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Linux on POWER Reader Survey

Linux on power


IBM Systems Magazine surveyed 304 Power Systems* users to discover the state of Linux* on POWER*. The results were telling: Many respondents plan to expand their Linux servers and applications in the near term, while others are waiting to make the change, especially when it comes to upgrading their Power Systems infrastructure to take advantage of Linux capabilities.

Concerns that impede upgrades and expanded use of Linux include IT skills, disruption to IT shops and upgrade difficulties. About one-half of survey respondents are in the thick of day-to-day IT operations as 32 percent are systems administrators and 17 percent are IT managers. Thirteen percent are systems analysts/programmers and 18 percent are consultants. Of those surveyed, 49 percent have significant decision-making authority on purchasing Linux technology-supported applications and 13 percent have final decision-making authority.

A wide cross-section of industries is represented including banking, computer dealers, software, insurance, medical/healthcare, manufacturing, retail and government/military. The bulk of the respondents (41 percent) come from enterprises with 5,000 or more employees, while another 32 percent represent businesses with 499 employees or fewer.

Platform Challenges

x86 remains the dominant platform for running Linux. Although all of the respondents are Power Systems users, more than 86 percent are using x86-based systems to run Linux (see Figure 1). Just over 61 percent of those running Linux are doing so on the Power Systems platform.

IBM’s own assessment of the Linux market is similar to the survey, according to Terry Myers, HPC/HPDA Diamond Team lead, Global Portfolio Marketing, IBM Power Systems. “Clients may be on Linux or considering it, but they’re not running it on POWER because they incorrectly believe that switching system architectures wouldn’t deliver better results. That’s just not the case,” he says.

When it comes to workloads, respondents show a broad variation in Linux usage. Heavy Linux users—those running 51 percent or more of their workloads on the OS—account for just 16 percent of respondents. The majority of respondents (84 percent) are running 50 percent or less of their workloads on Linux (see Figure 2).

Applications on Linux

The two most popular applications are open-source databases and web serving. Among the databases running on Linux, 43 percent of respondents are running MySQL, followed by Oracle (41 percent), Db2* (32 percent) and PostgreSQL (30 percent) (see Figure 3). Other frequently used applications include systems management, application development and testing, performance monitoring, security and big data/analytics.

Seventy-two percent of respondents are running Linux live in production; meanwhile, 15 percent are experimenting with the OS. But 7 percent of respondents don’t plan on deploying Linux at all. In terms of distributions, 54 percent are running Red Hat, followed by 18 percent using SUSE, 7 percent on CentOS and 6 percent on Ubuntu.

An Incremental Approach

Looking ahead, only a few respondents plan wholesale Linux transitions. Just 8 percent of respondents plan to migrate all of their applications to Linux. More than half of respondents plan to incrementally increase the number of Linux servers and partitions in their data centers, and 23 percent plan to move specific applications to Linux (see Figure 4).

These results highlight the toe-in-the-water approach by many IT shops. They want to take advantage of Linux, but doing so requires them to step out of their comfort zone. And additional challenges arise when using Linux on the more efficient Power Systems platform. “It takes a significantly higher level of benefit to justify a complete change of system platforms than to stay with the platform you are on,” says Myers. “If you are on a total x86 infrastructure, it may be perceived as disruptive to change to something different, even if there are significant performance benefits.”

If a client is installing new Power Systems infrastructure to run Linux, it’s much easier to make the leap into a new environment. “The opportunity is to show customers how easy it is to transition into our newer systems—POWER9* and POWER8*—along with highlighting the benefits of a move,” he notes.

“For companies that have big data sets and are looking to do big data analytics and a significant amount of data throughput leading up to and through artificial intelligence and machine learning, the POWER8 and POWER9 servers have significant benefits above the other competing platforms in the market.”
—Terry Myers, HPC/HPDA Diamond Team lead, Global Portfolio Marketing, IBM Power Systems

Linux on POWER Migration Plans

From an IT manager’s point of view, the challenges are spelled out in the survey: the management tools, the ability to do upgrades and the training.

