200 governments–justified IBM’s strategy. Now, IBM appears to want more. It wants Linux to drive sales of its Power-based machines, and it wants Power machines to drive Linux.
As Wladawsky-Berger pointed out in a briefing last week at LinuxWorld, Linux has been incredibly popular on X86 servers and other types of RISC boxes–according to IDC, Linux accounted for 17 percent of all server revenues in the third quarter of 2003–and is even driving mainframe sales–Berger said that Linux drove 20 percent of MIPS and 17 percent of revenues for the zSeries mainframe line in the fourth quarter of 2003. This is good business, but sales of Linux on the Power-based machines that IBM sells as the pSeries and iSeries are just getting rolling. Other Power-based machines may follow suit.
Here’s the premise. At the low-end of the market, small computers are going deeper and deeper into devices, ranging from game machines to embedded controllers in all kinds of manufactured goods such as cars and appliances. At the other end of the spectrum are high performance computers where IBM’s Power servers have a certain amount of prestige (in large measure thanks to Wladawsky-Berger, who championed IBM’s parallel supercomputers back in the early 1990s). In the middle is a mix of machines and architectures, and the funny thing is, most of the machines from the embedded machines up to gargantuan clusters can and often do run Linux.
IBM clearly wants us all to get this message. In the so-called “Prodigy” advertisements that are everywhere this week, a young orphan boy has been adopted by the world. (I personally find the ads creepy, and I am not sure why.) The original Prodigy ads for Linux ran last year, and accounted for 60 million TV impressions, 21 million online impressions, and 40 million page impressions in magazines and newspapers, according Jim Stallings, who is general manager of worldwide marketing for IBM’s cross-divisional Linux organization. That’s a lot of mindshare, and a lot of money to spend on campaigning for a supposedly “free” operating system and, obliquely, an open source development ideal that essentially spells doom for established proprietary software suppliers like IBM.
Stallings said that Linux customers want more scalability and performance than X86 architectures can deliver, and that they also want to integrate Linux on their existing Unix and proprietary machines and then consolidate infrastructure and other workloads onto machines and drive up their utilization. He rattled off a list of customers who have iSeries or pSeries machines that are running Linux on them as well as their legacy OS/400 and AIX applications. While this is great, IBM wants more, but seems to be a little cautious in declaring what would suit it best: a popular line of Power servers running from small devices up to giant SMPs and clusters that support a highly scalable (downwards, upwards as well as horizontally) implementation of Linux. It’s almost as if IBM doesn’t want to speak it for fear of jinxing it or being called a fool (or worse, being made one by the market).
Right now, IBM has 125 applications running natively on the iSeries line using the Power architecture, and 200 on pSeries Power machines. As is the case with the 64-bit Itanium chip from Intel, IBM is most concerned with getting the key database, middleware, and application software on Linux for Power so it can generate the most money from the easiest sales in the shortest amount of time. But Linux on Power is still a nascent thing. Only with the current Red Hat 3 and SuSE 8 implementations of the Linux environment is Linux even running in 64-bit mode on the 64-bit Power processors, and many of the enabled applications on Power are still in 32-bit mode. To use IBM’s own lingo, Linux on Power is moving from being an “evolving business opportunity” to an “initiative.” When you are an EBO, you get money,” quipped Stallings, “and when you are an initiative, you’re expected to make money.”
For now, IBM is setting its sights for Linux on Power mainly in the server arena. “The 64-bit Power architecture is proven, and we want to bring it to the same places and price points as other platforms,” explained Brian Connors, vice president in charge of IBM’s pSeries Linux initiatives who speaks for all Power servers. He added that he was not focused on the desktop when reporters pressed him about this ever-present question. Part of the server push will be to get DB2 ICE, the future cluster-enabled and grid-aware version of IBM’s database, up and running in 64-bit mode on Linux for Power. IBM will be making a lot of noise about the future release of DB2 called “Stinger,” which is being previewed at LinuxWorld and which should be commercialized in the next 6 to 9 months. (“We have really good code names,” said Stalling making light of IBM’s propensity to do this, “and then we screw it up calling things AS/400.”) The developer release of Oracle 9i Real Application Clusters is running in 64-bit mode on Linux on Power, and presumably Oracle 10g will also be available.
