IBM's newest mainframe is all Linux

With starting price of $US212,000, IBM wants to compete directly against higher-end x86 servers

IBM has expanded its server lineup with a new mainframe system designed just for Linux that may be aimed, in particular, at higher-end x86 systems.

The new system uses IBM's specialty Linux processor and runs either Novell SUSE or Red Hat systems. It does not use the mainframe operating system z/OS but includes mainframe management software as well as IBM's z/Virtual Machine system. Together, they constitute the company's latest "solutions edition," or what IBM says are lower-cost, integrated stacks for the mainframe.

There are two servers in the Enterprise Linux Server line, and the starting price on the lower-end model, with two processors, is $US212,000; it scales up from there. This system is intended to be competitive with large multicore systems used for virtualization consolidation.

The Linux-specific line is IBM's latest effort to reduce the cost of its mainframe. It's high-end z10 Enterprise Class system can cost millions. But several years ago, IBM started producing a smaller model, the z10 Business Class , which was initially offered at about $100,000, to compete with a broader range of enterprise servers.

Reed Mullen, the System z virtualization lead product planner, said that potential customers include companies that want to virtualize a lot of systems but aren't necessarily mainframe customers.

Among the arguments that IBM will make for this system is its ability to dynamically add capacity in a running environment, Mullen said.

IBM expects to upgrade its z10 next year , in keeping with its three-year upgrade cycle. IBM's mainframe sales have been off 26% in the most recent quarter compared with the same quarter last year, and server sales have been flat across the board.

Brad Day, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc., said IBM has been working to reduce the cost of its mainframe software, which can account for half the cost of a mainframe, including personnel, energy and maintenance. With this new hardware, IBM likely wants to compete with x86 systems with 16 processor cores and above, he said.

Anything that lowers the life-cycle cost of the system is critical, and by focusing on Linux, IBM is "putting meat to where most of the workloads are going," Day said. "About half of the new growth of applications on mainframe is led by Linux."

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Patrick Thibodeau

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