For instance, difficulty with disk administration may account for the reluctance of users to place more workloads on Linux, the survey indicates. Seventy percent of respondents said it was more difficult to administer Linux than IBM i or AIX*; just 30 percent said Linux was easier. One European user who recently added Linux on POWER prefers the ease and speed of using AIX.

A move to Linux is an optimal time for clients to upgrade their systems, and thus gain the most benefit from running the OS. Many users are running POWER8 and POWER7*, but a sizable contingent continue to run POWER6* or older models. Convincing these clients to evolve to a more modern system can be difficult. “Customers are comfortable with the performance of their current environments,” Myers says. Some respondents do plan to migrate their IBM Power Systems applications to Linux on POWER. The time frames vary from within two years (59 percent) to three or four years (20 percent) to five years or more (21 percent) (see Figure 5).

By upgrading to Linux on POWER or newer Power Systems hardware, clients will get better price performance. However, they also may need to rethink their software environment, and that can be a huge hurdle, Myers points out. IT departments are very hesitant to tackle new environments that require rewrites or updates to existing applications. “That’s especially true if they are running mission-critical business applications or very intensive financial applications,” he says.

Skill Demand

Demand for IT workers with Linux skills is rising, according to 83 percent of respondents. Just 11 percent didn’t report an increase. Forty percent of companies seeking to hire skilled Linux IT workers said it wasn’t difficult to hire employees with those skills. But 30 percent said they were having trouble finding candidates with Linux knowledge (See Figure 6).

Clients new to Linux must either retrain current IT staff and/or hire new workers with Linux skills. “It becomes a more evolutionary process in your organization as you’re trying to maintain two different kinds of environments,” Myers notes.

Getting the Word Out

One of the challenges for IBM is educating clients about the Linux capabilities of the Power Systems platform. Specifically, POWER8 and POWER9 servers are capable of providing better price performance and data throughput than older models, Myers explains.

“For companies that have big data sets and are looking to do big data analytics and a significant amount of data throughput leading up to and through artificial intelligence and machine learning, the POWER8 and POWER9 servers have significant benefits above the other competing platforms in the market,” he notes.

The POWER9 platform comes loaded with foundational technologies that aren’t available on x86, such as support for NVIDIA’s next-generation NVLink (ibm.co/2wmn4Oo), PCI-Express 4.0 and OpenCAPI. These technologies provide a giant improvement in data transfer capabilities, Myers points out.

Further, IBM has made it easier to switch from x86 to POWER by improving hardware design and offering software such as IBM Spectrum Computing software, which gives clients the ability to seamlessly integrate IBM systems into a heterogeneous environment and do workload balancing with streamlined user interfaces. “IBM has a set of end-to-end software and system features that, in aggregate, give you significantly better performance in a non-disruptive fashion,” Myers says.

As organizations move into accelerated computing and desire to run workloads such as deep learning to add value to the business, IBM is seeing upticks in interest and opportunity for these workloads, which provide additional business benefits such as business insights and using data to drive better business decisions. These workloads can truly be better run on POWER8 or POWER9, Myers says.

Linux for Data-Intensive Workloads

The survey shows that few users are running Linux solutions on Power Systems to take advantage of cutting-edge workloads. Just 12 percent of respondents are using machine learning, 11 percent are using artificial intelligence and about 5 percent are using deep learning.

More and more data scientists are driving the move to POWER to get the capabilities and performance needed to successfully run these data intensive workloads. “The conflict is between IT’s desire for consistency and ease of operation and the data scientist’s need for performance, throughput, capacity to solve a business problem,” Myers says. “There’s an interesting battle going on when they go to spec systems for purchase.”

Linux is becoming more central to business operations. As this happens, clients may take a closer look at what POWER can do for their data center’s performance.

Shirley S. Savage is a Maine-based freelance writer. Shirley can be reached at savage.shirley@comcast.net.


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