IBM LinuxONE Provides New Options for Linux Deployment

In August 2015, IBM announced LinuxONE (, anchored by two new Linux mainframe servers that capitalize on best-of-class mainframe security and performance, and that bring these strengths to open-source-based technologies and the Open Source community. The move creates greater choice for Linux applications in enterprises where IT is under constant pressure to provide breakthrough systems in areas where the IBM z System mainframe excels, such as analytics and hybrid clouds.

The two new LinuxONE mainframe servers are the entry-level, single-frame Rockhopper server, and the high-end, double-frame Emperor server. They both offer flexible pricing models and economy of scale. Rockhopper and Emperor also support an expanded set of open-source and industry tools and software, including Apache Spark, Node.js, MongoDB, MariaDB, PostgreSQL, Chef and Coker. This will provide clients with choice and flexibility for hybrid cloud deployments. SUSE, which provides a Linux distribution for the mainframe, now also will support KVM Linux, giving clients a new hypervisor option. Canonical and IBM also announced plans to create an Ubuntu distribution for LinuxONE and z Systems.

The IBM-Linux Collaboration

As part of its LinuxONE effort, IBM also has contributed a large amount of mainframe code to the Open Source community to help jumpstart the new “Open Mainframe Project” being undertaken by the Linux Foundation (

This Linux Foundation-IBM collaboration engages nearly a dozen organizations that span academia, government and corporate sectors. The code contributed from IBM includes mainframe technology that helps enterprises identify technical issues and that helps prevent failures before they happen, in addition to code that improves performance across platforms, and that also enables better integration with broader network and cloud environments. Because the mainframe code contributions include IT-predictive analytics that constantly monitor for unusual system behavior and help prevent issues from turning into failures, the code can be used by developers to build similar sense-and-respond resiliency capabilities on other systems.

“It has been 20 years since Linux first entered the enterprise space, launching the open standards revolution”, said Deon Newman, Vice President of Marketing, IBM z Systems. He continued:

Given the speed of new application development, the open community collaboration and a strong set of adopted standards, we could see our clients embracing Linux—but at the same time, we understood that many of the standard Linux computing platforms could scale only so far. Meanwhile, there were rising demands for new applications fueled by the expansion of mobile computing that were and are continuing to exert new pressures on IT to build and support more applications faster. Today, no one expects to encounter system downtime, and they expect to be functioning in a 24/7 on-line environment at all times. In this 24/7 on-line environment, concerns about security have also assumed a front-running role, because security breaches have been front-page news during the past few years, and jobs have been lost over security breaches. Naturally, security as well as 24/7 uptime are at the top of many CEOs' agendas.

In addition to security in a 24/7 on-line environment, companies must deliver a pleasing on-line experience to their customers. This requires analytics that measure consumer behavior and responses. “The driver of all of this is today's digital economy”, noted Newman, “And one of the best ways to deliver these new applications is through an agile technology that is cloud-based.”

It was in this business context that IBM developed LinuxONE.

Leveraging Mainframe Technology with LinuxONE

The IBM System z mainframe has a heritage that dates back more than 50 years, and it is certainly no stranger to innovation. Virtualization was first introduced on an IBM 360 mainframe in the 1960s (

Today, the latest generation of IBM mainframes continues to play a central role in global computing, processing 30 billion worldwide transactions a day, with 80% of corporate data either stored or originating from mainframes, according to recent IBM research. In the last few years, mainframe use has expanded from transaction processing and workload management to analytics and cloud-based computing. Fifteen years prior, the IBM System z mainframe first emerged as a virtual Linux platform in global business with its zLinux capabilities—so it seemed an almost natural progression that the System z would again re-invent itself to handle a Linux only operating environment.

“With LinuxONE, we in essence reconfigured the IBM System z mainframe to become a Linux-only virtual server”, said Newman. He added:

When we reconfigured the IBM System z for Linux, we configured it as a server that further optimized its ability to run multiple virtual Linux machines. The entry-level, single-frame LinuxONE Rockhopper server can support up to 80 virtual Linux machines, and hundreds and hundreds of containers, while the high-end double-frame Emperor server features six integrated Linux facilities that support up to 350 virtual machines that can scale all the way to 8,000 virtual machines. On the Emperor server, you can literally have hundreds of thousands of containers on a single platform.

