IBM and Red Hat have announced a partnership to deploy and support Red Hat’s Linux software on IBM’s System z mainframes.

The vendors say they created the partnership because governments and companies are increasingly using Red Hat’s open source Enterprise Linux on mainframes to improve the security and scalability of Linux systems.

Today’s announcement is the first in what the vendors say will be a series of initiatives to deliver a wide range of offerings using System z and Red Hat Enterprise Linux.

The first combined offering will be aimed at government customers who need to manage secure access to classified and unclassified data.

“Red Hat and IBM engineering teams have worked together to offer Labeled Security Protection Profile (LSPP) Common Criteria certification for this solution,” a press release states. “This operating environment gives government customers the highest assurance that data is protected and that access is granted only to those with proper clearance.”

Customers were not prevented from using Red Hat Linux software with IBM mainframes prior to Wednesday’s announcement, and customers who already do so probably won’t notice major changes in how the products operate, says Frank Monez, the Linux initiative manager for IBM System z. But the vendors will work together to strengthen the ability of Red Hat Linux to run on the IBM platform, with new versions of IBM hardware optimized to run with Red Hat, he says.

The vendors are also strengthening customer support with a Red Hat technical staff composed of IBM mainframe experts.

IDC analyst Steve Josselyn says the partnership lends additional credibility to Red Hat, because there might have been some concern among customers who weren’t sure if the software would mesh well with IBM mainframes. IBM already supported Novell’s SUSE Linux Enterprise operating system but had not cemented a partnership with Red Hat, Josselyn notes.

The security of the mainframe will attract many companies who want to use Red Hat or are already customers of the open source provider, he says. The vendors stressed security in their announcement, saying “the mainframe’s fortress-like security is legendary.”

“That’s one of the advantages of running Linux on the System z platform because you get all the inherent benefits of the mainframe architecture, which includes not only the security but all the other capabilities as well,” Josselyn says.

“It can reduce the complexity of how customers provide a Linux front end for some of the data that’s on the mainframe,” he also says.

The partnership may also help IBM counter a perception that the mainframe has fallen out of favour, according to Josselyn. “IBM has done a lot to reduce those barriers, to some degree, and worked with schools and universities to promote the training and skill sets that are needed to operate in the mainframe environment,” he says. “There are still a lot of advantages to people running System z.”

According to Monez, IBM’s mainframe business is going strong, with four consecutive quarters of revenue growth, and seven consecutive quarters of growth in usage by customers.

Having partnerships with both Novell and Red Hat lets IBM make a strong case to customers who want to run Linux operating systems on mainframes, Monez states.

“Today, the market is Novell and Red Hat,” he says. “These two vendors have the majority of Linux in the market today.”