IBM Reaffirms Its Commitment to Linux with New Servers

It's fair to say that Linux stopped being a novelty about three years

ago, when the big guys, IBM and Hewlett-Packard among them, rolled out

not just servers running Linux, but the marketing, channel, and support

infrastructures necessary for them to succeed. A smashing success?

Maybe, maybe not. But progress continues to exceed expectations. And, as

they used to say at GE, progress is our most important product.

On Sept. 13, IBM lifted the wraps of its newest Linux entries, the

eServer OpenPower family. These entry-level Linux servers are clearly

being positioned as cost-effective alternatives to the Solaris boxes

being offered by semi-beleaguered archrival Sun Microsystems.

Brian Connors, IBM's vice president for OpenPower, made no bones about

his target, acknowledging that Sun is "sitting on a $1.6 billion market

for under-$10,000 servers." If my math is right, that's 200,000 servers

at $8,000 a pop (and these start at just $5,000). That's a lot of money

being left on the table by IBM, and, of course, yet another signal flare

that solutions integrators are about to become the key beneficiaries of

IBM's largesse.

If IBM takes 20 percent of this 200,000-server market, we're talking

40,000 servers, products that didn't exist last week. Somebody's got to

sell those, and it isn't going to be done by IBMers alone.

The first server offered, the OpenPower 720, starts at $5,000. Four-way

rack or a tower, it features a 1.5-GHz or 1.6-GHz version of IBM's new

Power 5 microprocessor. And pick your Linux distribution: Red Hat or

Novell (SuSE) are both offered. More eServer models will surface

throughout 2005.

Pretty cool stuff. But what's really at work here? Is this a gambit to

push Windows Server to the sidelines?

I don't think so. This is less about Microsoft and more about IBM

attempting to lure customers away from HP and Sun. How? By positioning

Linux as an attractive alternative to those once-popular but now

increasingly reviled proprietary versions of Unix, including Sun Solaris

and HP-UX.

IBM made that pretty clear in an official statement: "As Sun loses sleep

over the growing perception that Solaris is anti-Linux and HP brings

PA-RISC to an end, IBM is introducing an entirely new server line."

Pretty heady stuff from a company that once demanded starched white

shirts and razor-sharp creases from its all-male sales force.

Nevertheless, Sun is clearly feeling rather uncomfortable by all this.

In its own rebuttal to IBM, Sun said, "this is a feeble attempt to gain

a foothold in a market that is escaping them. IBM is significantly

behind Sun in the volume Unix market and is trying to catch up."

Well, that's true --- sort of. IBM pretty much missed the boat in the

"volume Unix market," which is marketing-speak for "entry-level market."

Nevertheless, IBM is serious and has far, far deeper pockets than Sun.

But if you look at the entire market for servers (not just entry-level),

IBM led the pack with a 32-percent market share for Q2 2004, according

to IDC. HP, with a 27-percent share, is second, and Sun follows, with a

12-percent share.

It's clear that IBM is putting a lot of muscle behind this effort. In

addition to the servers

(http://www-1.ibm.com/servers/eserver/openpower/), the company is

expanding its already broad curriculum of Linux training classes. If you

don't mind dealing with near-100-degree daytime temperatures, you can

travel to Las Vegas next week for pSeries and Linux Technical University

training at Caesar's Palace. And IBM's Linux on Power initiative

(http://www-1.ibm.com/servers/eserver/linux/power/) is scoring points

discussing everything from the business case for Linux to support for

application developers.

For the early adopters among us, the time for Linux was years ago. For

the rest of us, the time is here. Don't miss it.

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