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IBM's mainframe momentum continues

Big Blue's "dinosaur" mainframe business gets a boost with a European customer consolidating SAP applications using Linux.

In another sign the mainframe computer is coming back to life, IBM plans to announce on Wednesday that a customer is using its zSeries machines and Linux for a major consolidation of business applications.

Endress+Hauser, which makes measuring devices for industrial process engineering, is migrating its 19 SAP applications into one primary data center in Germany using two z990 mainframes, according to IBM. With a total of 36 processors running the Linux operating system, the setup is one of Europe's largest installations of Linux on the mainframe, IBM said.

"Linux on the mainframe is ready for prime time," said Jim Goethals, infrastructure simplification program manager at IBM. "It's real."

In the past, Endress+Hauser ran its SAP applications on multiple computers using the Unix operating system, IBM said. Big Blue declined to disclose terms of the Endress+Hauser win. But a company spokeswoman said a general starting price for a z990-class mainframe is $1 million.

A few years ago, the mainframe computer was widely considered a dinosaur, but it is experiencing new demand thanks to factors including better networking performance and strong virtualization, said Jonathan Eunice, analyst with researcher Illuminata. Virtualization refers to the ability to run more than one instance of an operating system on the same machine. IBM says its mainframes can run hundreds of "virtual" server computers.

The Endress+Hauser win also indicates the open-source Linux OS is gaining ground, Eunice said. "Linux is often attacked as 'great for Web servers, but.' Clearly, that serious enterprises are interested in putting their business computing on Linux is very significant," Eunice said.

During each of the last three quarters, IBM's mainframe revenue has grown more than 30 percent on a year-over-year basis.

IBM's mainframes compete in part against Unix computers from companies such as Sun Microsystems, Hewlett-Packard and IBM itself.

The mainframe stands out for excellent reliability, said Charles King, analyst with the Sageza Group. "The mainframe is legendary for its ability, statistically, to withstand any problem," King said.