IBM embraces Linux

IBM Corp. announced its intent to provide complete solutions of hardware, software and technical support for the open-source operating system Linux.

“Some other vendors have dipped their toes in the water, but we’ve jumped right in,” explained Robert LeBlanc, New York-based vice-president of software strategy in IBM’s software solutions division.

George Weiss, vice-president and research director for Gartner Group Inc. in Stamford, Conn., agreed IBM is doing a little more than others in this area.

“Some vendors seem to be very enthusiastic about Linux and others are not,” he said. “IBM seems to be on the end of the spectrum that is much more committed and seriously involved with the movement as well as the operating system itself.”

At LinuxWorld in San Jose, Calif., in early March, IBM outlined plans and specific Linux initiatives for the near future.

In the area of technical support, IBM announced it will support major versions of Linux globally, with the idea of giving customers a single point of contact for all their tech support needs.

IBM is also creating alliances with four commercial distributors of Linux, based in different areas of the world. They are: U.S.-based Red Hat Software Inc., one of the largest North American distributors; Germany-based SuSE Holding AG, which has strong market share in Europe; Pacific HiTech Inc., focused on the Asia/Pacific market; and Caldera Systems Inc., a U.S.-based company that concentrates primarily on the enterprise market.

“The reason we did this with all four is that we believe it gives us greater coverage worldwide and it ensures that the Linux market stays open and is not dominated by any single vendor,” LeBlanc said.

Sandra Potter, senior analyst at Boston-based Aberdeen Group, said endorsing various Linux distributors is the right strategy for IBM.

“Being agnostic about the way they embrace Linux in terms of supporting major distributions is a huge step,” she said.

On the software side, key IBM Websphere products for Linux will ship later this year, including two application servers and a performance pack. This aims to allow Linux customers to use the Web to perform tasks ranging from simple Web publishing to Java-based transactional processing.

“We’ve also already announced we’re going to port (Lotus) Domino over to Linux and we’re doing that in conjunction with a couple of customers — that will be available later this year,” LeBlanc said.

IBM will also make available Host On-Demand, a commercial Java-based emulator for Linux to provide secure access to core enterprise data via a Web browser, as well as the On-Demand Server for Linux. The latter is aimed at managing access to e-business applications for users, groups and devices, and will begin beta testing in the second quarter.

On the hardware side, a couple of weeks before LinuxWorld, IBM announced a deal with Red Hat, where Red Hat will put Linux on top of IBM Netfinity servers.

“So if a customer orders an IBM PC and wants to have Linux on it, they can get Linux,” LeBlanc said.

“We also announced that we started the porting of Linux onto the RS/6000, and that’s being done with an outside vendor called LinuxPPC (Inc.),” he added.

LeBlanc explained that IBM has decided to devote a lot of attention to Linux because it’s consistent with IBM’s view of what’s happening in the market, with what customers want and with the overall strategy IBM is implementing.

He said now that people are increasingly beginning to put Linux into the enterprise, it has to work with most of the operating systems that exist in the enterprise.

“So that fits in well with our strategy of being heterogeneous — we run on AIX, we run on Solaris, we run on NT, we run on OS/390 and now we run on Linux.”

Customers have been specifically asking for this, according to LeBlanc. “Our customers have been telling us they’ve been waiting for one of the major players to go in there and help legitimize the (Linux) market.”

Of all the major players to get involved with Linux, Gartner’s Weiss said, there are very defined indicators that make IBM a more interested party than some other vendors.

“The IBM model of increased service support and software revenues as a percentage of overall revenues and growth lends itself well to Linux,” he said. “And secondly, because it has competitive products to Microsoft, like Lotus to Exchange, there are specific and competitive reasons why they would want to support Linux.”

He said someone who could be less enthusiastic might be Sun Microsystems.

“They have achieved significant penetration or installation in the Internet area for Solaris, and Linux could be seen as more directly competitive to that position,” he said.