IBM Hints at Expanded Role for Linux on iSeries

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A few weeks ago, Craig Johnson, IBM's iSeries Linux Product Marketing manager, mentioned a very interesting fact during an iSeries Nation conference call. Last month, IBM quietly launched two Technology Previews in which iSeries customers can participate as beta test sites. Under the previews, IBM is testing DB2 Universal Database (DB2 UDB) and WebSphere Application Server running on Linux in an iSeries logical partition (LPAR).

 

Even if you're not interested in the beta tests themselves, it's important that you know about them. Why? Because they offer important clues as to where IBM is taking the iSeries platform and the companies that use them.

 

Currently, the vast majority of Linux servers manage infrastructure tasks. They act as file and print servers, mail servers, firewalls, proxy servers, and Web servers. In the three-tier architectures that are surfacing in many companies--composed of database servers, application servers, and "edge of network" servers--this puts Linux squarely in the "edge of network" category.

 

IBM acknowledges that Linux is best suited for this role within IT architectures...for now. Over the next several years, however, the company believes that Linux will also become a major player in the application server space and that it may even take over some database serving roles. This explains why IBM supports Linux versions of WebSphere Application Server and DB2 UDB running on its zSeries mainframe and why it is now extending that support to the iSeries. Put simply, the computer giant is preparing Linux to become a platform for application serving--and perhaps the platform for application serving--on its zSeries, iSeries, and pSeries systems.

 

Slowly but surely, enterprise application vendors are starting to agree with IBM about the future of Linux. As a case in point, SAP now ships its mySAP.com e-business platform on Linux for the zSeries. Since the iSeries also supports mySAP.com, it probably won't be long before the product family runs in an iSeries Linux LPAR. Such support would likely come via SuSE, which announced last month that its Enterprise Server edition of Linux (which is now available for the iSeries) has been certified for mySAP.com. On a similar note, Oracle offers its Oracle9i database and application server on Linux. This could make it possible for these products to run in iSeries LPARs in the near future.

 

Some enterprise applications vendors already support Linux on the iSeries. For instance, Magic Software offers its eMerchant customer relationship management solutions on iSeries Linux partitions. Linux Business Accounting Systems has shipped its General Ledger applications for the iSeries. And while I'm not at liberty to mention their names, other enterprise application vendors are testing their solutions on iSeries Linux LPARs at this moment.

 

What are the implications of these events for the iSeries platform? I believe that, over the next two to three years, a significant percentage of iSeries enterprise software vendors will port their application logic to application servers running within a Linux LPAR. In most cases, an OS/400 LPAR will continue to host the backend database. Such a configuration makes sense for several reasons. For years to come, Linux will lag behind OS/400, UNIX, and mainframe operating systems in its support for database technologies such as journaled file systems and storage management software. However, new 64-bit distributions of Linux are already emerging to support enterprise applications and middleware that require large memory spaces. These Linux distributions will allow owners of partitioned systems such as the iSeries to deploy multiple Linux LPARs--each running multiple application servers--for far less money than it would cost to deploy those application servers across multiple physical servers.

 

By offering WebSphere and DB2 UDB on Linux LPARs, IBM can also make the iSeries more appealing to enterprise application vendors who have never considered the server. For years, software vendors have avoided the iSeries because they didn't believe they would get adequate returns on investment for porting to OS/400. By contrast, Linux offers an appealing revenue opportunity to most developers. As a result, transforming the iSeries into a Linux-based application server could make it significantly more attractive to a broader pool of vendors.

 

In short, it's likely that Web-enabled enterprise applications on the iSeries will increasingly rely on Linux, not only for "edge of network" tasks, but for application serving as well. IBM is paving the way for this development and is offering software vendors and customers a chance to play a role in the effort. If you're interested in taking part by participating in the technology previews, contact your IBM sales representative or Business Partner.

 

Lee Kroon is a Senior Industry Analyst for Andrews Consulting Group, a firm that helps mid-sized companies manage business transformation through technology. You can reach him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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