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Full-fledged Linux coming to IBM servers

Big Blue previously had to make do with lesser software. Now it's ready to embrace 64-bit versions of Linux that will run on its most powerful servers.

Stephen Shankland principal writer
Stephen Shankland has been a reporter at CNET since 1998 and writes about processors, digital photography, AI, quantum computing, computer science, materials science, supercomputers, drones, browsers, 3D printing, USB, and new computing technology in general. He has a soft spot in his heart for standards groups and I/O interfaces. His first big scoop was about radioactive cat poop.
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Stephen Shankland
3 min read
SAN FRANCISCO--Full-fledged 64-bit versions of Linux will arrive for IBM servers that previously had to make do with lesser software, Big Blue is expected to announce in the next month.

IBM has enthusiastically embraced Linux over the last two years, but its most powerful servers don't yet take advantage of all that the Linux operating system has to offer. The 32-bit versions of Linux, designed for less powerful 32-bit chips such as Intel's Pentium, can't perform some important server tasks such as holding large databases in memory.

That will change in the next month with the arrival of 64-bit versions for IBM's zSeries mainframe line, Dan Powers, vice president of Linux solutions for IBM, said in an interview at IBM's PartnerWorld conference. The 64-bit versions will run on IBM's zSeries mainframes, Big Blue's most powerful servers, as well as on its iSeries special-purpose servers and its pSeries servers that historically have run only Unix.

Red Hat and SuSE will begin selling a 64-bit Linux version for mainframes in the first half of the year, said Rich Lechner, vice president of marketing for IBM's eServer group.

"At this moment, we plan to release it officially in late April. A beta version will be available soon," confirmed Holger Dyroff, director of SuSE's North American sales operation.

Red Hat declined to comment.

The 64-bit versions have been in development for months, hosted at sites such as Linux for S/390 and PenguinPPC64. Now they will leave the prototype phase.

The relatively quick arrival of the new versions of Linux illustrates one of the reasons IBM finds the operating system so appealing: It's flexible enough to run on all four of IBM's server lines, simplifying the company's task of getting higher-level programs such as its DB2 database package or its WebSphere e-commerce software on many different types of computers.

"It's a pretty easy port of Linux to anything, we're finding," Powers said of the ease of translating the software from one computer and CPU to another.

When Linux founder Linus Torvalds began his project, he used 32-bit Intel CPUs. But in a few years, he and the others in the open-source world modified Linux so it could run on numerous chips such as Compaq Computer's 64-bit Alpha or Sun Microsystems' 64-bit UltraSparc.

Key to this effort was isolating the chip-specific parts of the software and changing the parts that presumed a 32-bit CPU.

For IBM, work on the 64-bit PowerPC version of Linux began in mid-2000, among programmers in "Penguin Alley" within the Rochester, Minn., labs.

Initial developers of the 64-bit PowerPC version included Paul Albrecht, Peter Bergner, Mike Corrigan, David Engebretsen, Tom Gall, Todd Inglett, Pat McCarthy and Don Reed, with Paul Mackerras and Anton Blanchard joining later.

IBM and its allies met a key milestone in December when they submitted the 64-bit PowerPC code to the developmental 2.5 version of Linux. Software often arrives later in the 2.4 version, more conservatively maintained because it's designed for real-world use instead of just testing.

The zSeries 64-bit version of Linux, called ThinkBlue/64, first debuted in April 2001 and has had two major revisions since then.