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ICU IT Services Expands its Market Base by Embracing Linux on IBM Z and IBM LinuxONE

ICU IT Services
Johan schelling managing partner and infrastructure solution architect, icu It services-Photo by Philip Jintes

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Customer: ICU IT Services
Headquarters: Almere, Netherlands
Business: Computer services
Challenge: Training its engineers to develop for Linux and encouraging its clients to use the OS and open-source tools
Solution: Using an IBM LinuxONE system to gain expertise in the Linux space and creating Linux demo environments for its customers
Hardware: IBM LinuxONE Rockhopper
Software: SUSE Linux Enterprise, SUSE Manager, SUSE High Availability, SUSE OpenStack Cloud, SUSE Container as a Service, IBM WebSphere

The recent release of the IBM z14*, with its all-encompassing pervasive encryption, capability to support machine learning and openness to other platforms clearly positions the IBM Z* platform to serve clients well into the future. (Oh, and the it’s wicked fast, too.) And then there’s the IBM LinuxONE*, which is based upon the same technology. That’s why ICU IT Services, a computer services provider focused on IBM z/OS* and enterprise Linux* on IBM Z, was so keen to get its hands on and set up, with the assistance of SUSE, a single-frame IBM LinuxONE Rockhopper*.

“We needed an internal environment that would help us train our engineers. And we also wanted an environment that would allow us to give our customers a quick look at how Linux system-based solutions can be set up on their own enterprise systems,” says Johan Schelling, managing partner and infrastructure solution architect, ICU.

Efficient and Effective

Based in Almere, Netherlands, ICU was established in 1999 and today specializes in developing next generation enterprise-scale IT solutions. Its team of more than 40 IT professionals helps businesses build more efficient and secure IT environments, focusing on the interaction between platforms and applications, including z/OS and Linux.

“We conduct all types of consulting and special-projects support for our customers, which are all enterprises within the top-100 companies in the Netherlands, by helping them with DevOps and the implementation of new solutions,” Schelling says. “We only offer services that will make our customers more efficient and effective in their marketplaces.”

Since 2012, for example, Linux and open-source solutions have become one of the company’s key focuses.

ICU also closely follows new developments by investing in new and modern enterprise infrastructures using hybrid-cloud technology, containerization and blockchain. The LinuxONE Rockhopper was one of these new developments. ICU saw it as a low-cost entry system it could use to develop Linux and open source solutions that match its customers’ specific requirements.

“We use the system for our own development, to try out new combinations of software on the Z platform. We also use it for all kinds of proofs of concept, demonstrations and workshops for our customers,” Schelling remarks. “We recently had a group of 10 to 15 people from one of our customers who visited our office just to get a feel for a LinuxONE and its possibilities.”

The Differentiator

Although ICU has always supported the z/OS environment, most of the work was conducted on its customers’ in-house mainframe systems. This had advantages, such as the ability to gain a deep understanding of the clients’ z/OS application and hardware environments, but also pitfalls. For example, because ICU didn’t have its own IBM Z server, development and testing of new solutions couldn’t take place on ICU’s premises, limiting the possibilities in solution design.

With the growing popularity of Linux, an increasing number of ICU clients began asking how this new tool could enhance their operations. In response to this, the company began experimenting with Linux and open source on x86 systems.

Therefore, when IBM began offering Linux on Z and LinuxONE, ICU wanted to become part of the movement. As Schelling explains, “Currently, there are more than a few companies in Netherlands that are interested in doing things with Linux on Z, which helped us in our decision-making process. We concluded that with a move into the Linux space, it would differentiate us from other Linux systems-development companies in Netherlands. Today, we’re one of the few in Netherlands that has a clear focus on Linux on Z and LinuxONE.”

ICU later agreed to become an IBM business partner and use the Rockhopper for new-solution experiments, employee training and client demonstrations for Linux on Z and LinuxONE. As part of that, the company decided that it needed a “showroom,” as Schelling puts it, where it could demonstrate the power of Linux on LinuxONE. In doing so, ICU became the first company in Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg to deploy a LinuxONE system.

“You get the benefits of a Swiss Army knife on the mainframe and a missile with the LinuxONE. In either case, you’re taking advantage of the latest and greatest technology.”
—Johan Schelling, managing partner and infrastructure solution architect, ICU

To get the Linux distributions needed for setting up its first Linux systems on the Rockhopper, ICU turned to SUSE.

“The people at SUSE in the Netherlands enthusiastically replied to our request for some help and assisted us in setting up our first SUSE Linux environment on our Rockhopper, supplying us with their Linux distributions and tools like SUSE OpenStack Cloud, SUSE Manager and SUSE Container as a Service. We used these distributions and tools to set up demo-environments for high availability, private cloud, Linux systems-management and databases such as Oracle and PostgreSQL,” Schelling says.

ICU initially used the solution to support training and development environments. By using it as the basis for an exclusive laboratory setup, the company’s engineering team could quickly expand its knowledge base and Linux expertise, which enables quicker creation and implementation of innovative solutions for customers.

ICU expanded on this development and training environment by adding a demonstration infrastructure that, using OpenStack, spans both Intel* x86 and LinuxONE environments. This demonstration environment, dubbed ICUBE—short for ICU Build (your own) Environment—is used to swiftly set up temporary proof of concept/proof of technology environments for customers and also for conducting workshops with customers on special topics.

“With our OpenStack environment, we created an application-as-a-demonstration environment we can expose to customers. It’s an environment where they can select the software and the tools they need, put them on a canvas of sorts and then click the deploy button,” Schelling explains. “The OpenStack environment will then build the environment for them and send a notification saying, ‘OK, your environment is ready. These are the credentials that you need to log in. Go ahead and take a look.’ We are creating custom applications using this method so our salesforce can demonstrate to our customers what they can do with the system and what value may be in there for them.”

For the setup of this demonstration environment, ICU decided to create its own private cloud environment with OpenStack. The build of such cloud environments is now fully automated, which enables ICU to set up a completely new cloud environment spanning x86 and LinuxONE within hours.

“We also started a new collaboration initiative where we’re working together to sell a total solution for consolidation of Oracle databases on LinuxONE. We now can cover all organizational and technical aspects of such a consolidation project. This has really strengthened the relationship between SUSE and ICU, as well as the other parties, of course.”

Few Limitations

More importantly, though, ICU is demonstrating to IBM Z users and others that the mainframe is much more flexible than many other platforms out there, especially with the introduction of the z14 and the LinuxONE.

“For us, it’s a great way of showing that there are actually very little limitations in what you can do on a mainframe or LinuxONE. In the end, it’s just a Linux system you’re running on, so if you can run a PHP or Java application on an x86 Linux machine, you could easily do the same on Linux on Z or on LinuxONE. You get the benefits of a Swiss Army knife on the mainframe and a missile with the LinuxONE. In either case, you’re taking advantage of the latest and greatest technology.

“And just so you know: We’re not just a business partner, we’re also a user,” Schelling adds.

Jim Utsler, IBM Systems Magazine senior writer, has been covering the technology field for more than a decade. Jim can be reached at jjutsler@provide.net.


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