One of the technologies that IBM will be pushing for Linux on Power is logical partitioning, which it will scale up considerably with the future Power5 “Squadron” servers that will start rolling out perhaps in April or May as midrange boxes and as high-end machines later in the year, if the rumors are right. IBM has already mastered how to put 10 Linux partitions on a single Power4 processor in the iSeries line, but still only allows one partition per processor in the pSeries. IBM is rumored to be able to offer this fine-grained logical partitioning granularity of the iSeries on the Squadron machines, but it will tap out at a few hundred virtual servers maximum for a single SMP machine. A single processor, dual core Power5 server with 20 Linux partitions and appropriately priced would be a very interesting server, and would obviate the need for external logical partitioning such as that offered by EMC’s VMware unit for 32-bit X86 machines. Connors would not address any of these rumors and possibilities, except to grin and say this: “My objective is to be disruptive every day inside IBM and in the industry.”
He did say that right now, Linux is selling most aggressively in the one-way to four-way server space where base machines cost $10,000 or less, and this stands to reason given the workloads that Linux is being used for, the evolving ecosystem of Linux-based commercial applications that go beyond infrastructure and middleware, and the fact that a lot of Linux applications (not the operating system, but the applications) do not scale well beyond four processors. Oddly enough, IBM doesn’t sell Linux on Power very well down here, because the 64-bit Power4 processor used in the pSeries line is much more expensive than a 32-bit Xeon processor from Intel. With the advent of the two-way PowerPC 970-based JS20 blade server for the BladeCenter line, which will start shipping next month using a 1.6 GHz processor and which will support Linux from SuSE and Red Hat, IBM is gearing up to test theories about Linux for Power. “We have some high expectations for it,” says Connors. But IBM is also practical, at least for now. “This is not an overnight project, and it is not about cannibalizing any environment. Consolidating workloads on zSeries and iSeries servers and driving utilization is where you get started. It breathes life into these systems.” Connors says that any big push for Linux on Power will take years. “We will have to prove it every day, and success will breed more success.” This, of course, is exactly how Unix, Windows and Linux for X86 took hold in data centers.
The question is, then, can IBM wean itself off Intel servers as Linux goes mainstream by promoting its own Power architecture over X86 servers? It can if ISVs get in line and the Power architecture delivers big benefits compared to X86 machine–and it has to be more than breaking the 4 GB memory barrier of a 32-bit processor. IBM, of course, knows this.
The scuttlebutt is that SAP will deliver a version of its ERP applications running on Linux on Power, and that Oracle and PeopleSoft could be working on versions, too. Connors would not confirm this, but he obviously knows if it is happening. It will take these vendors and many hundreds of more who currently drive business to Wintel and Unix platforms to push Linux on Power for the combo to be a force in the server market. Getting all the right security certifications for Linux on Power will help, too, especially in government accounts, which Stallings said accounted for $2 billion in Linux-related sales in 2003, presumably across all products and vendors.
To that end, IBM announced that IBM and Novell have certified SuSE Enterprise Server 8 with service pack 3 running across the eServer line (xSeries, iSeries, pSeries, zSeries, and eServer 325 Opteron-based machines) to the Common Criteria CAPP/EAL3+ level. The Common Criteria certification is the result of the merging of security standards from North American and European governments. It is being used by those and other governments to separate products that have demonstrated their security, as audited by expert third parties, from those products that cannot or have not attained the certification. EAL4 is the highest rating, but EAL3 apparently will make it easier for Linux to be chosen among government agencies where security is a big issue, such as in defense contracts where Unix has sold well. The Common Criteria certification is different from but similar to the U.S. Department of Defense’s Common Operating Environment certification, which is administered by the Defense Information Systems Agency.
IBM and Novell also announced last week that SuSE 8 running on xSeries and zSeries platforms had COE certification, and that pSeries and iSeries servers would be certified before the end of June 2004. While Red Hat has attained COE and CC certifications, it did so on different packages of its software. To get the EAL3+ rating, which is higher than the EAL2+ rating SuSE got at LinuxWorld last year, the two companies added an auditing subsystem for critical security events and an additional security feature that protected data transmitted over networks. IBM is now working to get its z/OS and z/VM mainframe operating systems, the latter which IBM sells as the Integrated Linux Facility for managing multiple Linux partitions on a single zSeries machine, certified at the EAL3 level. This should happen this year, says IBM.