IBM puts big blue stamp on Linux

If you’ve wanted to try Linux but have had cold feet because it’s fairly untested in the enterprise network arena, take heart: IBM Corp. is putting some of its considerable muscle behind the technology.

Big Blue is the hardware vendor most aggressively offering Linux on its servers, says Stacey Quandt, an analyst at Giga Information Group, a consultancy in Cambridge, Mass.

IBM also has some of the most comprehensive service and support for the operating system.

While Compaq, Dell and Hewlett-Packard also offer Linux on their servers, they are doing so with less fervor than IBM, Quandt says. For instance, Dell offers only the Red Hat Software version of Linux, while IBM offers all major flavours.

Dell also offers support through a third-party vendor, while IBM has its own personnel to assist Linux users, Quandt notes.

IBM’s Netfinity PC server unit is actively promoting Linux as a viable, less-expensive alternative to Windows NT. The RS/6000 division has also made its servers Linux-friendly. Additionally, applications that work on Monterey-IBM’s upcoming 64-bit Unix for Intel servers-will also run on Linux boxes. IBM’s Lotus has announced it will roll out a version of Domino for Linux sometime this year, and Tivoli plans to offer management tools for Linux servers.

IBM has been training its sales force to offer Linux to customers and even has 300 Linux specialists in its Global Services Division. IBM also works with Linux vendor Caldera Systems to train resellers to deliver Linux offerings.

Big Blue is as serious about Linux as it is about any other operating system it offers, such as AIX, OS/400 or S/390, says Mike Riegel, an IBM executive.

But while the sales force is being educated about the operating system and its benefits, they “will not be pushing Linux” over other choices, Riegel says. They will simply offer it to customers and let the customers decide if it will be Linux, NT or Novell.

Reliable support has always been an issue with Linux implementations, and IBM is trying to address that concern.

Quandt says IBM can make money by providing services and support for Linux through the vast IBM Global Services Division. Quandt declined to say just how much money Linux could bring IBM.

Nowhere in IBM is the push for Linux support greater than in its Netfinity division. The unit is even offering a certification program to test applications from 50 independent software vendors (ISV) for use on Linux-equipped boxes and 90-day technical start-up assistance for Linux users.

The thin software kernel lets Linux handle IP requests very quickly, making it attractive for users running Web servers, says Sandy Carter, an IBM executive. Other companies find that Linux works well for e-mail, file and print, and other basic applications, she says. Although she wouldn’t be specific, Carter says the number of Netfinity installations of Linux is growing strongly.

The reasons for the growth are many, users say. Linux is dependable and easy to install, and requires no licensing fees, says Brad Barrish, an executive at, a retailer with three Netfinity Linux servers that offer music to prospective customers.

The boxes have been running for four months and haven’t had to be rebooted once. Barrish says IBM offered extensive support during the installation, and he is considering buying more Linux servers for his company.

Despite IBM’s support of Linux, there are still some issues. For one thing, major ISVs have just started seriously porting their applications to support Linux PC server platforms over the past year, says James Gruener, analyst with Boston-based consultancy Aberdeen Group.

“All the major vendors are hedging their bets with Linux,” Giga’s Quandt says. Linux needs to become more scalable and be able to handle symmetric multiprocessing, she says.