Mainframe Linux a Unix threat: MS

High-end Unix vendors will lose out more than Microsoft from companies running Linux on a mainframe, says Cliff Reeves, head of Microsoft's Windows .Net product management group.

High-end Unix vendors will lose out more than Microsoft from companies running Linux on a mainframe, says Cliff Reeves (pictured right), head of Microsoft’s Windows .Net product management group.

Reeves believes Microsoft will only suffer collateral damage from moves such as Air New Zealand’s decision to run Linux and an open source application on a mainframe, doing his best to dismiss the development as “a proposition”.

Reeves, in the country for Microsoft Tech Ed conference, wouldn’t comment specifically on Air New Zealand’s decision but he was willing to expound on the idea in general terms.

“Usually these people are rationalising their Unix systems. Then they say, why don’t we sweep up those file and print services we’ve got? Companies have excess mainframe capacity and staff who see every problem in terms of a mainframe solution.

“In general, when you actually investigate, you find it’s very difficult to set up a [System] 390 to handle anything like the workload from a large print load. Mostly it’s a proposition.

“If you had to buy the hardware and software it’s a no starter. IBM actually has its largest margins on its mainframe systems so it has a tremendous motivation to push this. When it’s licensing a product like Linux it’ll throw in something like Bynari, but having a licence and deploying something are two different things.”

Reeves, who has worked for IBM and Lotus, is in favour of rationalising operating systems but obviously isn’t thinking of Linux on a mainframe as the answer. He says Windows technology is well ahead of its reputation and was extremely frustrated when the Nimda and Code Red viruses came out.

“There were patches but people hadn’t applied them, so it came down to communication. It was a wake-up call to Microsoft that if you have that many systems out there you have a huge responsibility to communicate with your users and make sure you get the news out about security.

“But it also obscured the major security problem which isn’t external hacks but if internal people — if people with access — leave, how do you keep track of that?

There is also the problem of how do you open your system to your partners. We have done a tremendous amount of work on that topic.”

Given the high profile of virus attacks and hackers, something extra had to be done on those fronts.

Reeves says all product development was stopped for 60 days at the start of the year.

“We tested the vulnerability of all our code and did cross-module vulnerability tests. We fixed things in the code and issued Service Pack 1. Then we embodied everything we learned in the development process.”

He also points to Microsoft’s Windows Update Service. For the corporate market the service offers Microsoft fixes and notifications and an initiative dubbed “secure by design”, whereby every security feature is switched on by default even if this negatively affects the useability of the software.

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