IBM's mainframe Linux engagement – a fresh approach

Last week IBM made a series of announcements for LinuxONE. Some are quite remarkable (e.g., programming language Go from Google, StrongLoop), others were as expected (e.g., new hardware systems). The LinuxONE strategy is a sort of repetition of history.

But what is LinuxONE? Well, there has been some confusion in the market. LinuxONE is mainly hardware, not software as one may expect. Given the brand name 'LinuxONE', IBM realized that its mainframe slang was incompatible with the natural language of the Linux and open source community. Some people know that the mainframe term 'data set' is simply a file, but clearly not enough Linux developers know that.

Therefore, IBM decided to give the mainframe a new terminology that is compatible with the one used by the open source community. On the other hand, the traditional mainframe specialist should not be confused by the new terms for known functions. The mainframe of the traditionalists is called z System, while the same hardware is called LinuxONE when running a Linux operating system. Actually, the new LinuxONE systems are based on the already announced z System z13 designs. This opens new opportunities for IBM: (1) reposition the mainframe – sorry, LinuxONE - as a highly scalable and virtualizable hardware alternative for the open source community (instead of x86) by using a different set of terms that are target group-compatible; (2) keep the traditional IBM mainframe customers in their familiar and comfortable environments; (3) address the growing needs for hybrid cloud environments.

This strategy is similar to selling the same hardware – basically Power-based – with different operating systems (IBM i for Business vs. AIX) to different target groups (old AS/400 customers vs. Linux/Unix customers). With z System and LinuxONE, this strategy repeats itself: different terminologies and different target markets = expanding the market footprint based on the same hardware in a "different skin".

Bottom line: Despite these go-to-market maneuvers, it is worth exploring the newly announced LinuxONE systems for enterprises as well as ISVs and service providers interested in expanding their Linux engagements. Customers will find some pretty interesting – sometimes unexpected – options (e.g., Cloudant, Go, JSON, Node.js, Apache Spark, Apache HBase, OMR, Ubuntu, MongoDB, MariaDB, PostgreSQL, Chef, Docker, and a new project was SUSE).