IBM on Friday said it is launching its first mainframe computers that will only run Linux, saying the alternative operating system is gaining ground as companies tighten purse-strings in the tough economy.
IBM said the two new machines, the iSeries for small businesses and the more powerful and costly zSeries, can replace racks of smaller server computers made by rivals like Dell Computer Corp. DELL.O and Sun Microsystems Inc.
"This is really a first for IBM. It is the first time we are introducing new mainframe technology designed for Linux and server consolidation. This is really the first pure Linux mainframe," Peter McCaffrey, director of product marketing for the machines, said in an interview.
The support for Linux comes as IBM is seeing a resurgence in mainframe sales. IBM mainframes, large, multi-processor machines, ruled the computing world in the 1960s and '70s but were usurped by cheaper PCs and servers.
Yet IBM says the business is once again booming as companies find it is costly to link dozens or even hundreds of servers together to meet their corporate networking needs.
The Armonk, New York-based company says its eServer zSeries mainframes have been the fastest-growing platform in the industry and the only one to post five consecutive quarters of growth.
IBM has offered Linux as an alternative platform on its mainframes for some time, and says Linux accounts for 11 percent of the computing capacity, as measured in millions of instructions per second, it shipped in its last quarter.
But the new products are its first Linux-only mainframes.
"It (Linux) is becoming an important and growing part of the overall mainframe business. Many IT organizations are cutting costs, and what they found is they can use the mainframe to cut costs by sweeping the floor of the Dell-Intel or Sun-Unix servers," McCaffrey said.
The lower-end iSeries could replace up to 15 regular servers and would cost around $50,000, while the powerful zSeries could replace hundreds of servers and would cost about $400,000, McCaffrey said. He said that compares with an average mainframe cost of about $750,000.
The mainframes would also be configured so technicians with little or no experience on traditional IBM mainframes could easily set them up, McCaffrey said.
"It does allow us to reach different customer sets and different audiences that we couldn't reach with traditional full-blown mainframes," McCaffrey said. "We've really hidden and eliminated the complexities sometimes associated with that and made it more of a load-and-go package."
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