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Mainframe Linux use growing

Linux on the mainframe continues to gain supporters and make life easier. But zSeries users don't want to consolidate themselves out of a job.

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Linux and its place on the mainframe has been a hot topic among zSeries users ever since open source enterprise software started gaining momentum as a tangible solution in the late 90s.


At last week's semi-annual Share conference, attendees -- whether they're currently using Linux or not -- agreed that the impact of open source on the mainframe is only going to get stronger in the near future.

Most [migration] problems are related to politics rather than technical difficulties. People are concerned for their jobs. Linux on the zSeries provides [opportunity] for consolidation.
Mike Walter
systems managerHewitt Associates

Mike Walter, a systems manager with Hewitt Associates, is a future Linux migrant working on a proof of concept using DB2 Gateway. He said it isn't so much a question of the legitimacy of Linux that holds users back anymore, but rather how they view migration in general.


"Most of the problems [with a migration] are related to politics rather than technical difficulties," Walter said. "People are concerned for their jobs, particularly nowadays. The capabilities of Linux on the zSeries provide more than enough concern that there will be consolidation. However, [mainframe users] aren't looking at this from the perspective that they'll be able to do tests and installations during the day instead of coming in on weekends, and they won't have to come in at night and replace a hard drive or fix a card because its right on the mainframe."


But Walter adds that those who fear Linux, for whatever reason, are depriving themselves of its benefits.


"For one thing, it doesn't fail, and if it does IBM will solve the problem," Walter said.


Regardless of the concerns or benefits of Linux on the mainframe, some companies have had their hand forced by customers requesting open source software applications. According to a Share attendee -- a network team leader at a large Texas-based IT outsourcing company -- his organization's decision to go to Linux applications on the zSeries was customer driven. His company has almost 100 customers looking to move forward on Linux and, if they can pull it off, he said he can keep both his mainframe employees and his customers happy.


"The plug-in-the-wall computers are taking over the mainframe environment, so we're going to try and put those applications on z900," he said. "If we can convince [customers] to keep those smaller Linux applications on the z990 frames and support them, we'd rather do it that way. It's more reliable, that's for sure."

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Charles King, a senior analyst for Pund-IT Research in Hayward, Calif., said IBM's focus on Linux, combined with the fact that Big Blue is essentially the only game in town on the mainframe, has helped make Linux an increasingly important facet of the modern mainframe environment.


According to King, over half the zSeries MIPS shipped by Big Blue over the past year were committed to Linux.


"[IBM] has been aggressive in marketing Linux to its customers," King said. "To their credit, they've done a great job reinventing the mainframe. They made it a point not to just let [the mainframe] roll along, but of updating it for the 21st century data center model, and the customers are really responding."


Of course, there are those in the mainframe community who have been reluctant to make a move to open source software. Part of the problem is an "if it ain't broke, don't switch it" mentality prevalent among many zSeries veterans.


"It's a new technology. We all become familiar and comfortable with something and aren't ready to switch," Walter said.


According to King, Linux isn't the perfect solution for every mainframe user, but the time has come for mainframe users to make sure not to ignore it.


"If a business is on a mainframe they need to take a look at how Linux can benefit them," King said. "The customers I've talked to have seen some real financial and infrastructure simplification benefits from it."


Let us know what you think about the story; e-mail: Luke Meredith, News Writer

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