IBM officials say the offering is aimed at businesses that use numerous smaller servers, such as those powered by a combination of Intel microprocessors and Microsoft's Windows operating system. Transferring the computing tasks handled by multiple servers onto a single mainframe, the company maintains, will help users lower their overall computing costs without sacrificing horsepower.
The eServer zSeries for Linux will feature IBM's z/VM virtualization software, which lets the machine be subdivided into hundreds of so-called virtual machines that operate independently from each other. The Linux-based mainframe will sell for less than IBM's traditional model, which is powered by the company's proprietary zOS operating system but lacks some of the latter's high-end security and transaction-processing features. A basic version of the Linux-only mainframe will start at about $400,000, including three years of maintenance, while the sticker price on an entry-level zOS-based mainframe starts at about $750,000.
Bob Sutherland, an analyst with Technology Business Research, says that by offering a Linux mainframe, IBM is trying to create a new market for supercomputers, which once ruled the data center but in recent years have given way to less-expensive Windows and Unix offerings. "It may make them more appealing for users that ordinarily would never have considered buying a mainframe," Sutherland says.
Despite the overall decline in mainframe use by businesses, IBM has managed to increase its mainframe businesses in recent quarters, though sales were essentially flat in the company's most recent fourth quarter.