Egads! IBM Embraces Solaris For The Mainframe

If nothing else, the mutual pats on the back represent a considerable thaw in the often-chilly relations between Sun and IBM.
In an example of the computer industry's higher level of abstraction -- in this case, known as horse trading -- IBM has called attention to a demonstration of Solaris running on the mainframe.

It's also endorsed Sun Microsystems' xVM product, its entry into virtualization for x86 servers. The endorsement is notable at a time when Sun is seeking credibility for yet another hypervisor entrant into the virtualization market. IBM's xVM endorsement is practically the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval, since it invented virtualization more than 40 years ago.

Sun in turn has assisted a third party, the research and development firm Sine Nomine Associates in Ashburn, Va., in getting Sun's OpenSolaris operating system to run on the IBM mainframe, something that many observers said would never happen.

"We're thrilled to be able to reach new customers and market opportunities alongside IBM," said Rich Green, executive VP for software at Sun, in a statement released during Gartner's Data Center Conference in Las Vegas on Friday.

"The future of the data center lies in virtualization's ability to reduce skyrocketing energy and maintenance costs," said James Stallings, general manager of IBM mainframes, known as System z, in the same prepared statement. As Solaris gains virtualization capabilities, IBM sees it as a suitable candidate to host on the mainframe, even though it continues to invest in its own version of Unix, AIX.

If nothing else, the mutual pats on the back represent a considerable thaw in the often-chilly relations between Sun and IBM, which once struggled with each other over whether Sun should retain proprietary control over Java. Still, some differences remain. In the same press release, IBM referred to OpenSolaris as the "Solaris operating system," instead of adopting Sun's preferred coinage.

In getting OpenSolaris to run on an IBM mainframe, Sun can claim that OpenSolaris is gaining new uses and new adherents, even as Linux continues to nibble away at its customer base. Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz and other Sun officials have often cheekily suggested that Hewlett-Packard and IBM abandon their versions of Unix and adopt OpenSolaris.

But IBM believes the need for energy savings is going to drive customers back to the mainframe, and it wants every x86 virtualization host to run there. The mainframe has a processor addition, the Integrated Facility for Linux, which not only runs Linux efficiently but takes less power than adding Linux to a freestanding x86 server.

Joe Clabby, president of Clabby Analytics, recently stated that adding an Integrated Facility for Linux increased the mainframe's power draw by only 20 watts. One mainframe can run enough Linux workloads to equal 250 x86 servers, making the mainframe a candidate to consolidate servers in power conscious data centers, Clabby concluded in the Nov. 28 issue of Pund-IT Research, an IT newsletter published by Pund-IT of Hayward, Calif.

IBM can warm up to Sun if its OpenSolaris becomes an effective virtualizer of x86 servers. IBM supplies virtualization for its AIX, Series p, and Series z servers but is clearly not worried about competing for every x86 server virtualization. Firms adopting virtualization for energy savings may find the next step is consolidating virtualized x86 servers on the IBM mainframe, IBM believes.

If VMware, Citrix's XenSource, the Xen open source project, or Sun supplies the x86 virtualization software, it scarcely matters. IBM can run OpenSolaris under its z/VM operating system, which already runs a wide variety of operating systems as "guests."

In a statement that would have sounded outlandish a few years ago, IBM's Stallings said: "Corporations around the world have for years relied on the IBM mainframe to run their businesses. The Solaris operating system is similarly prevalent in data centers. It makes perfect sense to marry these two stalwarts ..." It makes perfect sense, provided the union takes place on the mainframe.

It was not clear when Solaris on the mainframe would move from a conference demonstration to an available option, but David Boyes, president of Sine Nomine, called the demonstration "a strategic step for all three companies." IBM and Sun said the demonstration was a continuation of their Aug. 16 announcement that OpenSolaris would be supported on IBM's blade and x86 servers. But that announcement said nothing about Solaris on the mainframe.