Red Hat and IBM Ratchet-Up Linux Partnership

By Charles King, Pund-IT, Inc.  December 17, 2014

Red Hat’s recent announcement of its Enterprise Linux 7.1 Beta noted that the new OS provides a variety of enhancements and innovations, including support for Ceph userspace components, Docker v1.2, FreeOTP (a two-factor authentication application) and OpenLMI (a standardized remote API), plus improved interoperability with Windows file and print services.

But Red Hat also announced that Enterprise Linux 7.1 will support POWER8 on IBM Power Systems (based on little endian) enabling the porting and migration of x86-based Linux applications with little or even no rewriting or recompiling. That’s a pretty big deal on its own, but add to that the newly announced support of Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization for IBM Power Systems and you have the potential for a game change in the way IBM customers use and benefit from Linux.

Linux as a powerful change agent

Why is that the case? Since its arrival in enterprise data centers in the 1990s, Linux has acted as an agent for sometimes disruptive, usually innovative change. IBM understood that quality when it became the first major vendor to endorse and support Linux. Since then, Linux and other open source efforts have played key roles in both the company’s traditional solutions and its new technologies.

IBM’s first commercial Linux solutions focused on its System z mainframe platform, but the company quickly extended support across its other systems. However, the energy behind those various efforts and their eventual success varied considerably. For example, the natural affinity of Linux for Intel-based platforms made IBM’s System x (recently sold to Lenovo) a natural beneficiary of Linux evolution.

Though there were several programs that attempted to capitalize on Linux solutions for IBM’s Power architecture (such as the Chiphopper technology that simplified the porting of x86-based Linux applications), most failed to gain appreciable traction. That situation changed significantly last year when IBM committed more than $1billion to new Linux investments, including the Linux on Power initiative in conjunction with its newest generation POWER8 processors.

Matching market and personal evolution

What makes Linux on Power different than anything that’s come before? For one thing, the effort reflects a profound shift in enterprise market dynamics. IBM Power is clearly the leading platform in traditional scale-up Unix solutions (with about 60% of the market) and, with innovative surges from competitors Oracle and HP unlikely, it will likely retain or even add to that share. But at the same time, the demand for these solutions is steadily declining. While IBM is in a far better position than competitors, it is also exploring opportunities in new markets. In fact, the native capabilities that Power brings to data-hungry and data-dependent applications should make it a compelling platform for Linux-users

As a result, enterprise customers, ISVs and developers stand to benefit from IBM’s work with Red Hat. While Power isn’t the only non-x86 platform to support Linux, it provides features and functions of particular value in enterprise applications and workloads, including supporting higher bandwidth and memory capacity than many or most other systems. In addition, IBM’s decision to open source the Power Architecture (via the OpenPOWER Foundation which has 70+ member companies) should help grow the market opportunities and demand for Power-based solutions.

Final analysis

For some 15 years, Linux has provided an innovative means for IBM customers to achieve steady, measurable progress in the way they leverage enterprise applications and information resources. In fact, the success of IBM’s initial Linux efforts led the company to expand its embrace of open source, serving as the incubator for new innovations, including OpenPower developments from Foundation members Google and NVIDIA earlier in 2014.

These latest announcements certainly provide the means for extending the benefits of Red Hat’s new Enterprise Linux 7.1 to Linux on Power solutions. The company obviously intends for these efforts to improve its market position. But they also qualify as proof of IBM’s commitment to evolving its technology offerings and to dependably delivering the innovative solutions that its customers have come to enjoy and expect.

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