Presented by

  • Elizabeth K. Joseph

    Elizabeth K. Joseph

    Elizabeth is a long time open source contributor, having worked on Debian, Ubuntu, OpenStack, Apache Mesos, and various smaller projects over the years. She spent over a decade as a Linux Systems Administrator before transitioning into a Developer Advocate role, a title she now holds at IBM.


Discussions around where to host your Linux-based infrastructure tend to center around whether you should use the cloud or your own on-premises hardware. Architectures beyond x86 are rarely discussed. This talk will give you a glimpse into the modern mainframe running Linux, and why it and other alternative architectures like ARM and POWER should be considered. We’ll first look at the birth of time-sharing and the first Virtual Machine (VM) technology that surfaced on the mainframe in the 1970s, driven by community-based efforts and with help from one of the oldest computer organizations in the world. From there, we’ll have a look at how VM technology allowed Linux to be run on the mainframe by a group of hobbyists in the late 1990s, and then was swiftly noticed by IBM and development continued for the polished product we see today. Today, there is an entire product line of mainframes that exclusively run Linux (RHEL, SLES, or Ubuntu) rather than the data-focused, batch-processing operating systems they are best known for. For the security-conscious, encryption technology built into the processor and on additional PCIe cryptography cards is accessible in Linux, allowing for end-to-end encryption of data at rest and in flight that doesn’t burn all of your regular processing resources. Enterprise-grade hardware that also has built-in redundancy reduces the need for management of a fleet of x86 servers, and the entry level mainframes today even fit into a 19” rack space in the datacenter. There are even a few services in the cloud run by IBM that transparently to the user use a mainframe in the back end. Looking at the future, with policies and laws making data protection even more important, there will be an increasing need for systems that have hardware-driven encryption technologies built in. Power consumption from these increasing needs will also continue as the rate of on-demand data processing and storage continues to soar. As a result, we'll likely see alternative architectures that put power savings become increasingly compelling.