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Linux on z Systems Accelerates New and Traditional Workloads

Savvy businesses know that tackling challenges requires IT strategies that serve today’s needs and provide room to grow to handle future demand. They also know that embracing open-source solutions is a smart way to add capabilities.

Clients with mainframe environments are well-positioned to take advantage of new opportunities because of the IBM z Systems* platform’s capability to run both z/OS* and Linux*.

“If a client has a high-risk workload that needs to be in a secure environment and handle future growth, we can offer the capabilities of the mainframe with traditional and open-source workloads.”

—Steffen Thoss, offering manager, z Systems virtualization and Linux

New opportunities often require new workloads. Because z Systems can run multiple workloads in parallel on both Linux and z Systems OSes, clients can add new open-source workloads with Linux while continuing to support traditional workloads with z/OS, z/TPF or z/VSE*. This provides a great opportunity for fast-growing cloud deployment as well. Mainframe clients can run their internal services in a cloud, and service providers can easily become cloud providers.

Enabling Cloud

The mainframe is in the forefront of cloud innovation, says Ingo Adlung, IBM Distinguished Engineer, chief architect and CTO, z Systems virtualization and Linux.

Mainframe clients wanting to deliver cloud services find that combining z Systems and Linux provides the necessary foundation. Using z Systems, clients can leverage the mainframe to provide cloud services based on systems of record (SoRs).

“IBM will help clients transform themselves from traditional IT service providers to service providers in the cloud with software-as-a-service or platform-as-a-service capabilities,” he says. Further, IBM’s work with OpenStack benefits any company moving to the cloud.

IBM works closely with its Linux distribution partners—Canonical, Red Hat and SUSE—to serve client requirements for cloud and related technologies such as Kernel-based VM (KVM), says Steffen Thoss, offering manager, z Systems virtualization and Linux, IBM.

SUSE currently offers z/VM* support and will soon add KVM support, Thoss says. SUSE’s offerings include OpenStack enablement via the SUSE OpenStack Cloud product. Meanwhile, Canonical supports an OpenStack solution with its own version of KVM. IBM and Red Hat are discussing enabling cloud options for z Systems.

Container technology from Docker, Kubernetes, Apache Mesos and Canonical’s Ubuntu LXD/LXC support the cloud environment, says Marcel Mitran, IBM Distinguished Engineer, CTO, IBM LinuxONE*. Deployment and management tools—such as Chef, Puppet, Salt Stack and Ansible—and application management and orchestration tools—including API Connect and Juju—are available to help clients offer as-a-service environments.

Cloud calls for integrating all of the platforms running in your data center, which makes using open-source software a natural choice. IBM works with its distributors to enable Linux on z Systems clients to use the same open-source software that runs on x86. By doing so, “we are aligning with the needs of our client,” says Gerald Hosch, marketing, Linux z Systems, IBM.

Client needs are also well-served by running Linux with z/OS or z/TPF on the same platform, as this prevents server sprawl in the data center and streamlines infrastructure.

Many clients host their most mission-critical applications on the mainframe because of its reliability, security and availability. They appreciate the economy of scale the z Systems platform provides. Hundreds of applications can run on the same server, which improves operational efficiency, density and utilization, Adlung says. Co-location minimizes data crawl by placing the data close to the applications to yield high performance and low-latency networking.

Co-location also adds flexibility to the mix. Adlung notes one midsized z Systems client that added Linux to support z/OS. It reaped the benefit of co-locating Linux on IBM z* as well as scaling easily to fit demand. The client was so pleased with the Linux installation that it added workloads independent of z/OS. Now its Linux footprint is larger than that of z/OS. “It is really a blueprint for the utilization of both z/OS and Linux,” he says.

Improved Efficiency

Running Linux on z Systems gives clients all of the benefits of the mainframe platform, which enables many VMs to run at the same time, Thoss explains. Clients see high response times and throughput when running traditional and open-source workloads in parallel because z Systems uses resources such as memory and CPU more efficiently than other platforms. A client can run data of record, such as DB2* on z/OS, and connect it to workloads in the Linux environment, which benefit from the z Systems platform’s security and tooling for both environments.

Linux on IBM z also helps with consolidation. Thoss points to a banking client that experienced a growth surge that resulted in a new bank branch opening daily. The client realized that having a separate x86 server for each branch was making the IT environment unmanageable. It switched to Linux on z Systems to gain more control and better management of its IT. This also resulted in a more cost-efficient system and the ability to grow in the future.

Preparing for Next-Gen Applications

Some traditional, risk-averse clients want to maintain a secure, protected platform, and IBM supports that need. But others are interested in delving into digital innovations. They’re using DevOps and continuous delivery models, which IBM supports, as Linux is the reference platform for these innovations, Adlung notes.

