Evangelizing Mainframe
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Linux All the Way Down

There’s a story told in Stephen Hawking’s book, “A Brief History of Time,” about a famous scientist giving a public lecture on astronomy. He describes the earth orbiting the sun and how the sun, in turn, orbits around the center of a collection of stars called our galaxy. The lecture ends and a little old lady sitting at the back of the room says, “What you have told us is rubbish. The world is really a flat plate supported on the back of a giant turtle.” Thinking quickly the scientist asked, “Ah, but what is the turtle standing on?” The old lady smiles and says, “Why it’s turtles all the way down!” These days, it seems it’s Linux all the way down!

Linux, created by Linus Torvalds, first saw the light of day in 1991. It was originally a free OS for x86 PCs.

Linux on System z was formally announced in 2000. IBM also announced the Integrated Facility for Linux (IFL), one of the specialty processors dedicated to running the Linux OS, with or without z/VM. IBM supports two Linux distributions—Red Hat and SUSE. There are other Linux on System z distributions from Debian, Gentoo, Slackware, CentOS and Fedora. Linux on System z is available in both 32-bit and 64-bit versions. The advantage of using a mainframe (apart from reliability, availability and security) is that numerous servers can be combined onto a single platform—and that leads to huge cost savings.

Stepping down a “turtle,” there are plenty of Linux servers. The LAMP server-software combination (Linux, Apache, MySQL, Perl/PHP/Python) is very popular with developers and is one of the most common platforms for website hosting. Netcraft reported in March 2013, Linux distributions are used by half of the top 10 most reliable Internet-hosting companies. (As an aside, Microsoft is used by two of the 10, FreeBSD by three.)

The big problem facing ordinary PC users—even though Linux was originally designed to run on PCs—is that it can be very hard to buy a new PC that doesn’t come with Windows already installed. There are plenty of Linux distros that can be installed once Windows has been removed. It’s been suggested that to make corporate PCs safe, they should all run Linux with a firewall. They could then run one of the Open Office variants (LibreOffice, etc.) for staff to use for everyday work. It’s worth noting that Linux-based netbooks were popular before the advent of tablet computers, and they’re still available.

If mainframes are the first platform and PCs are the second, does Linux run on third-platform devices? It looks like some Linux tablets are out there, but not many. Clearly Android and Apple devices dominate, with a smaller Windows tablet market. It seems that hardware manufacturers are not looking to Linux to run on their machines yet—and that could be an important “yet.”

When it comes to smartphones, most people seem to be using Android. According to BGR Media, 2012 market share looks like 68.3 percent Android, 18.8 percent iOS (that’s the one-size-fits-all Apple devices), 4.7 percent BlackBerry OS, 2.6 percent Windows phones, and 2 percent Linux. The missing 3.6 percent goes to others.

Ubuntu, whose open source OS is based on the Debian Linux distribution, claims that people would get a better user experience on a smartphone running Ubuntu. So look out for more on these toward the end of the year. Firefox is also planning to launch a smartphone. The open source Web browser claims that apps, etc., will live on the Web. And Facebook is planning a phone, but it will run on Android.

So, on the third-platform devices, Linux is still only in its infancy, but by the end of 2013, we could see plenty of development in this area. And wouldn’t it make life simpler if the OS you used on your phone and tablet were the same as the one on your laptop, your company’s servers, and the mainframe? Everything could talk to everything else.

It really would be Linux all the way down.

Trevor Eddolls is CEO at iTech-Ed Ltd., an IT consultancy. For many years, he was the editorial director for Xephon’s Update publications and is now contributing editor to the Arcati Mainframe Yearbook. Eddolls has written three specialist IT books, and has had numerous technical articles published. He currently chairs the Virtual IMS and Virtual CICS user groups.

Posted: 4/16/2013 1:01:01 AM by Trevor Eddolls

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