What's behind IBM's Linux plans?

ITworld.com |  Operating Systems

  • New: IBM's Daniel Frye on Big Blue's Linux roadmap (6:46; RA,
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  • NEWS ANALYSIS -- During his seven-year tenure, IBM chairman and CEO Lou Gerstner has never been reluctant to give his army new marching orders. Recently, he told the IBM troops, as well as the larger world, that the computer giant would move to Linux with full dispatch. If IBM can execute on its Linux plans, this already fast-moving operating system could gain ground even more quickly in the enterprise space.

    The size of IBM's commitment is notable. In a keynote earlier this month at the eBusiness Conference Expo in New York City, Gerstner pledged to devote nearly $1 billion to Linux development next year.

    IBM's interest in Linux is not new, and the eye-popping billion-dollar figure is really a hodgepodge that includes individual funding efforts already well under way. But IBM's push could be important to enterprise software managers now getting an earful on Linux from their frontline developers and systems administrators.

    IBM's Linux effort may prove akin to its earlier efforts to promote the Java programming language. After competitor Sun Microsystems originated the language, IBM worked hard to promote it across its diverse platforms, to add enterprise attributes to Java, and to shepherd it toward standardization. IBM's inability to loosen Java from Sun's proprietary grasp proved to be a cause of contention between the two firms over the course of the past year.

    In the Linux space, IBM need not try as hard to get along with Sun. In fact, IBM sees Linux as a weapon to dislodge Sun's Solaris brand of Unix -- and a range of SPARC servers -- from a primary position in the market for network infrastructure servers. While a call from customers to support Linux partly drives Gerstner's latest strategy, the desire to unseat Sun is also clearly important to IBM.

    Behind the numbers

    Some of IBM's first Linux ports came about for the same reason they do in other organizations. The technical staff went ahead and did it on evenings and weekends. A long list of ports and porting plans covering IBM technology ranging from MQ series middleware to DB2 database software, and from the PowerPC processor to the S/390 mainframe, have marked recent years. The company sped up its Linux programs this summer when it announced $200 million initiatives to promote Linux among its European and Asian Pacific customers. Both programs include the founding of several new Linux development centers.

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