Linux Helps Revitalize 25-Year-Old IBM Platform

Thanks to Linux, IBM’s eServer iSeries platform, which started life 25 years ago as the System/38, may be undergoing a renaissance of sorts. Over the past 2 years, Linux has helped revitalize IBM’s stagnant mainframe business. Now it may be doing the same thing for IBM’s iSeries line, which was known until recently as the AS/400.

The iSeries has been popular with small to medium-sized businesses, a market that provides about 20% of IBM revenue. Linux for iSeries has been available from IBM for a little over a year. The company has aimed it at traditional iSeries customers who are comfortable with the platform, but are looking for a way to run infrastructure applications like firewalls, Web servers and file and print serving.

One company that falls into that category is long-time iSeries user YKK USA, the world’s largest zipper manufacturer. A subsidiary of $1.7 billion YKK Corp. of Japan, the company makes over 1,500 zipper styles in over 425 colors, as well as other types of fasteners and aluminum architectural products like sliding doors.

YKK, which is based in Marietta, Ga., has been using iSeries machines practically since the platform was released in 1978, according to David Willoughby, the company’s manager of network services. It currently runs its manufacturing plant and distribution center on an iSeries model 830, and uses about a half-dozen other iSeries machines for the company’s email system, archiving old data, and other tasks.

In January of this year, YKK began building a Web site which its customers can use to check on the status of their orders. The application went live about a month ago, says Willoughby. By the end of the year, he says, it will allow customers to place orders online as well.

YKK considered running the Web site on Microsoft Windows and Internet Information Server (IIS), but opted for an Apache Web Server running under Linux on an iSeries model 820. That was in part because YKK was so familiar with the iSeries, according to Willoughby, and partially because it was looking for reliability. The company wanted the site to be up and running 24 hours a day, he says, and “Linux and Apache have a very good reputation for stability.”

The iSeries supports the SuSE, TurboLinux and Red Hat distributions of Linux. YKK is using SuSE Linux Enterprise Edition 7 on its iSeries.

As with IBM’s z-Series mainframe, where users typically run Linux in a logical partition or LPAR, Linux on the iSeries runs in separate partitions, under OS/400. A single iSeries system can run up to 32 Linux partitions. YKK is running Linux in a single partition, with its own network card, which makes it “essentially as if it is an independent machine,” says Willoughby. “Linux really has no idea what kind of machine it is running on.”