Both LinuxONE servers come equipped with performance monitoring and analytics software that look for “out of line” situations and checks on the status of equipment components, so it can relay advance messages for preventive maintenance. This aids organizations' 24/7 system uptime objectives. But, just as important for Linux developers with a history of developing applications on an x86 platform, are LinuxONE's performance benchmarks.

Benchmark data shared by IBM at LinuxCon in Seattle in August 2015 ( indicated that when an IBM z13 mainframe co-located Spark, an open-source computing framework from Apache, with a competitor database on its own platform for purposes of database aggregation that was being used in stock trading analytics, that runtime performance was three times faster than a runtime scenario that had the Spark running outside the mainframe on an alternate platform for the same application. The same benchmark tests showed a 1.9–2.1 times improvement in throughput when an alternative platform's MongoDB 3.0.4 workload was run in the IBM System z Linux environment.

The business case is compelling for IBM's established mainframe customer base, which according to IBM, was consuming 27% of its mainframe capacity as Linux in second quarter 2015—highlighted by the fact that 80% of IBM's top 100 mainframe customers were running Linux on their mainframes. However, a Linux-only version of the IBM System z also is an intriguing option for IT operations that historically have operated without mainframes.

One historical barrier to entry for many businesses that don't have mainframes has been affordability. A second barrier, for some companies, has been a lack of experience with mainframe technology or how to be deploy it for business advantage in their industries.

According to Newman:

We understand these obstacles and have put together new approaches to pricing as well as a pre-packaging approach for our LinuxONE solutions that already preconfigure the product into “solution packs” that fit the business use cases of different industry verticals and also of particular application areas, such as mobile apps, devops, cloud or analytics.

Tailoring products so they optimally perform in different industry verticals, or even in specific areas of IT application, is a common strategy for many technology companies, but what makes the LinuxONE offering especially interesting is an inventive approach to pricing that gets around major capital expenses that IT must budget for.

Elastic Pricing for the Cloud and On-Premises Computing

The capital expense avoidance concept is called elastic pricing. It enables an organization to bring in a LinuxONE server for in-house operation at a monthly rental fee that is very similar to how the resources would be spent if the server were cloud-based. “This eliminates the need for an organization to invest a large amount of money upfront in a capital expense, and it gives the company a chance to stick its toe in the water with the technology”, said Newman.

The elastic pricing plans include pay-for-use with fixed payments; variable costs that scale up or down based on usage; and the ability to return, buy or replace existing systems at the end of a contract. A monthly per-core rental model allows clients to order what is needed when needed, and with only 30 days' notice, they can increase or decrease virtual machines and software licenses or cancel service.

This elastic pricing also solves a number of sticky issues for companies that 1) want to avoid long-term, depreciating capital expenses; 2) want an opportunity first to try and then buy into a new technology approach; and 3) need to meet rigorous performance, security and compliance standards that do not make a totally cloud-based solution feasible, and that almost certainly demand an on-premises computing presence.

By breaking the budget conundrum of an unattractive capital expense that stretches out over three to five years, must be amortized and that demands you to request and capitalize new add-ons to the system each year as you grow, organizations can find an easier and more palatable way to effect upgrades through an on-premises computing rental model that can scale with the business.

To illustrate, if an application workload is projected to be especially heavy throughout the holiday season, corporate IT can rent more resources and have them operate on premises. When demand trails off, these resources (and the rental payments for them) can be subtracted. In all cases, the organization pays only for what it needs.

Seeing the Technology in Action

Many Linux developers get their first exposure to Linux on an x86 commodity server, and then develop their careers around the platform, so they are naturally concerned about the notion of Linux being deployed in a mainframe environment that they are unfamiliar with. For instance, in the first days of zLinux deployment on the mainframe, there were differences between allocating space for a Linux operating system deployment on a single x86 server, when the entire physical server was dedicated to a single Linux system; and in a mainframe zLinux environment where the footprint of the Linux operating system could actually be smaller, due the mainframe's ability to manage and share common resources efficiently, like storage across systems by allocating them on an as-needed basis.

