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German trains switch to Linux on mainframes

The German railway system is migrating major IT components from z/OS to Linux on the mainframe. Is the z/OS environment becoming extinct? And are Linux operators going mainstream?

Is running Linux on the mainframe becoming mainstream? With the adoption of the open source operating systems by giant government agencies, the once "live-free-or-die" revolutionary is becoming

z/OS skills are getting harder to find in schools. It's easier to find people with development skills on more contemporary applications. Linux is a much more mainstream environment.
Gordon Haff
Principal AnalystIlluminata
another working stiff. So far Linux had been somewhat experimental for most mainframe sites. But in recent months, more Linux consolidation case studies have emerged.

For example, Berlin-based Deutsche Bahn, the company that manages the German railway system, switched 55,000 Lotus Notes users on an IBM zSeries 990 to Linux in the first step of a process to shift its major IT systems to open source. Deutsche Bahn uses Lotus Notes for its mail system and as a platform for 5,500 databases containing 6.5 terabytes of data. The operating system will transfer from a z/OS environment to SuSE Linux Enterprise Server 8.

Deutsche Bahn chose Linux as the server platform for its infrastructure on the advice of DB Systems, its IT service provider. DB Systems projects benefits such as cost savings, higher vendor flexibility and integration advantages. But according to Gordon Haff, principal analyst at Nashua, N.H.-based Illuminata Inc., savings may not be the only reason to switch. "It's a strategic move," Haff said. "z/OS skills are getting harder to find in schools. It's easier to find people with development skills on more contemporary applications. Linux is a much more mainstream environment."

Detlef Exner, director of IT production for DB Systems, admitted that some members of his staff have been waiting to switch to Linux for years. "Our staff welcomed the decision and was eager to carry out the migration. Of course, they needed some time to get used to the new systems, but the acceptance rose quickly," he stated.

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DB Systems initiated the project in 2003, and decided to make Linux the server platform throughout Deutsche Bahn in 2004. The migration should be finished by the end of 2005 when all critical systems such as databases, application servers, Web servers, mail servers and network infrastructure will be running on Linux.

Enterprise applications like SAP will be moved from Unix to Linux, as well as key applications such as passenger sales support systems. The system for train timetabling has already been moved to Linux.

Despite the switch from z/OS, Deutsche Bahn had no intentions of scrapping the mainframe. Exner cited high availability and customer support as the main reasons for sticking with the zSeries.

According to IBM's Colette Martin, program director of zSeries product marketing, there are some areas where the mainframe is the undisputed leader. "These include business resilience, security, virtualization, workload management and business integration. This is where the mainframe excels."

"Customers have asked us to help them leverage these capabilities across their heterogeneous IT infrastructure," Martin said.

And while some quarters have been better than others for zSeries, mainframes have shown a lot of growth recently. And much of that is from Linux.

"IBM is putting a lot of effort into making customers take note, mostly in companies that already have a mainframe system," said Mark Lillycrop, chief analyst and CEO of U.K.-based Arcati Ltd. "Generally, IBM doesn't make money out of Linux itself, but it does from the applications and subsystems and by providing migration expertise and other add-on services."

According to Lillycrop, there is inherent value for users as well. Linux offers a way of consolidating huge numbers of distributed applications onto the mainframe, where there are benefits in centralized management. "Also, the virtualized Linux environment on the mainframe allows hundreds of system images to be created, which allows customers to set up new servers 'on the fly' for test, back-up, etc. The other benefit of Linux, of course, is that it allows a far greater range of key business applications to run on the mainframe, alongside traditional z/OS apps," Lillycrop explained.

"The Deutsche Bahn example is exactly the type of mainframe use we envisioned," Martin said. "We have many customers who are investing in this value proposition. Our entire sales force is mobilized around these kinds of opportunities.

Let us know what you think about the story; e-mail: Matt Stansberry, News Editor

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