What's behind IBM's Linux plans?

ITworld.com |  Operating Systems

When Gerstner arrives at a billion-dollar figure for Linux development, he is including marketing, training, services, and other budget miscellany. He said 1,500 developers are now dedicated to Linux-enabling products; in the company's 1999 annual report, 500 developers were listed as Linux specialists.

At IBM these days, "everybody's got Linux as a high-priority part of their budget," said Daniel D. Frye, director of the Linux Technology Center, IBM Enterprise Systems Group. What is new, he noted, is a central group charged with setting Linux strategy across the company.

To back up its words, IBM has made some big Linux deals of late. This month the company reported it will work with Shell International Exploration and Production to create the world's largest Linux supercomputer, comprising 1,024 IBM X-Series servers packaged in 32 racks. The company also announced that Scandinavian telecomm giant Telia would install an IBM mainframe and an IBM Shark storage system, both running on Linux, to host ISP operations. Telia will replace 70 exiting Web-hosting Unix servers with a single IBM S/390 G6 server simultaneously hosting more than 1,500 Linux server personalities. IBM customer Keio University in Japan, Gerstner noted in his speech, is integrating two campus networks supporting 15,000 users with Linux.

IBM also just announced the availability of the DB2 Universal Database for Linux on Intel-based clusters, and a mainframe-based WebSphere application server for Linux.

Shooting at Sun

The move to Linux is customer driven. But who among the customers do the driving? Traditionally, the move has been promoted "from the technology staff as opposed to the CIO's office," Frye said, "but we're seeing that beginning to change." Increasingly, he said, people see a benefit in Linux specifically and in open source generally. His boss, Gerstner, echoed this sentiment in his recent keynote, when he said Sun, EMC, and Microsoft are "running the last big proprietary plays we'll see in this industry for a long time to come."

Beating Sun at the server game is also on the minds of Gerstner and company. "Linux is what we're going to use to compete with Sun in the Web space," said Frye.

"We see it as our vehicle to displace Sun," he asserted.

The proposed displacement comes at the low- to mid-tier of Web sever technology, where Sun has been strong, but where Linux has been strong as well.

"IBM first and foremost has to satisfy its customers. Its customers are asking for help with Linux, " said analyst Pierre Fricke, the executive vice president of Web applications programs at D.H. Brown Associates. Meanwhile, Fricke said, Linux on Intel hardware has market potential that IBM seeks to exploit.

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