DevOps embraces and uses container-based technologies and builds on microservice architectures. All of these are available on Linux on z Systems. “Clients can use those technologies one by one just as they would on distributed platforms,” Adlung says.

IBM’s three distribution partners provide DevOps tools that are popular with developers and available on z Systems. In addition, IBM is constantly receiving feedback from clients that bring new workloads to the platform, Thoss says. Digital innovation encompasses cloud, too, with the development of next-generation, cloud-native apps. DevOps capabilities using Linux on z Systems help make developers’ lives easier and give your company a competitive advantage, Hosch says.

Workload Efficiency

Every organization relies on its IT platform to handle diverse workloads; this is another area where mainframe excels. Linux on IBM z gives the data center the simplicity and efficiency of a single server that’s scalable and responsive. The reliable platform can run mission-critical operations as well as varied workloads such as analytics and blockchain. Multi-application workloads can be handled effectively when Linux is employed on z Systems.

Analytics workloads have become central to every business. With z Systems, data isn’t pulled from another server and replicated. Instead, it resides close to the workload, thereby reducing latency. Data lakes that exist in a distributed environment can’t exist in a z Systems environment. “We show clients how they can host their data and analytics in close proximity to change their SoRs into systems of insight,” Adlung says. Any client that wants to run analytics as a service can do so using the mainframe.

For a number of years, IBM has supported Apache Hadoop and Spark open-source analytics software offerings, which run on Linux. IBM also has enabled newer open-source analytics solutions such as MongoDB and PostgreSQL, Thoss notes. Analytics influence not just software but also the OS and hardware. “It has to be part of the stack,” he says.

Analytics rely on data serving, and z Systems hardware boasts fast processors, large caches and dedicated I/O coprocessors to handle these data-intense workloads. The platform’s design gives users the ability to implement more complex analytic algorithms to gain better insights, faster. A client that recently evaluated moving its fraud detection neural network onto Linux on IBM z described the latency reduction as “opening the aperture on innovation,” Mitran says. “Such improved insights help our clients make better business decisions while enriching the end user’s experience,” he remarks.

“We show clients how they can host their data and analytics in close proximity to change their SoRs into systems of insight.”

—Ingo Adlung, IBM Distinguished Engineer, chief architect and CTO, z Systems virtualization and Linux

Mainframes enable tailored solutions—such as blockchain—to be created. Blockchain technology has been available for many years, but the commercial interest in it is recent, Adlung says. For clients looking to build their own blockchain environment, IBM can assist with blockchain on-premises in the data center. Through Bluemix* technology, IBM also offers access to blockchain services in the cloud so clients don’t need to host them in the data center. In January, the company began offering an on-premises blockchain environment that uses secure service container technology, allowing clients to fully encapsulate the blockchain environment, Adlung says.

Qualities of service are important for blockchain. Clients can capitalize on their mainframe investment as they innovate on blockchain, taking advantage of the cryptography, security and reliability of z Systems, Mitran says. (Find out more at

Linux on z Systems also helps clients with mobile. For scale-out workloads such as IBM MobileFirst*, Linux on IBM z makes it possible to transparently add guests to the system as the workload grows, Mitran explains. Linux guests can be networked via HiperSockets* providing an ultra-low latency in-memory communication channel. It’s another example of how the platform “offers a unique environment for building highly available, high-speed and scalable solutions for next-gen apps and digital transformation,” he notes.

Keeping Up With Change

The accelerated pace of technology has also changed how IBM works. System updates must be delivered fast, and IBM is always listening to client feedback and making changes to better serve users, Thoss says.

Linux on IBM z clients know they’re on the right path to pursue innovation and are aware of the business opportunities it brings. Some are stretching the envelope and want state-of-the-art technologies right away. “We have to support them, and we are happily facing that challenge,” Adlung says.

IBM will continue to enhance software in conjunction with its distribution partners Canonical, Red Hat and SUSE. This will involve not only capabilities for z/VM, KVMs and the cloud stack but also more features tailored to offerings such as blockchain as a service, Thoss notes.

If your organization isn’t already using Linux on the mainframe, this is a good time to find out what you’re missing. The z Systems platform is the premier hosting environment for open-source technology for both unstructured and traditional structured data. It also provides a good foundation to build further workloads that need to be close to the data, Adlung says.

IBM works with clients to understand their risks and provide solutions that fit their needs. “If a client has a high-risk workload that needs to be in a secure environment and handle future growth, we can offer the capabilities of the mainframe with traditional and open-source workloads,” Thoss confirms. IBM will be there every step of the way as the client makes the transition.

Linux on z Systems can help both current and potential clients meet business challenges now and have room to grow to meet future demands.