IBM starts renting cloudy bare metal Linux almost-mainframes

LinuxONE servers come to the Big Blue cloud

IBM has taken a longer-than-usual stride towards making its proprietary hardware platforms cloudier, by offering bare metal LinuxONE boxes in the big blue cloud.

The LinuxONE servers use the same Telum processor IBM packs into its z16 mainframe but are designed solely to run Linux – Big Blue’s own z/OS is not allowed.

But IBM promotes LinuxONE as offering just about the same level of hardware resilience as mainframes. The former typewriter champion also asserts that the LinuxOne architecture teamed with Telum trounces x86 for compute density and energy consumption.

And of course Linux is far less exotic that z/OS, making it a platform more independent software vendors will happily target. IBM reckons greenfield sites might fancy LinuxONE too, as it can run Kubernetes and is therefore suggested as a fine platform for cloud-native development.

The Register submits it would be a brave buyer that ignores decades of historical case studies about the perils of lock- in to proprietary platforms and makes LinuxONE the bedrock of a new IT stack. But stranger things have happened.

Wednesday’s news that bare metal LinuxONE servers are now available in IBM cloud therefore creates an interesting alternative to the safe option of hyperscale x86 or the enfant terrible that is cloudy Arm-powered servers.

It also means that three of IBM’s proprietary hardware platforms are now present in its cloud: Big Blue delivered POWER-as-a-service way back in 2016 and started renting cloudy mainframes in 2022, albeit only for test and development purposes.

LinuxONE servers appear to be available in IBM Cloud's London, Tokyo, Washington, Sao Paulo, and Toronto regions. Monthly prices start at $1,490.66 per month for a pair of virtual CPUS (vCPUs may seem an odd option for a bare metal server, though that's what IBM's configurator listed when we tested).

Analyst firm IDC rates the non-x86 server market as likely to generate $13.1 billion of revenue during 2023, compared to $109.5 billion for kit running CPUs from Intel or AMD. LinuxONE is therefore not a big player and has competition from the aforementioned cloudy Arm machines and IBM’s other platforms.

While the new cloudy servers may therefore not set the world on fire, they do at least give IBM’s cloud a unique offering, which is welcome given that during the 2010s the distinguishing feature of the Big Blue cloud was its unreliability and slow rate of improvement compared to upstart hyperscalers. ®

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