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LinuxONE Stripped Naked in the IBM Cloud
by Steven Dickens | September 28, 2022

The News: IBM announces bare metal version of LinuxONE in the IBM Cloud. For the full announcement from IBM read more here.

LinuxONE Stripped Naked in the IBM Cloud

Analyst Take: IBM has long had a full-fat version of security-focused cloud service running on LinuxONE servers in the IBM Cloud under the brand Hyper Protect, which we have covered previously in our research on Confidential Computing and the future of data security and trust. IBM is now announcing the lite version, with IBM customers able to take advantage of the naked capabilities of the high-end Linux-only server LinuxONE.

Hybrid cloud is rapidly becoming the deployment option of choice for many enterprises, especially those in highly regulated industries or government departments where security and availability are paramount. With this trend in mind, IBM is wise to offer its customers deployment options as they seek flexibility.

IBM recently launched the fourth generation of the LinuxONE range of servers to further fuel the explosive growth that this range of servers is having in the market. Based on what I can ascertain from IBM’s public statements, the LinuxONE range is one of the fastest-growing elements of the IBM Systems portfolio. While IBM does not report LinuxONE revenue separately, my own estimates put the business in the multiple hundreds of millions of revenue territory. Put simply, if LinuxONE was a standalone business, its growth since launch in 2015 would put it in the unicorn valuation range.

The vast majority of IT decision-makers are adopting a hybrid strategy rather than public cloud-only approach. If they are adopting a public cloud, they are leveraging a multi-cloud approach for their company. By leveraging a combination of on-premises private cloud, hybrid deployments, and a multi-public cloud approach, enterprises are able to balance total cost of ownership, energy efficiency, speed of innovation, and flexibility while also ensuring that data sovereignty and regulatory requirements are met.

IBM is looking to position LinuxONE as an enterprise-grade Linux platform with differentiated processor, cache and memory architecture to meet the needs of mission-critical workloads, and also deliver a tailored experience for workloads where security, scalability, and efficiency are paramount. Companies choose to use LinuxONE for a variety of Linux-based workloads such as database scalability or Kubernetes deployment with Red Hat OpenShift and SUSE Rancher.

LinuxONE-as-a-Service

IBM’s cloud-focused announcement is, I believe, looking to continue the momentum from the LinuxONE Emperor 4 launch that we covered recently and which will provide customer choice as they look at mission-critical Linux deployments. The IBM LinuxONE Bare Metal Servers offering in the IBM Cloud is positioned as a new way to deploy the LinuxONE platform in an infrastructure as a service (IaaS) model, while maintaining all the benefits such as core consolidation, resulting software license savings, and reduction in energy consumption to drive sustainability goals. It is unclear from the announcement what generation of LinuxONE servers IBM is launching the service on. I have asked the company for further clarification and will update once I have additional information.

LinuxONE Bare Metal Servers allow for dedicated servers based on the LinuxONE processor architecture known as s390x, which has wide adoption in the open-source community through the work of the Linux Foundation amongst others. IBM customers can select from a set of pre-configured profiles with corresponding amounts of memory and storage to run workloads that are highly performant on the LinuxONE platform such as MongoDB and Fujitsu PostgreSQL workloads.

According to the company’s press release, IBM claims that customers will be able to spin up an instance in under ten minutes to experience the benefits and add capacity as needed, with hourly pricing and rapid provisioning. While I’ve yet to see a demo, if these claims prove to be true — and I have every reason to think they are — then this will be a breakthrough for LinuxONE customers looking for flexibility.

LinuxONE Bare Metal Servers come with a host of built-in capabilities that are designed with the enterprise Linux and include:

  • Dedicated processor and memory assignment, which ensures workloads benefits from performance
  • Integration with private networking, which provides the benefits of isolation, floating IP, public gateways, security groups, and VPN gateways
  • Start/Stop/Restart so that restart can be invoked without submitting a ticket and waiting for help
  • Activity Tracker to that facilitates the monitoring of the bare metal instance through integration, and provide visibility into utilization and health

Why LinuxONE?

Why LinuxONE? That’s an easy one. IBM is positioning LinuxONE as a next-generation Linux server uniquely focused on helping customers achieve their ESG, pledges touting 75% less electricity and related carbon generation compared to using x86 servers when using LinuxONE. While IBM is to be applauded for this ESG focus and will certainly garner interest from clients that have this as a focus, for me the security and performance benefits are the most interesting elements of this new service. IBM acknowledge this by listing database and containerized workloads as key deployment use cases. These include:

Data-serving workloads, LinuxONE allows customers to radically consolidate the number of cores for database-focused workloads, with IBM highlighting a 16:1 core consolidation ratio on the latest 4th generation Emperor system. Based on IBM TCO studies and the LinuxONE TCO calculator, this is up to 80% license savings when running a database on LinuxONE instead of an x86 alternative.

Containerized workloads. Understandably the press release frequently mentions Red Hat OpenShift. It will be interesting to understand more whether these bare metal servers support SUSE Rancher and the work that Canonical is doing around container orchestration. All three container orchestration tools run on the s390x chip architecture ,so as I learn more I will be looking out for more details. The sheer horsepower of the Telum processor and the huge cache nest are perfectly suited to demanding containerized workloads, so this will give customers another viable alternative for these hard-to-place workloads.

Looking Ahead for IBM

Looking ahead, while IBM customers can get started now with LinuxONE Bare Metals server instances, they will need to contact IBM directly by way of a somewhat odd email address: zaas.client.success@ibm.com – which seems more related to IBM zSystems workloads than the Linux-only brand LinuxONE. Potential customers can however get directly to the service, where all provisioning, deployment, and management will occur by navigating to the IBM Bare Metal Servers provisioning page.

IBM has a hidden gem in LinuxONE. The market for Linux-only servers and cloud-based services is growing massively and customers are looking to deploy ever more demanding enterprise workloads onto these platforms. I believe that customers will be willing to take the slight overhead of working with the s390x chip architecture, as opposed to the traditional x86 architecture, to avail themselves of the performance and scale-up benefits the platform brings.

My only feedback to IBM is that if it is to truly capture the market for cloud-based Linux workloads with LinuxONE, it needs to be hyper-focused on making sure the LinuxONE brand is distinct from the traditional zSystems branding, as the clients are going to be very different. While zSystems is a powerhouse platform for many traditional IBM customers and is certainly not going anywhere, despite what some are saying, LinuxONE should be viewed as having nothing to do with the zSystems hardware strategy.

I believe that IBM needs to treat LinuxONE as a completely distinct server line, servicing the requirements of new clients and new buyers in existing IBM accounts. Only if IBM doubles down on this differentiation will it capture the market share that LinuxONE should capture in the Linux Server market.

Disclosure: Futurum Research is a research and advisory firm that engages or has engaged in research, analysis, and advisory services with many technology companies, including those mentioned in this article. The author does not hold any equity positions with any company mentioned in this article.

Analysis and opinions expressed herein are specific to the analyst individually and data and other information that might have been provided for validation, not those of Futurum Research as a whole.

Other insights from Futurum Research:

Confidential Computing: The Future of Data Security and Trust

LinuxONE – The Penguins Are Back

What’s New with IBM Cloud – The Six Five Insiders

Image Credit: IBM

About the Author

Steven Dickens is Vice President of Sales and Business Development and Senior Analyst at Futurum Research. Operating at the crossroads of technology and disruption, Steven engages with the world’s largest technology brands exploring new operating models and how they drive innovation and competitive edge for the enterprise.  Read Full Bio.