IBM to Host Linux 'Virtual Servers' on Its Mainframes

Partitioning technology built into zSeries isolates applications run by different users

IBM last week announced a plan to create "virtual servers" for corporate users connected to mainframes running in its data centers, provided that the users are willing to run applications on a Linux operating system.

The Linux Virtual Services offering takes advantage of a virtual partitioning technology that's built into IBM's zSeries mainframes. IBM said it will partition processing, storage and network capacity for multiple virtual server users on zSeries machines, isolating applications to provide the same level of separation that companies would get in setting up their own physical systems.

Applications can be hosted on mainframes running Version 7.2 of Nuremberg, Germany-based SuSE Linux AG's Linux distribution at IBM's 170 data centers around the world. Pricing will be based on IBM's "service unit" formula, which takes into account the amount of processing resources being used and data center costs such as power and floor space.

Warren Hart, director of e-business-on-demand operations at IBM, said the hosting service will save companies about 30% of the cost of running Windows NT or 2000 servers. Users will also be able to quickly expand their processing capacity and run peak workloads without having to buy hardware that won't be used most of the time, he said.

Amy Wohl, an analyst at Wohl Associates in Narberth, Pa., said buying a mainframe is an expensive and often difficult decision for many companies. IBM's virtual server capability "is making that a much easier decision," she said.

Letting users run Linux applications as though the software were on their own dedicated servers also gives companies more flexibility, Wohl said. The only problem, she noted, is that it's unclear how much interest there will be in the virtual server idea. "We don't really know what the demand is for that now," she said.

Michael Prince, CIO at clothing retailer Burlington Coat Factory Warehouse Corp. in Burlington, N.J., said IBM's new offering is innovative. "I think it's creative what they're doing," he said, adding that the idea also shows the potential viability of Linux in business computing applications.

But Burlington Coat Factory, which uses Linux on more than 1,250 servers in its 250 stores, wouldn't be interested in the virtual server offering, according to Prince. He said the service is more likely to appeal to existing IBM mainframe users.

IBM plans to provide application porting services to companies that aren't currently running Linux-based systems.

Bruce Caldwell, an analyst at Dataquest Inc. in San Jose, said IBM is also putting an emphasis on computing as a utility. The Linux virtual server offering "should appeal to IT organizations that need to cut costs, and that's a pretty large group at this point," he said.

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IBM's Linux Utility

Key details of the Linux Virtual Services offering:

Hardware: IBM zSeries mainframes located in 170 data centers

Operating system: SuSE Linux 7.2

Cost: $300 a month per "service unit," a new pricing formula used by IBM

Promised savings: About 30% compared to Windows NT/2000 servers

Copyright © 2002 IDG Communications, Inc.

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