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IBM, HP, Sun--Dueling Approaches to 'Linux on RISC'

RISC-y Business?

  • February 20, 2003
  • By Jacqueline Emigh

IBM's RISC-based iSeries and pSeries servers are now available pre-installed with Linux. Sun's been taking limited steps toward Linux on RISC, by adding Linux APIs to Solaris. HP's RISC servers, on the other hand, don't run Linux at all. So what are the rationales behind these disparate approaches?

On IBM's part, the differences extend to the platform level. At one time, IBM supported only proprietary OS on its two RISC-based systems: the AS/400, now renamed iSeries, and RS/6000, now known as pSeries.

IBM's AIX 5L OS brought the ability to run recompiled Linux programs on pSeries. Then last fall, IBM introduced the 630LX, a pSeries server specifically designed to run Linux.

Meanwhile, IBM's iSeries "business servers" have the ability to run both OS/400 and Linux. "So, if you buy an iSeries, you can carve it up into multiple different OS/400 and Linux servers," says Craig Johnson, iSeries product marketing manager for Linux. Similarly, IBM's CISC-based zSeries mainframe servers are able to run z/OS, VM and Linux.

Johnson cites a series of interrelated reasons for IBM's iSeries strategy, linking them all to customer demand. "We're lowering the cost of ownership by letting users leverage their investments in RISC-based Power 4 technology across both OS/400 and Linux. They can better utilize the processing power and disk space they already have. They can use the same machine as both an OS/400 file server and Linux mail server, for instance," he contends.

The iSeries servers are available with from one to 32 processors. The iSeries currently supports RedHat, SuSE, and Turbolinux distributions of Linux.

Johnson claims there are certain applications, in high demand among SMBs, that are available for Linux, but not for OS/400. He points, in particular, to Bynari's InsightServer, a Linux-based mail server for Outlook, and to Sage's Line500 business management application.

"Another factor is that AS/400 users have established regular routines with OS/400. Now, they can extend their skills and best practices into Linux," he adds.

IBM, though, will not be discontinuing OS/400, according to Johnson. "We already have 250,000 customers running OS/400 on the iSeries. It's just that now they can run Linux, too."

Some analysts, though, don't think IBM's "Linux on RISC" implementations really matter all that much. "The vast majority of Linux deployments will take place on Intel platforms, not on RISC," predicts Jean Bozman, an analyst at IDC.

"IBM's support for Linux on the iSeries just isn't that important. It's costing IBM almost nothing, anyway," argues Joel Dreyfuss, a financial analyst.

"Sun is really the one that ought to be running Linux on RISC. Instead, Sun is trying to operate Linux on Intel platforms, even though all its earlier attempts at 'Solaris on Intel' have gone nowhere," he argues.

Meanwhile, Sun's new Solaris 9 OS supports large numbers of Linux APIs, but operates exclusively on RISC. So just as with AIX and SCO Unix, you can now run compiled Linux apps on Solaris.

As many observers see it, however, Sun's new APIs are mainly an effort to migrate current Linux users to Sun's proprietary OS.

In contrast, HP has no plans whatsoever to operate Linux directly on its RISC hardware, according to Judy Chavez, HP's worldwide market director for Unix. HP's OpenView management software, though, does include agents for Linux systems. OpenView itself runs on HP-UX, Solaris, and Microsoft Windows servers.

"The main reason why customers use Linux is cost effectiveness--and operating Linux on RISC servers isn't exactly cost effective," maintains Chavez.

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