% fortune -ae paul murphy

Mainframer bites dog: attacks Linux

Once upon a time I did a few articles for searchenterpriselinux at techtarget.com, but we parted ways very quickly over their commitment to Red Hat's anti-Sun marketing strategy.

Ken Milberg, a guy I think I first ran into in the context of my original 2002 Linuxworld series debunking mainframe Linux, is rather more their kind of guy: always upbeat about Red Hat, always pushing IBM, and reliably down on Sun.

Thus when an e-mail acquaintance sent me a link to Milberg's techtarget tip on When to use Unix or Linux? my first reaction was to recognize that the article's title summarizes the agenda because the business of Linux not being Unix was a Red Hat marketing invention picked up by IBM for sale to the general Linux community in response to the SCO lawsuit - rationality not being a big seller among marketeers facing lawsuits, the reality that it looks like a duck, waddles like a duck, quacks like a duck, has both duck DNA and recognizable duck internals, and was described by its primary care giving parent as a duck descended from ducks, has not been allowed to diminish anyone's enthusiastic commitment to this particular canard.

As a result I sent my "friend" a response saying that his goad - a comment that "as Sun's own Milberg you really have to respond" - just wasn't sharp enough.

Then I thought about what the article actually said, and decided that it's neither honest management advice nor just another attack on Sun - I think that's all misdirection: it's really a general attack on Linux.

Here's how he describes the advisory purpose of the thing in the opening paragraphs:

My IT consulting company is called Unix-Linux Solutions, so determining when to use one operating system (OS) or the other is my calling. I'm glad I can now recommend Linux as a production OS with confidence; but I don't recommend it for every project. So, how do I decide? In this tip, I'll bring forth common questions people ask when making this decision and explain which factors influence the choice.

What is your answer when a possible customer or client asks you what they should use? As the CIO, what would you do when your team suggests changing trains? I would suggest a series of questions, including:

  1. Why are you considering migrating off your existing platform?
  2. What is your application?
    1. How many users do you support?
    2. Does your application require high availability?
  3. What operating system are you currently using?
  4. Which OSes are your IT staff most knowledgeable about?
  5. As IT owners, what service-level agreements (SLAs) do you promise the business?

The obvious problem here is that if you were really considering which Unix variant to build your business around these would be the wrong questions to ask - whether at the CIO, middle management, or grunt levels the key issues affecting that kind of decision are those of cost, performance, application availability, scaling, and inherent risk.

Luckily it doesn't matter - the only question he actually addresses is the first one, and to a Sun user like me what stands out in that discussion is the apparent Sun bashing - for example:

Historically, IBM has always been more about scaling vertically than Sun, and for a business that wants to reduce its footprint in the data center, cut costs, and increase reliability and performance, moving to AIX on a System p rather than Linux might be the answer.


Let's consider a different scenario: As a Sun customer, you want to move away from your Solaris server farm because its systems are extremely old, perform poorly and the staff is already familiar with Linux. [emphasis added].

Sun bashing by itself doesn't merit a response - but that's not actually what he's about here: what he is doing is attacking Linux.

Take another look, in that context, at the opening sentences quoted above in which he first says that the company name is Linux-Unix Solutions, then that he specializes in helping companies choose between Linux and Unix, and finally that he's glad he can now recommend Linux. Notice the implication: that prior to the current now "Linux-Unix solutions" always recommended Unix (by which he means AIX).

That's subtle, something the discussion of his first question is not - look past the Sun bashing and you'll see a pitch for AIX on Power based on denigrating Linux on both x86 and Power:

Why are you considering migrating off your current platform? That is a most important question to ask when evaluating OS choices. Is your company unhappy with your current operating system's support, scalability, reliability or any number of other factors? Is it currently using Unix and looking to cut costs by moving toward open source? After the why is answered, we can address the other issues.

It's possible that after addressing the reasons for migrating, we learn that the current platform is actually the best solution. It's possible that the you may just need more scalability or a better distribution.

For example, a small business is running SLES 10 on 500 standalone PC servers that have taken up the majority of a its small data center. At the same time, the business has had many problems managing its server farm, from patch management to unscheduled outages. Costs have also risen due to software licensing and energy/cooling costs. Rather than migrate to a more reliable OS, perhaps the problem is hardware related. In a situation like this, you might want to consider an IBM System p. Using this architecture, you may be able to consolidate your entire farm to several IBM System p servers using Linux partitions and a technology called PowerVM x86. This technology actually allows one to run Linux x86 applications out of the box on a powerful RISC IBM System p, without a recompile or port. This solution might enable you to solve problems without porting to a different OS.

On the other hand, if you are running enterprise resource planning applications on older Sun servers and have the same concerns discussed above, it may behoove you to consider moving to a different flavor of Unix entirely ? AIX (IBM's Unix) rather than Solaris or Linux. This is also more about hardware than OSes. Historically, IBM has always been more about scaling vertically than Sun, and for a business that wants to reduce its footprint in the data center, cut costs, and increase reliability and performance, moving to AIX on a System p rather than Linux might be the answer. I only suggest this because AIX is more tightly integrated with System p hardware than Linux, it performs slightly better on that platform and is a more mature product.

Notice that the third paragraph suggests first that a business running SLES 10 will experience "many problems managing its server farm, from patch management to unscheduled outages", then that such a business might for unfathomable reasons of its own not want to "migrate to a more reliable OS" and finally that it could make huge gains by running its Linux applications under PowerVM x86 for AIX.

In reality powerVM x86 is a joint IBM/transitive product that can be useful for some purposes but is, from a performance perspective, just mainframe Linux all over again - meaning that what he recommends simply cannot be done at any reasonable cost.

The rest of the article is of a piece with this: the other four questions raised are quietly abandoned in favor of a discussion of "some of the technical factors you may need to look at when evaluating Unix or Linux" - specifically endianness, the kernel, and support. Thus he finds, for example, that endianness poses big barriers for people moving from SPARC to Lintel but none for moving from Solaris to AIX on Power, that open source kernel support can be hit or miss but AIX always works, and that support is an open issue on which Linux simply doesn't play in the exalted league uniquely occupied by AIX on Power.

Bottom line, this article pretends first to offer management advice on choosing between multiple Unix variants, then pretends to be just another hit piece aimed at Sun, but is really a dishonest and uninformed attack on Linux as an AIX competitor.

Paul Murphy wrote and published The Unix Guide to Defenestration. Murphy is a 25-year veteran of the I.T. consulting industry, specializing in Unix and Unix-related management issues.