Run Linux Apps on IBM Unix Servers

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IBM and other IT hardware vendors have for years touted the cost-saving benefits of running enterprise applications on industry-standard x86 hardware and Linux instead of on Unix systems that run on proprietary hardware.

That message notwithstanding, IBM Monday unveiled beta software that allows users to run thousands of x86-based Linux applications without code modifications on IBM's proprietary Power-processor-based System p Unix servers. The idea, according to IBM, is that some corporate users like the security, reliability and scalability of Unix while also wanting the benefits of server consolidation.

The beta software, now available for download, will allow users to run their Linux x86 applications in virtualized Linux environments in what is being called the IBM System p Application Virtual Environment or System p AVE.

Scott Handy, vice president of worldwide marketing and strategy for IBM's System p server group, said customer demand fueled the move, which is being undertaken with Transitive Corp. Los Gatos, Calif.-based Transitive developed the virtualization technology being used in the initiative. Transitive's QuickTransit technology allows software that's written for one hardware platform or operating system to be run on a different hardware platform or operating system without being rewritten.

The software should be available for general use by the end of the summer, Handy said. About 25 customers tested the software before today's general beta release.

Bob Wiederhold, president and CEO of Transitive, said the same technology is behind Apple Inc.'s move from Power processors to Intel CPUs. He said Transitive helped Apple with that move, which enabled Apple to switch CPUs while allowing older applications to remain in use without needing to be rewritten. Transitive provided the core for the Apple Rosetta software that makes it possible, Wiederhold said.

He predicted similar development to come. "Over time, you'll be able to run any application on any server," he said.

Charles King, an analyst with Pund-IT Inc. in Hayward, Calif., said a key benefit of the IBM offering is that it will allow independent software vendors to get Linux applications running on robust Series p servers quickly. "It creates some very interesting opportunities for new applications to come to System p," he said.

The x86 hardware environment has "always been a tremendous growth area for Linux," King said, but many corporate IT users still want to put their business-critical applications on Unix enterprise-class servers, such as the Series p machines or similar hardware from Sun Microsystems Inc. or Hewlett-Packard Co.

"Porting an application developed for one platform over to another platform traditionally requires a lot of work," King said. "Here an ISV can try the application out" and see how it works. "It's almost like what you can think of as training wheels."

Some performance-sensitive applications, such as databases, might not be good choices for the technology, he said, but "for most business applications this would work fine."

Jonathan Eunice, an analyst at Illuminata Inc. in Nashua, N.H., said the idea is especially useful for applications that are hard to port. "This is the last-mile enabler" for applications that are not yet natively ported for Linux on Power-based servers, Eunice said. "You can do it this way and not have to wait for ISVs" to port their applications for the hardware. "It's a technical bridge to make it work."

For users, the decision about whether to use industry-standard x86 hardware or proprietary Unix hardware will hinge on a user's comfort level with each platform, Eunice said. Much of that depends on the user's skill levels and preferences, as well as the confidence he has in his primary vendors, he said.

"Some will want to be on industry-standard x86 [equipment] and others will want to be on something they perceive as higher grade, such as Unix," he said. "It's like buying a car. Some people prefer Nissan versus BMW."

This story, "Run Linux Apps on IBM Unix Servers" was originally published by Computerworld.

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