“These differences were actually more of a case of doing real to virtual Linux mapping, whether you were using zLinux, VMware or any other virtualized Linux deployment”, said Jeffrey Frey, IBM Fellow and CTO. Perhaps a greater perceptual problem for an IBM System z mainframe with zLinux at the onset was the perception that because the virtual Linux operating system was hosted on the mainframe, it was somehow proprietary technology, especially when viewed through the eyes of a Linux developer who had grown his skills in the x86 commodity server environment.

“To answer this, developers and other Linux professionals will see that Linux is Linux—whether it is hosted on an x86 server or on a LinuxONE platform”, said Frey. “But where they will notice a difference is that by using Linux in a mainframe environment, they will get best of breed virtualization.”

The mainframe strengths that LinuxONE can add to Linux include dynamic resource allocation that seamlessly scales resources up or down as needed, the ability to scale these resources without creating disruptions in service, continuous business availability, high security levels and rapid processing of transactions and data—without sacrificing the Linux/open-source heritage of freedom, agility and open standards. This combination now enables organizations that have wanted to use Linux for mission-critical, high-security applications to move forward with their plans.

One case in point is an Arizona pharmaceutical analytics company that performs analysis on pharmaceutical use for pharmacies, insurance companies and also patient-customers. The goal of the analytics application is to ensure that patients have the right prescriptions, and that they are taking the prescriptions in the right amounts. To determine this, the system must process millions of analytical calculations daily—with great performance, high security levels and continuous uptime and availability. This is where technology expertise in performance, availability and security from the mainframe environment can complement Linux in a mission-critical business context.

“Security is very important to healthcare organizations, banks, governments, insurance companies and others that house sensitive data”, said Newman. “It's exactly why we designed security as an integral component of LinuxONE, and not as an after thought.” One of the unique security features of LinuxONE is the ability to isolate at every level. For instance, security permissions can be assigned at the application, container, virtual server and partition levels—and there can be additional encryption of data and processes. The encryption keys never show up in any type of system memory.

Taking a Test Drive

LinuxONE is a new approach for Linux developers, but it will be made easier in mid-October of 2015 with a “try first” opportunity for developers that allows them to get free trial cloud access to the product to try it out. To facilitate this, there will be a LinuxONE developers' cloud that issues a developer a cost-free sign-on, and the chance to test and try the various Linux systems and tools in the LinuxONE environment for a trial period.

“We're seeing tremendous excitement about this product among our client base”, noted Newman. He added:

The thought behind the product was to enable a full complement of Linux systems, toolsets, databases and resources that allowed a developer to not only develop in Linux, but also to operate in an environment where Linux and other systems and applications could be combined. You can choose to run the product in the cloud or on premises, and you can still avoid capital expenses if you choose an on-premise deployment. You can run Linux both in the cloud and on premises for different applications, or you can choose to run some Linux on LinuxONE, and other implementations of Linux on alternative platforms in your data center—and they all will work together. You can use Python, Perl, Java, KVM, OpenStack, VMware, Docker, IBM Cloud Manager, MongoDB, Hadoop or virtually any combination of toolsets and systems. What we wanted to do was enable Linux developers to run Linux their way, with flexible platforms, tools, options and pricing.

Linux and Open-Source Software Supported on LinuxONE11950s1.qrk

  • Apache Spark

  • Node.js

  • MongoDB

  • MariaDB

  • PostgreSQL

  • Chef

  • Docker

  • SUSE

  • KVM Linux supported by SUSE

  • Red Hat

  • Canonical Ubuntu Linux (future)

  • KVM Linux supported by Canonical (future)

Open Mainframe Project11950s2.qrk

Founding Platinum Members:

  • ADP

  • CA Technologies

  • IBM

  • SUSE

Founding Silver Members:

  • BMC

  • Compuware

  • LC3

  • RSM Partners

  • Vicom Infinity

Participating Academic Institutions:

  • Marist College

  • University of Bedfordshire

  • The Center for Information Assurance and Cybersecurity at University of Washington

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