IBM puts Power behind Linux

It may not have the air of established respectability that Unix holds, but the Linux operating system took another step towards maturity Wednesday with the announcement of the latest server from IBM Corp.

IBM will start shipping a special version of its p630 server next week that runs Linux on IBM’s Power4 RISC (reduced instruction set computing) processors. This marks the first time that IBM has sold Linux on a Power-based server alongside servers that traditionally runs its AIX version of Unix.

While IBM admits that Linux’s primary place in the short term will remain on low-end servers that use Intel Corp. chips, the company hopes it can help spur Linux adoption by combining the OS with its high-end, best-performing chips, said Karl Freund, vice-president of pSeries server product management at IBM.

“This is a starting point,” Freund said. “This is about the beginning of developing a market. The first step is to have a product out there with the full weight and support of IBM behind it.”

Linux has become a popular choice for users trying to run Web servers or e-mail servers on cheap Intel-based hardware. IBM, however, is looking to push Linux toward handling higher-end business software by pairing it with the well-regarded Power4 chips that sit inside multi-million dollar servers.

IBM has already made some steps in this direction by making it possible to run Linux partitions on top of AIX in its RISC servers.

IBM admits that an immense amount of work must be done before Linux challenges AIX as a data centre replacement, but the company hopes this version of the p630 will attract those customers that intend to make Linux servers a large part of their future infrastructure.

“This is for customers that say, ‘I like what I’ve got, but moving forward I will increase my Linux platforms,” Freund said.

IBM expects the first adopters of the Linux p630 to be software makers and resellers that can begin tuning the system for end users. IBM has prepared a number of its own applications such as the DB2 database and WebSphere software to run on the new server.

The Linux version of the p630 will be priced at US$15,477 with a 1GHz Power4 chip, two 36GB disk drives and 2GB of memory. This compares to US$16,977 for the same server running AIX.

The p630 holds up to four Power4 chips, but IBM plans to release an eight-processor Linux pSeries server next year and follow that with one to two processors systems and eventually a 16-processor server, Freund said.

The p630 might not be the only 64-bit choice for Linux fans in IBM’s arsenal. Newisys Inc. has demonstrated a two-processor server that uses Advanced Micro Devices Inc.’s 64-bit Opteron chip running DB2 earlier this year. Both the Newisys system and the p630 use SuSE Linux AG’s 64-bit version of Linux.