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Infocrossing and S/390 Linux: An ASP's Story - page 4

A Visit to the Co-Lo Penitentiary

  • February 28, 2001
  • By Scott Courtney
Infocrossing runs their Linux instances under VM, mostly because of the incredible versatility of the VM environment. LPARs allow only a few Linux instances to run on each physical mainframe, but with VM the number of instances is limited only by the loading of the overall system. More instances on one machine means more opportunity for cost savings due to load averaging between instances. Tom Laudati says that economics kept Infocrossing from using IBM's Integrating Facility for Linux (IFL) processors in their dedicated mainframe. "I don't know of anyone who's running native Linux on a mainframe," he says. "The problem with IFL, when we talk with IBM about it, is that they are still going to charge you for another engine that is VM or OS/390 or VSE based." The IFL processors are much cheaper than full S/390 processors and run at the same speed, but they are limited only to running Linux. IBM still requires that the first CPU node in each machine be one of the full-priced S/390 modules. That drives up the entry point price of mainframe hardware for new customers. The advantage, though, is that once they spend this extra money they have a system that can run VM and support thousands of Linux instances instead of just a dozen or so. In the Infocrossing deployment, their existing S/390 machines already had that first processor node and the VM operating system installed but the new dedicated machine did not.

Infocrossing has Linux on three mainframes, in a mix of dedicated and shared configurations. Says Laudati, "Right now the mainframes are located in Leonia, New Jersey. There are three on the floor right now and another on order. One is dedicated right now to Linux under VM. On the one dedicated machine we have now, that's a Multiprise 3000. We have about 25 Linux images running with no significant overhead." Laudati claims the Multiprise 3000, one of IBM's smaller mainframe models, is nowhere near its performance limit and that there is plenty of room to grow.

When asked about performance concerns of the S/390 hardware relative to RISC or Intel racks, Laudati concedes that S/390 is not the right choice for every application. "Anything that is highly CPU intensive, according to IBM, is not a good fit for the S/390. This would be things that do a lot of math calculations. The business applications are typically more I/O bound than CPU bound."

Workforce availability was definitely a factor driving Infocrossing to the Linux operating system, says Laudati, while access to customers' legacy data was a factor keeping them loyal to the S/390 hardware. Linux for S/390 gives Infocrossing's customers the benefits of both worlds. Says Laudati, "If you look at all of the world's data, the predominant amount is stored on a mainframe somewhere. You come along with IP [protocol standards] and all these web technologies to access that data -- that's middleware -- and it has taken off slowly." Laudati feels that the ability to put Linux (which he views as an Internet tool) onto the mainframe itself will accelerate this webification of mainframe data. He adds that his company has observed a fundamental shift in the skill set of college graduates entering the workforce. "You look at the young blood coming out of college now, and they're going to be the buyers of IT in the next five or ten years. And that young blood knows Linux and UNIX."

According to Laudati, this merging of what he calls "IT and IP", meaning business data processing and Internet tools and standards, brings together the best of both. He says he has no doubt IBM is serious about taking advantage of the opportunity, even if it means they have to play by a new set of economic rules in an Open Source world. "I think it makes a lot of sense for them, though it's almost unprecedented that IBM would give up the proprietary rights to their operating system.... It's taking advantage of the horsepower of the S/390, and the technologies that drive the Internet."

Laudati has seen a shift in IBM's attitude toward customers in the past few years as well. "IBM was very inflexible [in the past]. But now IBM is at least as competitive, if not more competitive, than other companies to make a deal with you. They'll work with you to make a deal. It's a much more flexible company over the last four or five years or so." He feels that IBM has learned from its mistakes, from partners, and from competitors. "EMC [a high-end mass storage company] kind of showed IBM the way of being flexible, is my impression. EMC had things like step leases and other things that helped the customer." Step lease involves lower payments the first few months, allowing ramp-up of businesses that are expanding but can't afford the larger lease right away.

With Infocrossing's emphasis on services such as managed hosting, and IBM's increasing reliance on its Global Services consulting and support as a revenue stream (especially in an Open Source environment where software licenses are zero-revenue), it is natural to wonder whether Infocrossing is IBM's partner or its rival. Laudati says they are "probably a little bit of both", adding, "For the most part they're not competing with us." IBM Global Services, he says, focus their efforts on sites where "the MIPS are already on the floor" and the customer wants to add Linux, whereas Infocrossing focuses on bringing new business to the mainframe. When the customer has a mainframe already, they are likely to just add Linux and only a processor module or two.

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