IBM LinuxONE; what’s in a name?

So the new IBM LinuxONE has now been officially launched. And not to put too fine a point on it, the Lustratus opinion is that it is pretty much the best Linux server around. In fact, to really stiEmperor_300x230ck my neck out, the LinuxONE could become the premier Linux server of choice in the next 5 years. As long as IBM doesn’t trip over its own feet to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory…

Let’s just take a moment to reflect on what IBM’s got. The LinuxONE currently comes in two sizes, the full-scale enterprise Linux server (Emperor) and an entry level server (Rockhopper). Cunning use of penguins to stress the link to Linux 😉 . LinuxONE offers a range (if two is a range) of Linux servers with outstanding reliability, security and non-disruptive scalability coupled with probably the best data and transaction handling facilities in the world. Bold words, but there is proof (see later).

But the LinuxONE also offers the openness and productivity support expected in the Linux world. Customers can choose between Red Hat, SuSE and Ubuntu environments, a range of hypervisors such as KVM and PR/SM, familiar languages such as Python, Perl, Ruby, Rails and Node.js, various databases like Oracle, DB2, MongoDB, MariaDB. In addition, LinuxONE adopts open technologies extensively, including Openstack, Docker, Chef and Puppet.  Even the financiang for the LinuxONE is more aligned with Linux and Cloud expectations, with a usage-based fixed monthly charge or even a rental option being offered. The LinuxONE is even the basis of an IBM community cloud being rolled out now.

So how can anything go wrong? And anyway, how can I make those claims about reliability, security and so on? Well of course, the secret is that the IBM LinuxONE is based on the IBM mainframe, arguably the most proven server the world has ever known for reliability, availability, data and I/O handling, transaction processing and enterprise serving. To this base, IBM has been able to build on its extensive experience over the last few years of running Linux workloads and serving Linux needs with z/Linux, providing the ideal launchpad for delivering the ultimate Linux servers. Fortunately IBM has not tried to resist the march of open technologies, taking the opportunity to bring open, non-IBM and IBM offerings together with the aim of delivering the premier Linux server environment.

The ‘but’ is that IBM cannot manage to tear itself away from its pride in the mainframe. Rightly, IBM is very proud of its mainframe technology and its long history of success under the most demanding environments. Perfectly understandable. And so I suppose it is only natural that IBM would want to refer in all its marketing literature to the fact that the LinuxONE is an enterprise Linux mainframe, and to stress that it IS a mainframe, albeit with significant Linux and open technology support added. But from the outside, this makes no sense. let’s split the world up into three camps; mainframe fans, those who do not know about mainframes and the mainframe ‘haters’. Perhaps ‘haters’ is a bit strong, but there is absolutely no doubt that there are a significant number of companies across the world who for various reasons see ‘mainframe’ as almost a derogatory word; old-fashioned, expensive, etc.. So how will the three markets react to the LinuxONE? IBM mainframe fans don’t need to be told it is a mainframe; they know, and they will also usually have an IBM rep who will be pointing it out with great frequency! The uninitiated who know nothing of mainframes would not see any plus or minus from being told the LinuxONE is a mainframe; they will simply want to look at what the LinuxONE can do for them, what tools and environments it supports etc.. But the third category can only see the ‘mainframe’ word as negative.

I can almost hear some people pointing out that this is a silly argument. That anyone who starts to look at the LinuxONE and who knows anything will quickly work out it is essentially an IBM mainframe. But I would submit that is not the point. Reaction to the mainframe word is to put the third group off from taking a closer look. Once they do look, as long as the server has the tools and offers the capabilities they need, and they can carry it forwards in their company without overtly exposing the ‘mainframe’ word, the strength of the LinuxONE offering will carry it through.

So I make this plea to IBM. Please, please, remove ‘mainframe’ from all the literature. Replace it with ‘server’ or ‘Linux server’ or enterprise Linux server’ or whatever. LinuxONE should be associated with being the best, most reliable, most productive, most scalable, most effective and safest range of Linux servers in the world, not with being a Linux-enabled mainframe.

Calling all integration experts!

Remember the old Universal Translator as modeled here by the late Mr. Spock? One of the first (or perhaps future?) examples of integration solutions, and certainly one of the most fondly remembere! But at its heart, it is also an almost perfect representation of the integration challenges today. Many years ago, there was EAI (Enterprise Application Integration) which was all about integrating homegrown applications with purchased package applications and/or alien applications brought in from Mergers and Acquisitions activity. The challenge was to find a way to make these applications from different planets communicate with one another to increase return on assets and provide a complete view of enterprise activity. EAI tools appeared from vendors such as TIBCO, SeeBeyond, IBM, Vitria, Progress Software, Software AG and webMethods to mention just a few.

Then there came the SOA initiative. By building computer systems with applications in the form of reusable chunks of business functionality (called services) the integration challenge could be met by enabling different applications to share common services.

Now the eternal wheel is turning once again, with the integration challenge clothed in yet another disguise. This time it is all about integrating systems with completely different usage a resource characteristics such as mobile devices, IoT components and traditional servers, but also applications of completely new types such as mobile apps and cloud-based SaaS solutions. In an echo of the past, lines of business are increasingly going out and buying cloud-based services to solve their immediate business needs, or paying a third-party developer to create the App they want, only to then turn to IT to get them to integrate the new solutions with the corporate systems of record.

