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Novell’s Markus Rex – celebrating 10 years of Linux on the mainframe

We help celebrate ten years of Linux on the mainframe with an exclusive interview with Novell’s senior vice president and general manager of open platform solutions, Markus Rex, discussing the technological and business transformation since it’s introduction…

This article originally appeared in issue 87 of Linux User & Developer magazine.

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Several years ago mainframes were written off as expensive, dated computers that were only capable of running large business applications, and many predicted the end of the mainframe. But today, thanks in no small part to Linux, companies are taking a critical look at their workloads and recognising that they need outstanding reliability, availability and serviceability to manage their mission-critical workloads, and the mainframe uniquely fulfils this business requirement.

Markus Rex Full
As senior Novell VP, you have seen some broad implementations of SUSE Linux Enterprise in mainframe environments over the last decade. What typifies a successful deployment today in your opinion?
From a business standpoint, an implementation is only successful if our customers can achieve their business objectives: consolidation of workloads, lower costs for infrastructure and licences, reduced complexity in their daily administration work, meeting requirements for better energy efficiency (power, cooling, physical space), improved hardware utilisation, and addressing security and compliance demands. From a technical point of view, it is very successful if we don’t get too many support calls [laughing].

Along the hard fought path towards enterprise-level acceptance, SUSE has recorded certain milestones such as passing ISV and IHV certification. How important do you feel these (or other) landmark developments have been in terms of where Linux sits now?
Certifications are extremely important, whether they are ISV, IHV, LSB or security certifications. It reassures customers that there is an entire ecosystem of professional organisations focused on making an enterprise platform like Linux both stable and secure. It reinforces to the customer that there is a past, a present and a future for the solutions running in
their enterprises.

Prior to your position at Novell you were chief technology officer for the Linux Foundation. What standards were you involved in that have crucially shaped mainframe implementation?
One of the important goals shared by the Linux ecosystem participants is to maintain a certain similarity between the various flavours of Linux. The Linux Foundation develops a set of standards called the ‘Linux Standards Base’ (LSB), which provides Linux distribution vendors as well as application vendors with a runtime environment as well as directions covering, for example, the layout of the files on the hard disk. This framework allows Linux distributors to develop a product that ensures a standardised operating system base for application vendors. Given the cross-hardware platform approach of our SUSE Linux Enterprise product, this frame applies equally well to the x86 space as it does to the mainframe space.

In order to become a fully fledged commercial beast, enterprise Linux on the mainframe needed to overcome certain hurdles – such as new compilers, libraries and some base packages – throughout its life cycle. What aspects of making Linux viable commercially have been the most challenging?
The mainframe market is a very mature and conservative market – customers do not just expect reliability, availability and serviceability, they live it. When introducing and establishing a product like SUSE Linux Enterprise Server for System z in this market, it’s not enough to have outstanding technology. Our customers need to trust the company they are buying from. For us, the most challenging aspect in bringing Linux to the mainframe was establishing the right level of confidence with the customers. Together with IBM we have done exactly that – we’ve created enough interest in bringing new workloads to the mainframe and helping our customers discover the cost savings potential with Linux. Today more than 70% of all IBM mainframe customers run Linux on z.