Advanced Computing in the Age of AI | Thursday, June 8, 2023

IBM Unveils Linux Mainframe 

The Linux mainframe servers rolled out this week by IBM will target the inexorable enterprise shift to hybrid clouds and growing performance requirements as a diversity of workloads like real-time transaction monitoring and other business analytics applications the datacenter.

Meanwhile, several IBM partners also announced parallel Linux initiatives aimed at developing new software distributions for the Linux servers along with expanded support for IBM z Systems virtualization.

The IBM platform, LinuxOne, includes a pair of Linux mainframes intended as high-end, secure enterprise servers designed for hybrid cloud deployments. The platforms are intended to deliver enterprise applications—an increasing number via application containers—along with predictive and data analytics.

IBM announced during the LinuxCon conference in Seattle this week the roll out of a z13-based LinuxOne server, dubbed "Emperor," said to employ one of the fastest processors offered to enterprise customers. A second server, named "Rockhopper," targets "emerging markets" seeking a smaller mainframe with comparable performance.

(The names refer to two penguin species.)

The Emperor mainframe scales up to 8,000 virtual machines or thousands of application containers, IBM claimed. The new mainframes are built around a 5.6 GHz processor along with an expanded memory pool that includes four levels of cache. "It's an I/O monster," asserted Ross Mauri, general manager of IBM z Systems.


IBM's LinuxOne mainframe unveiled at LinuxCon.


The new Linux server designs also emphasize data security as enterprises embrace new hybrid cloud and mobile workloads. These include hardware and software encryption based on a protected-key approach that surpasses current clear-key encryption. IBM said this approach delivers a 28-fold performance boost over standard secure-key technology.

Mauri noted that encryption was integrated into the architecture at the microprocessor level.For example, the design includes an IBM crypto card along with a PCIe cryptographic coprocessor, the company said.

Along with the LinuxOne mainframe servers, IBM said Monday (Aug. 17) it is adding z13 support for a long list of open source and industry tools, starting with Apache Spark and also including Chef, Docker containers, MariaDB, MongoDB, Node.js and PostgreSQL. IBM partner Canonical also announced plans to create a Ubuntu distribution for LinuxOne and z Systems.

Separately, SUSE announced its Linux Enterprise Server is the first server operating system supported by the recently announced KVM for z Systems. The KVM hypervisor is the open-source server virtualization for the IBM mainframe. IBM and SUSE have been collaborating since 1999 to bring Linux to mainframes.

IBM's Linux efforts extend back about 15 years, and the company said more than a third of its mainframe customers are currently running Linux. Overall, the Linux Foundation estimates that 27 percent of the installed base of mainframes in the world now run on Linux. By doubling down on its commitment to open-source mainframes, the company said  it is targeting secure, hybrid cloud and mobile workloads at "extreme scale." Added Mauri, "The growth is in Linux."

The company estimates, for example, that mobile transactions are up 37-fold over the last eight years, creating what Mauri called a "starburst effect" in the datacenter when all those mobile apps are opened.

Having been an early adopter of virtualization on mainframes, IBM also asserted that it LinuxOne systems can be provisioned as a virtual machine via the KVM hypervisor to be initially supported by SUSE. SUSE said the KVM for z Systems collaboration would "help attract new Linux workloads to the mainframe" along with x86 administrators who could help expand Linux mainframe applications.

SUSE and Red Hat already support Linux distributions on z Systems. Ubuntu Linux becomes the third, and Canonical said it also plans to support KVM on the Linux mainframe. Canonical founder Mark Shuttlesworth highlighted IBM's inclusion of an OpenStack API "in front of" LinuxOne.

In concert with IBM's announcement, the Linux Foundation said it is launching an "Open Mainframe Project" to promote Linux adoption in mainframes. Along with IBM, initial members include a dozen companies, universities and government researchers.

IBM also takes credit for being the largest contributor of mainframe code to the open source community. A key focus of development will be IT predictive analytics used to spot faulty system behavior before failures occur. "This code can be used by developers to build similar sense-and-respond resiliency capabilities [into] other systems," the company said.

IBM is also launching a LinuxOne developer cloud that would serve as a "virtual R&D engine" for testing emerging hybrid cloud and mobile applications.

The Emperor and Rockhopper Linux mainframe servers are available now. Mauri noted the IBM is adopting "elastic pricing" described as "cloud-like pricing but on-premises." Added Mauri, "You pay for what you use."

About the author: George Leopold

George Leopold has written about science and technology for more than 30 years, focusing on electronics and aerospace technology. He previously served as executive editor of Electronic Engineering Times. Leopold is the author of "Calculated Risk: The Supersonic Life and Times of Gus Grissom" (Purdue University Press, 2016).