Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A Week with IBM Power Systems and Linux

Insights from the road…

The temperature wasn’t the only thing that was hot when I visited Austin, Texas, and LinuxCon 2011 North America in Vancouver, Canada, this past week. I took to the road to share insights from GHY International, which uses the powerful combination of Linux, the open-source operating system, on IBM Power Systems  in a production environment. I also wanted to get a sense of the current state of Linux on Power hardware.

From a corporate perspective, GHY has invested in state-of-the-art technology that allows it to seamlessly communicate with its customers and customs offices in the United States and Canada. It also prides itself on providing its customers with the human touch.

“We offer the best of both worlds: As companies look at their options for trade services, they’re looking for partners that can deliver all the important technology-based solutions but also maintain close personal relationships and accountability for performance,” says Reynold Martens, executive vice-president.

GHY International is in its second decade of using Linux in the enterprise, the last nine years on IBM Power hardware. Approximately two-thirds of our server environment consists of virtualized machines running on our IBM Power 750 server. We use SUSE Enterprise 11 Linux on our server instances.

We run very diverse workloads from core network services including a firewall on an IBM Power LPAR, to email and Web services, and finally to an application-development platform based upon the industry-standard LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP) stack.

Using this powerful combination we have created solutions that save the organization hundreds of thousands of dollars annually. These savings are calculated in real hard dollar savings from licensing, maintenance costs, training, etc., to FTE savings. As an example managing email, spam, anti-virus, context filters, etc., saves us an estimated 9.5 FTE annually.

It’s because of our use of Linux that I attended LinuxCon an event of The Linux Foundation, which is a non-profit consortium dedicated to the growth of Linux. This year’s North American event was held in Vancouver, BC, Canada, from Aug. 17 through Aug. 19.

Of special note during the LinuxCon North America 2011 event was a keynote with Dan Frye, vice president, Open Systems Development, IBM Systems and Technology Group; Jon “Maddog” Hall, executive director, Linux International; and Eben Moglen, director-counsel, Software Freedom Law Center. The keynote was moderated by Jim Zemlin, executive director, The Linux Foundation. From a commercial position it was the feeling of the group that Linux is where it is today because IBM stepped up and made its original $1 billion commitment back in 2001.

News of the Week was poorly timed when Phil Robb, director of the Open Source Program Office at Hewlett-Packard presented his keynote the morning of Aug. 18, just as the news broke from HP corporate about the company’s withdrawal of WebOS based products, The audience, which was plugged in, was aware of this news before the keynote even wrapped up. Unfortunately for HP the keynote was all about how the Linux technology-based WebOS was so great. Needless to say, HP’s booth at the event was bare after that.

I did some recon at the event to understand how the market sees the IBM Power platform’s position. In light that the “Jeopardy!” playing computer, Watson, is an IBM POWER7 processor-based system running Linux that speaks volumes to the masses, IBM has a home run with Watson.

Currently, Red Hat and SUSE are the IBM enterprise partners that provide distributions for Power Systems. Red Hat is the North American market leader in x86 Linux workloads, while SUSE, the new/old standalone business unit from the recent acquisition of Novell by Attachmate leads in non-North American markets as the choice for enterprise Linux, but during a conversation with one executive from SUSE he indicated that their figures indicate that the company also accounts for at least 50 percent of the IBM Power market and more than 80 percent of the IBM System z marketplace. Of special note for me is the fact that historically SUSE has been in step with IBM Power hardware releases and not a fast follower like Red Hat.

For those wondering, yes I did have very detailed discussions with SUSE executives about the whole Attachmate deal. While a number of issues that reassure me of SUSE’s future in this market were discussed, such as Attachmate is investing, not divesting of this product portfolio, some nagging questions still need to be answered as to the long-term future impact to the open-source marketplace and potential indemnification that vendors will still need to put in place for enterprise users. If anything I think it plays very well for SUSE, which holds perpetual rights to use all products and their intellectual property without license.

Surprises and Delight
It was with great surprise and delight that I found some interesting tidbits that the IBM Power community should be aware of.

Gentoo, which is generally regarded as the Linux distribution that is like getting a box of Legos without the instructions for those who like to build things, has a community build of its distribution for IBM Power Systems.

Canonical, the distributors of Ubuntu, also have a community build for IBM Power Systems available. Since Canonical is already in the business of selling enterprise distributions, maybe the company will consider a future opportunity to make its community build an enterprise offering.

The last tidbit is more a future opportunity than a solution for today, maybe. IBM’s love/hate relationship with Oracle is no secret. It’s also widely known that IBM Power Systems with enterprise Linux can be a good solution for Oracle application users. Oracle, of course, bought MySQL, the “M” in the LAMP stack abbreviation. IBM has offerings to migrate to DB2 (a great database) but that breaks the industry standard of the LAMP stack, and at this time I am not aware if the DB2 team has done anything to make DB2 more of a drop in replacement to MySQL. The original developers of MySQL now have an offering called Maria DB, only available in an x86 distribution directly, but it is a direct binary replacement to MySQL, thereby preserving the LAMP stack and requiring no re-development while migrating to a different database, away from future concerns of what Oracle may do with MySQL. I found it interesting that this may not be as hard as it sounds as Gentoo’s public distribution already contains the IBM Power version of Maria DB. This is definitely one case that requires some R & D to understand what it can do and again increase choice in the IBM Power market.

GHY International has pioneered customs broker and international trade solutions through Canada and USA borders while providing trade compliance solutions to meeting the trade needs of our clients. Since 1901, the depth and breadth of our services at GHY have expanded to create one of the most successful, knowledgeable, and experienced customs brokers and trade compliance specialists in Canada and USA.

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