Celebrating its quarter-century anniversary a couple of months back – I blogged about the rise and rise of Linux in the last 25 years. It got me wondering how an open project with humble beginnings came to dominate the global data centre. Simply, how did the little penguin become the new digital packhorse?

Linux On The Rise

Across the mainframe and other platforms there are more and more Linux deployments each year. In November 16’s IBM Systems Magazine article “Why more z Systems customer are running Linux”, for example, we are told that “nearly 50 percent of z Systems clients are using Linux”. We also know that Linux overtook other UNIX systems in terms of market share as far back as 2013 (source: Linux Foundation).

Meanwhile, the 11th annual BMC Mainframe Market survey (source: BMC) reports that 67% of mainframe organisations have witnessed increasing capacity this year, with the percentage respondents using Linux in production rising to 52%.

Now, across the broader market, what incarnation of Linux might be chosen is a topic all of its own. Data centres running Enterprise versions of RedHat, SUSE or Oracle variants is an option, as is using a Linux-based Cloud deployment, as would be the ground-breaking LinuxONE technology or the new Linux on Power platform from IBM, or indeed running a Linux partition on their mainframe. The flexibility, choice and power is certainly there to leverage.

Why Now?

One of the obvious questions this throws up is what sort of workload is being deployed on to Linux? Or, put another way, what is driving organizations and their IT teams to choose Linux (or any other modern environment for that matter) as a production environment? The aforementioned IBM Systems Magazine article confirmed that IBM has (Linux) clients “doing payments, payroll, mobile banking … critical applications”. It goes without saying that some production workload is much more at home on z/OS, but IBM sensibly provides the options the market is clearly looking for in the digital age.

And tempting as it might be to talk about all the benefits of Linux, open source and other recent innovations from the vendors, this isn’t what drives change. Businesses drive IT innovation – changes in circumstances are behind many of the smartest IT decisions. Necessity is the mother of invention, or in this case innovation. So what are those needs? Here are a few examples of real client need.

Accelerating Market Footprint

One of our clients looked at branching out into new territories. Their core systems needed to be replicated across new data centres in each country, a fairly typical situation. However, the uniqueness and scale of the operation made matters difficult for provisioning IT operations as quickly as the business plan wanted. They were looking for a faster way to have tried-and-trusted IT systems up and running, supporting their new regional centres.

Smart Data Compliance

A financial services client was also looking at international expansion. However, due to data privacy laws in the new region, they were unable to manage the new operation from their head office. Instead, they needed to establish the right – low-scale, yet compatible – IT footprint in the new region. The question therefore was what viable options could replicate existing mainframe business functionality at a lower scale?

Reaching New Clients

A very successful mainframe applications provider with an aggressive growth strategy was looking for further market opportunity. They identified that their market penetration and growth plans precluded them from establishing sufficient growth with their existing model. One important option to them was to investigate reaching clients in their market who were currently not using their prescribed deployment platform. Simply put, they needed to explore more platform options to support market growth.

Getting Fit for Purpose

New demands of fresh, critical workload create questions about priority and bandwidth. Some clients we know have adopted a headlong approach into big data and in-line analytics. Their view is there is no place better than z/OS to run these core operations. The question this creates is how to provision the necessary headroom without incurring unplanned increases. Of course, there’s always a commercial answer, but oftentimes the capacity available on Linux is simply waiting to be leveraged. It then becomes a question of choices.

Flexibility is Key…

The above scenarios represent real situations faced by large enterprises. What do all these drivers have in common? Probably the simplest way to label it is the issue of flexibility. Responding to change, rapidly, is driving IT innovation. Finding smart ways to deliver bomb-proof systems – core applications that already add value, already support the business – into new channels to support, quickly, going into a new territory, splitting data centers, reaching new clients, sometimes where the traditional platform isn’t appropriate for the model, is the demand. Linux makes sense as a viable, enterprise-scale solution in a growing range of cases.

…and so is the application!

For so many of the world’s largest IT organisations, the applications mean business, literally. They keep the operations ticking over, and without them the organisation would be unable to function. Many of those systems have been relied upon over years, frequently built on the solid foundation of tried-and-trusted technology such as the COBOL language. COBOL’s continued evolution in its 6th decade. IBM partner Micro Focus’ support of COBOL across dozens of leading platforms is well documented.


Is Linux alone here? Not at all – platform viability is the choice of the customer. What’s important is that organisations need to be able to make smart decisions to support rapid business change. Many are choosing IBM and Linux technology options to deploy their next generation of applications. Advancements in technology such as Linux, alongside the power and portability of COBOL, help them do just that. In the digital age, there’s another workhorse that can help. It looks a bit like a penguin.

Editors Note

Derek Britton is a regular blogger on and works for MicroFocus.  He is a strong advocate for running workloads on either z Systems or LinuxONE and can be found on Twitter at @derekbrittonUK