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The last hold out: Linux on the AS/400

When IBM announced it was going to offer Linux on its mainframe and midrange servers last year, many observers saw it as a win-win situation. For Linux users, Big Blue's announcement helped legitimize the ultra-trendy Unix cousin. For IBM AS/400 and S/390 loyalists, the prospect of Linux on their venerable box offers hope for the future of the machine. And, for IBM, there is the prospect that Linux will help bolster the image of its traditional mainframe and midrange systems, which have been experiencing sluggish sales.

IBM is serious about Linux on its systems. So serious, in fact, that it announced last week that it would sweetened the mainframe pricing for Linux Pricing deals in an effort to reduce the obstacles for using Linux on traditional computers, including the S/390.

Earlier this year, Linux was ported to the S/390. Now, it's the AS/400's turn. By early next year, IBM says Linux will be available on the AS/400. As IBM gears up to deploy Linux for the midrange system, AS/400 users are anxiously awaiting its arrival and hoping it's everything IBM says it will be.'s assistant news editor Edward Hurley talked to Tim Alpers, a system software product manager for the AS/400 and Dave Boutcher, a senior member of the technical staff working on bringing Linux to the AS/400, about IBM's Linux strategy. is the status of putting Linux on the AS/400?

Alpers: We have a team in Rochester [Minn.] working on Linux for the 400. We should be ready to have a technical demonstration by the end of the year. It should be on the market sometime in 2001. will a user go about getting the Linux operating system for their AS/400?

Boutcher: It's our point of view here at IBM to have a big stake in Linux by contributing to R&D. But we're relying on SuSE, Red Hat and others (to provide software and applications.) We want it so a user can get, say Red Hat, open the package and install the CD onto the AS/400. To make it so Linux can run on the 400, we are making some changes to OS/400, the box's operating system, so it can run something other than the native operating system. Users will be able to add a partition to their system so they can run Linux. We are also working on Linux so there will be a match. We will contribute those solutions back to the open source community like we did with the S/390. advantages will users see in running Linux on the AS/400?

Alpers: There are a rich source of applications for the 400 (Java VM, Domino and Netfinity server) and adding Linux would add another arrow to the quiver. The key strength of the 400 is its ability to hand multiple workloads.

Boutcher: Users would also have access to all the applications that run on Linux with the Power PC. From Day One there will be a wealth of applications for their use., are there any disadvantages of running Linux on the AS/400?

Alpers: I can't see a customer installing just Linux. The real benefit of Linux is the synergies of the other applications on the system and strength of multiple workloads. If someone wants just Linux, then we would steer them toward a RS/6000 or a Netfinity because they're geared more toward Linux applications. do you think will be the typical Linux-on-AS/400 user? Will it be a niche market for certain specialized applications? Do you think it will bring in new users?

Boutcher: We have a large, strong base on the 400. Linux will help them extend their core business (what they use the AS/400 for) whether it's with payroll, distribution or accounts payable. Call it business-to-business or business-to-consumer, they have to make that extension. (As opposed to getting a new system) there are big advantages to expanding the 400 including savings in terms of time and cost. does Linux-on-AS/400 fit into the larger marketing plan for the operating system?

Alpers: I see a strong future with Linux and IBM. A lot of our customers are already using Linux. If you look inside IBM, you would be hard pressed to find any section from global services to storage to personal services, not exploring Linux.

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