Once again the vendors will respond to these user needs, probably extending and redeveloping their existing integration solutions or maybe adding new pieces where required. But as you look for potential partners to help you with this next wave of integration challenges, it is worth keeping in mind possibly the most important fact of all; a fact that has been evident throughout the decades of integration challenges to date. Every single time the integration challenge has surged to the top of the priority list, the key differentiator contributing to eventual success is not the smarts built into the tools and software / appliances on offer. Rather it is all about the advice and guidance you can get from people with extensive experience in integration challenges. Whether from vendors or service providers, these skills are absolutely essential. When it comes down to it, the technical challenges of integration are just the tip of the iceberg; all the real challenges are how you plan what you are going to do and how you work across disciplines and departments to ensure the solution is right for your company. You don’t have the time to learn this – find a partner who has spent years steeped in integration and listen to what they have to say!

The onward march of Linux falters – any lessons for OSS SOA?

Linux may be reaching a natural plateau with regards to corporate adoption as a UBS survey reported that 90% of CIOs not currently using Linux will not make the leap in 2007 (this is up slightly from 87% in 2006) according to a UBS survey reported on here and here.

In effect this means that those who are open to Linux are already using it and the hold-offs are mostly not about to change their minds any time soon.  This should not be regarded as some sort of ‘peak Linux’ type event as organisations already using Linux in some places will continue to extend their usage of the OS.  The report also reinforces the point that Linux is mostly replacing Unix rather than taking market share from Microsoft which is sometimes characterised as the target of Linux.  All of which really means that Linux is coming to the edge of its natural market – UNIX shops which can easily switch – and will struggle to break into organisations which are traditionally Microsoft only.  This does not mean that Linux is not wildly successful and making a lot of money for companies selling services around it.

Turning to OSS and Service Oriented Architectures, are there any lessons to be learnt?  At one level the Linux story bears very little relationship to SOA based projects – Linux was about the commoditisation of very mature specifications and technologies while software associated with SOA is comparatively immature (when compared to Linux/UNIX) and lacking in any specifications in many cases. Also, with Linux  the old established industry giants now rule (IBM et al with the exception of Red Hat as a new giant).  In contrast, OSS SOA is still mostly the preserve of startups (such as Mule Source , Bostech and  Sopera, as well as some integration specialists (IONA) and … Sun and Red Hat.

As I said above, Linux may be plateauing but at a huge scale.  Inevitably, OSS SOA will also reach its natural extent but the risk is that it may reach it before the service providers can achieve viable scale because right now the market for OSS SOA is large enterprises with java skilled developers who are willing to even consider the risk of replacing closed source integration products.  This is a finite market with a lot of incumbent solutions.  Moreover, this is a very tough market for any new solution:  evaluation processes are becoming more and more extended and even if selected the project may well be dumped as IT budget continue to be stretched.  [One could argue that the same challenges face the ‘closed source’ vendors but in their case they are able to extract more revenue from a small pool of customers and remain financially viable.]

Am I therefore saying that OSS suppliers are doomed in SOA?  Not at all – I believe that there is an opportunity for these businesses to succeed (and become the RedHat of integration perhaps?) but it will be a tough going.  In particular, it is a lot harder than suggested by most coverage of OSS which focuses on huge download rates and arguments such “Its free, developers love it, everybody will use it” and ignoring the real world issues around adopting any enterprise integration technology (which are mostly not related to the license fees).

Of course the OSS suppliers already know this and are developing different strategies to address the problem.  For instance, Mule Source is particularly focused on promoting community based development of additional components such as application adapters and transports – thereby deeping their engagement with customers and making it easier for customers to get a ‘complete’ integration solution – and has recently launched MuleForge to support this effort. IONA has been buying OSS expertise and has relaunched its OSS efforts (now called Fuse) deliberately focusing on the most popular Apache SOA-related projects with the obvious benefits of existing customer base and large pool of developers.  RedHat is also acquiring technology to provide strong data management capabilities by open sourcing MetaMatrix which is currently closed source.  Other suppliers have different ways to crack this nut but whether any of these strategies will succeed or fail is of course more complex than can be easily covered in a blog entry of reasonable length – however we will be addressing the area in upcoming Lustratus papers.


Red Hat: The last ESB start-up?

As part of my work prior to updating of “Best of breed ESB” paper, I was recently briefed by Red Hat about their current ESB and SOA related projects which will become a supported ‘product’ called JBOSS Enterprise SOA Platform towards the end of the year.

This puts them rather late in the game when compared to both open source and closed source offerings. Combined with the focus of the briefing on functionality over value, it felt very much like I was talking to the last ESB start-up to appear.

As a characterisation this should not be taken a wholly negative: For a company the size of Red Hat with its strong JBoss application server franchise, it would not have been surprising if they had simply done a me-too ESB to match that available from other stack vendors. Instead they are putting together a much more interesting set of capabilities but lack some others that will required for most serious enterprise use. On the positive, they seem to have a good grasp on the importance of data within SOA including both their MetaMatrix acquisition– once it has been open sourced – and pipeline based transformation (allowing complex manipulation of messages in-flight often required within deployed SOAs). Counter-balancing this, there is still much to do around service life-cycle and in particular how to support service reuse. I won’t attempt to go into much more detail at this time until the report is completed.