IBM Continues to Leverage Open Technology

Linux / Open Source
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Adapt or die. IBM is no longer the big, lumbering, proprietary beast of old.

I was asked to write a piece on the future of Linux and IBM. After thinking about the subject matter, I came to the conclusion that it’s really open technology, not just Linux, that needed some discussion. I say this because it seems that open systems play a large part in how IBM is structuring a lot of their business. It didn’t get as much airtime as CAMSS (Cloud, Analytics, Mobile, Social, Security). It’s vague to the layman. It’s scary to the CFO. Open. It sounds unprotected. In reality, open technology may be the best protection a business could have.

The future of Linux on POWER continues to be shown by IBM’s commitment to melding technologies together—and most recently, even with an IBM i angle.

A bit of background: For years, IBM has been selling a physical Hardware Management Console (HMC) to manage Power Systems servers. I thought LAN Console was fine until I started experimenting with partitioning IBM i and Linux servers. You really need the HMC in order to fully experience partitioning, in my humble opinion. The interface has its issues, but the ease of use when partitioning is far simpler than using Virtual Partition Manager. I became a big fan quickly, but it has always struck me funny that I was managing my Power Systems boxes with a System x box. That aside, I’ve been known to muse now and again that an HMC should be shipped with every Power Systems order. IBM just had to get that cost down, which could be done by way of offering a virtual HMC deployed as a virtual machine.

In 2015, IBM realized that by announcing a virtual Hardware Management Console. While still relatively expensive, it cost about half as much as a physical HMC. It was a RedHat virtual appliance, but you still had to have a separate environment for it. Wouldn’t it be great to have it all under the same POWER iron?

Last month, IBM announced the IBM Power Systems Hardware Management Console virtual appliance for Power-based Systems. It can service systems supported by the 8.8.7 version of the HMC, including POWER6, POWER7, and POWER8 processors. The cost for the virtual POWER HMC was not announced; however, we can assume that it costs more than a virtual appliance sitting on x86-64. That’s entirely speculation. I just don’t see it coming in lower. I’d bank on it being exactly the same price or just a little higher. Still, it’s far less expensive than a standalone. Now you can manage all partitions on your Power Systems hardware with a Linux virtual appliance running on the same physical machine.

IBM also announced a Linux on POWER–based standalone HMC that can be used to manage your Power Systems environment. It’s a 1U POWER8 with 32 MB of memory and 2 x 2 TB SATA drives. I’m left scratching my head at this one a little as the virtual and physical HMC functions are pretty much the same. Maybe this is the beginning of the end of the x86-64 HMC if IBM will be building POWER-based HMCs. If the price and cost to produce is comparable, then I just don’t see any other reason for it as it just reinforces the “POWER is better than x86” mantra. It’s similar to the Linux on POWER mindset of competing against an inferior processor in a commodity market, but in the end, it’s just an HMC. Fearless prediction: The x86-based HMC will end before the POWER-based HMC does.

I think the real value is in the virtual HMC, especially if you can easily migrate from physical to virtual. Then you can save a little rack space, a little excess heat, and a little electricity. Either way, it reinforces IBM’s commitment to Linux and at a higher level: open source.

The news that IBM i would be getting a package manager makes the operating system more Linux-like in that the ability to download and install open-source utilities will be far easier than ever before. IBM i is no longer a closed system. Maybe it hasn’t been in a long time with the advent of PASE and the like. I would argue that PASE was the evolutionary equivalent of opposable thumbs. It opened OS/400 into a new world of possibilities, albeit relatively controlled. With a package manager, the reins are off. This further preps IBM i for the next generation of developers and administrators.

The embracing of open source is what’s necessary for IBM i to grow, and yes, that goes for IBM as a whole. The OpenPOWER Foundation was no accident. Open sourcing research and development of the POWER processor makes sense from a business perspective as it’s inclusive. Member organizations have to view IBM as a partner, rather than the big, lumbering, proprietary beast of old. That model would’ve continued to work if the world hadn’t changed. But it has. When you buy a TV, you check the online reviews. When you book a flight, chances are you’re using an aggregator to check reviews of the airline, flight rating, price, and such. If you’re a modern developer, it’s a good chance you’ve used GitHub or Slack or SourceForge. It’s a collaborative world. OpenPOWER is an example of IBM converting into a modern business. From my perspective, it is the example. From the OpenPOWER website:

The OpenPOWER Foundation Board of Directors is chartered to set the tactical and strategic direction of the organization. It has established the following 2017 goals for the Foundation with four technical areas of focus on Machine Learning/AI, Database/Analytics, Cloud, and Containers:

Build member offerings/solutions and customer testimonials

  • Provide compelling workload examples (product offerings, client testimonials) to inspire adoption of OpenPOWER technology
  • Showcase broad and deep set of OpenPOWER solutions (hardware, software, combinations, workgroup output, tools/resources, etc.) through OpenPOWER
  • Continue to build on workgroups/products across solution areas, industries, and software layers

Build and engage our Developer community

  • Cultivate active and grow the developer community, leveraging meet-ups across OpenPOWER and other communities for geo focus as well as specific contests, plugfests, engagement with workgroups, and a strong ambassador program

Build and engage our Member community

  • Strengthen value proposition at Platinum, Gold, and Silver levels with clear value distinction at each level. Continue to grow membership and engagement at all levels.

Whether it’s Linux or OpenPOWER or package managers or global innovation centers to fuel Linux on POWER, the point is that IBM has been evolving. This trend will continue into the foreseeable future.