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IBM launched a significant campaign, called LinuxONE, to build on its Linux program for IBM z Systems on Monday, Aug. 17, 2015. While Linux has long been shipping on IBM mainframes – and virtualized Linux has been running on z Systems processors for years – the new offerings are designed to make z Systems more attractive to the widest group of Linux developers worldwide.

The announcement, made at LinuxCon in Portland, OR, expands the $1 billion bet IBM made on Linux several years ago – investing more deeply in Linux for z Systems and contributing several key IBM technologies to the Linux open-source community.

We believe that the primary objectives of IBM’s LinuxONE announcements are:

  • Broaden the base for Linux programming/development on z Systems
  • Position z Systems as a leading platform for Linux deployments
  • Expand the Linux ecosystem that IBM has already built for z Systems
  • Strengthen partnerships with leading Linux ISVs worldwide
  • Encourage wider use of Linux on z Systems in fast-growing markets, such as those in the Middle East and Africa, Asia/Pacific and South America.

Building on IBM z13

IBM z Systems have been selling briskly, with 118% year-over-year revenue growth in Q1 2015. IBM has disclosed that Linux on z accounts for nearly 30% of z Systems capacity, and that Linux touches about 40% of all z Systems sales. It officially launched the z13 models in January, 2015, shipping them with Linux-on-z options.

The strong z Systems sales reflect two important aspects of z Systems: its importance to a core installed base across financial services, government, retail, manufacturing, education and other vertical markets – and its ability to assure that Linux workloads run with high availability and high levels of security, leveraging System z features.

This last point is important to many organizations that already have mainframes – and would like to run more Linux workloads on them – and to net-new sites that are moving into their first z Systems. IBM is addressing both market motions – expanding the Linux partners in its ecosystem (e.g., adding Canonical’s Ubuntu to the longtime enterprise distributions from Red Hat and SUSE) and making z Systems more affordable to brand-new Linux on z customers, who comprise more than 20% of z Systems sales. 

The “Industrial Strength” Linux Narrative

Linux is Linux – it’s based on the same LSF kernel that’s blessed by a unified Linux Distribution committee, including Linux creator Linus Torvalds himself, each year. To that well-established Linux software base, IBM believes it can bring other attributes to the table, as when Linux is running enterprise workloads on System z, inheriting z Systems features/functions.

IBM has identified these in its announcements as: dynamic resource allocation; no-disruptive scalability, continuous business availability; operational efficiency; trusted security and improved data- and transaction-serving.

We believe that this much is already largely in place, as IBM has been shipping Linux on the Integrated Facility for Linux (IFL) processors on z Systems for more than five years. What is new is the extent to which Linux development and Linux deployment will gain more software tools and IBM-specific technologies (e.g., IBM’s GPFS global parallel file system) to enhance business-critical workload performance and availability.

There were two hardware announcements, as well, with IBM introducing the penguin-themed Emperor and Rockhopper LinuxONE z System models.

IBM is also announcing new acquisition models for this hardware/software platform – including a pay-as-you-go model, and monthly software rental pricing on a per-core basis. IBM has also made sure to make pricing for the new offerings consistent with its longtime Linux on z combined offerings, in which Linux was shipped on earlier IBM z Systems Business-Class systems.

Significance of the Linux ONE Announcements

By announcing LinuxONE at LinuxCON, IBM is acknowledging that the open-source community is the driver for Linux functionality. IBM is playing by the open-source community’s rules, by contributing specific IBM technologies that will be leveraged and used, freely, by ecosystem partners and by Linux customers, without the need to buy or license those technologies.

On a commercial level, IBM z Systems likely contributes 10% or more to the overall company’s top-line revenue. Given the recent spinout of IBM System x to Lenovo, IBM’s z Systems and Power Systems, along with IBM Storage Systems, are the primary platforms in its Systems Business. That means that IBM z Systems bring significant software and services revenue to IBM – and that the z Systems product line is a foundation revenue-generator for the company.

Attracting More Linux Customers to z Systems

We believe the LinuxONE program is designed to gain more traction with the Linux community that today prefers to scale-out with hundreds of servers in Linux clusters. One sign of that: IBM is highlighting z Systems’ ability to host thousands of VMs simultaneously within a single, highly-managed system. Marketing for the new platforms will focus on attracting software developers who are already proficient in Linux – but who do not have the IBM z/OS skill-sets to program for z Systems.

New pricing options are another lever IBM is applying to the Linux-on-z offer. LinuxONE features a more flexible pricing model, enabling clients to pay for use on hardware above a defined floor with a 36-month lease, and to pay monthly one-time, per-core software charges that scale up or down based on usage

IBM’s selling points for moving Linux workloads to z Systems include: the ability to consolidate Linux server “footprints” into fewer, more scalable systems; access to z Systems-level security and availability, utilization levels between 90 and 100 percent of the system, if needed; and high levels of virtualization, with thousands of VMs and containers supported in a single system.

Linux as a Unifying Element in Cross-Platform Deployments

Linux has long been a unifying element for the entire IBM systems platforms product line, because it runs on all of the platforms IBM sells – and allows IBM-proprietary software (e.g. IBM WebSphere, IBM Tivoli) to run on all IBM platforms – and on competitive server platforms, as well. In a hybrid cloud world, this ability to leverage Linux for end-to-end workloads, across platforms, is an important element in next-generation data center deployments linking enterprise IT with cloud provider services.

Given the data center transformation underway, on a worldwide basis, Linux is arguably one of the strongest unifying elements, other than the Internet itself and Java for enterprise workloads across platforms. With most of IBM’s worldwide revenue coming from its Software and Services businesses, being highly visible in the Linux space is a top priority for its customers worldwide.

IBM’s growing presence in the cloud computing marketplace will bring this LinuxONE announcement to the cloud service provider world – with  IBM’s 2014 SoftwareLayer acquisition, its AppDev and DevOps programming tools, and cloud providers’ increasing use of FlashSystem all-flash-arrays for storage.

Summary

We believe this is a very strong move for IBM, because the LinuxONE portfolio expands on an already-solid Linux-on-z platform. Its flexible pricing model for hardware and software – and its alignment with the open-source community technology model for Linux – will bring the business value of enterprise Linux capabilities to new customers who have not yet installed Linux-on-z Systems.