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IBM's first LINUX-only mainframe - the z800 2066 Model 0FL

By an accident of the calendar, LinuxWorld precedes PartnerWorld. Due to this quirk of fate, LINUX afficionadoes become the first group to hear about IBM's new medium-sized mainframe configured - essentially - as a box full of IFLs.

According to IBM's press release, the new system "requires no traditional mainframe operating system experience". Some z/VM users might wonder what they've been doing recently if not employing "traditional mainframe operating systems", but it seems IBM really means that you don't need z/OS. This is also no particular novelty, but that's by-the-bye.

What is interesting is IBM's boldness - nailing its colours to the mast. To date (early 2002) LINUX on the mainframe (with notable exceptions) has been a sideshow. IFLs added to mainframes are not especially visible and are hard to count - only a handful of systems have been primarily LINUX-oriented. The success - or lack of it - in selling these new systems will be far more obvious, both internally and externally.

The press release is not the formal announcement and IBM has published no pricing for the new zSeries systems - though the German story in Computerwoche suggests less than $400,000 for a 1-way system including z/VM and three years' maintenance. Other reports within Europe have suggested €500k. A new feature is that full commission is only available to business partners if the system supports 'new' workloads.

One comparatively new issue is the cost of Linux/390 - what has hitherto been regarded as free is now quite expensive - SuSE has started to charge $11k to $14k per engine for a mandatory "support contract" and has also tried to impose terms and conditions on beta code:

Under a special agreement you may use SuSE Linux Enterprise Server for S/390 and zSeries for sixty (60) calendar days for testing purposes (e.g. proof of concept). Trial versions must not be used in production, and they must not be redistributed.

that seem to be improper under Section 6 of the GNU Public Licence:

6. Each time you redistribute the Program (or any work based on the Program), the recipient automatically receives a license from the original licensor to copy, distribute or modify the Program subject to these terms and conditions. You may not impose any further restrictions on the recipients' exercise of the rights granted herein. You are not responsible for enforcing compliance by third parties to this License.

If IBM is as successful as it obviously plans to be, this could be short-sighted - a larger market will make more competitors viable. For the moment, SuSE's test period is free of charge - a major benefit to the corporate user who often has to jump through hoops without end to get even small purchases sanctioned.

Effectively, z/VM is positioned on the Linux-only machines as an analogue to PR/SM (itself derived from VM) on the other zSeries machines. Believers in VM will feel vindicated - after three decades of rumours of its imminent death, the operating system - in one form or another - is bundled with and essential to all of IBM's mainframes.

And the industry's reaction? Some good, some bad.

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