Last week, IT vendors gathered at the LinuxWorld Conference and Expo in Boston to demonstrate their growing support for Linux. In what has become a LinuxWorld tradition, the vendors unleashed a torrent of announcements covering every facet of the open-source phenomenon. The announcements included several products and initiatives that could make the iSeries a more important player in the Linux marketplace.
As might be expected, IBM was among the vendors whose announcements held iSeries implications. The company used LinuxWorld to unveil Chiphopper, a no-charge offering that helps independent software vendors (ISVs) port their Intel x86-based Linux applications to IBM's servers. Chiphopper includes tools that examine an ISV's application code for portability across IBM's server platforms as well as for compliance with the Linux Standard Base specification. In the process, the tools identify potential technical issues and offer guidance that IBM specialists can use to make code changes. In addition, Chiphopper provides ISVs with access to IBM's Innovation Centers, where they can test their applications on the company's servers. Those ISVs who use Chiphopper will receive a "Ready for IBM eServer with Linux" mark on their applications. This will entitle them and their customers to no-charge support from IBM for up to two years after customers purchase the applications on an IBM server.
Chiphopper could go a long way toward boosting the number of Intel x86-based Linux applications that ISVs port to the iSeries. According to Scott Handy, IBM's Vice President for Worldwide Linux, Big Blue has certified roughly 6,000 applications on its x86-based xSeries servers. By contrast, IBM has 1,000 applications certified on its POWER servers. That figure is a huge increase from last year, but it demonstrates that most Linux ISVs still restrict themselves to x86-compatible servers. They mainly do so because of the time and expense involved in porting and providing technical support for multiple server architectures. Through its no-charge tools and free support services, Chiphopper aims to overcome these obstacles.
Linux Vendors Unwrap New Releases
IBM developed Chiphopper in collaboration with Novell and Red Hat, the two major vendors of Linux operating system distributions. Both vendors joined IBM for Chiphopper's unveiling, then made some big announcements of their own.
As expected, Red Hat announced the availability of Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) Version 4 for PCs and seven server architectures, including IBM's POWER servers. The new version is the first from Red Hat to support the full Linux 2.6 kernel, though the vendor has been backcasting elements of that kernel to RHEL Version 3 over the last year. Still, RHEL Version 4 has many features that iSeries customers will find appealing. These include a new block I/O layer and a block reservation feature that collectively increase the performance of RHEL's file system. Storage virtualization also gets a boost on RHEL 4, as it includes the open-source Logical Volume Manager 2 and support for storage mirroring and multipathing. The new version also includes Security-Enhanced Linux (SELinux), a hardened Linux variant that provides added protection for the operating system's kernel and network services.
Not to be outdone, Novell used LinuxWorld to announce Open Enterprise Server (OES), the first product to bring together the vendor's NetWare operating system and SUSE Linux Enterprise Server. Besides including the code for both operating systems, OES comes with core networking and storage services to support a wide range of infrastructure tasks. In addition, OES provides services that enable users to cluster NetWare and SUSE servers. Open Enterprise Server also allows users to manage all services through either NetWare or SUSE management consoles. For the moment, OES only supports Intel servers running at the Pentium II level or above. The offering should run on any of the iSeries' Integrated xSeries Server cards that meet this requirement, but Novell has not yet certified OES on the cards.
While the announcements described above may not seem to have many common threads, they send the same signals about the directions that Linux and open-source software are taking. They demonstrate that Linux is rapidly scaling up from entry-level Intel servers to larger enterprise systems. At the same time, Linux is assuming a wider range of tasks as it moves up the application stack from rudimentary infrastructure workloads to mission-critical solutions. In the process, it is assuming many of the reliability, security, and quality-of-service technologies that characterize mature operating environments. Linux is also benefiting from a maturing support environment that addresses the concerns of smaller companies with limited IT resources. These trends are not only making Linux an increasingly attractive option for iSeries customers, but are also making the operating system a growth market for IBM's premier midrange server.