IBM Embraces Linux

IBM Corp. will take the next step toward making Linux an integral part of its enterprise strategy next month when it announces it will bundle the open-source operating system with two of its PC- and non-PC-based servers.

IBM on Thursday will announce an alliance with Red Hat Software Inc. under which the company will ship a wide array of its products with Red Hat Linux.

Under the agreement, developers from both companies will work to maximize performance, reliability, and security for Red Hat Linux on IBM server and client systems, including Netfinity servers, PC 300 commercial desktops, IntelliStations, and ThinkPads. Red Hat will also perform hardware certification testing and provide dedicated customer training, the two firms said.

"Our customers are asking for Linux solutions," said Bill McCracken, marketing and strategy general manager for IBM's Personal Systems Group. "The Red Hat alliance demonstrates IBM's commitment to the open-source movement and to provide our customers with an unmatched range of platforms, operating systems, solutions and services."

At the LinuxWorld show, in San Jose, Calif. in March, IBM will announce it will bundle Linux with its lower-end RS/6000 servers and workstations as well as with its Intel-based line of Netfinity servers, along side the native operating systems for those platforms.

The company will also announce plans to port Linux over to the PowerPC chip, which now powers the company's RS/6000 servers and AS/400 line of servers.

The decision to push a strategy to sell Linux across multiple server platforms has to do, in part, with better establishing IBM in a variety of strategic markets in which currently it lacks a meaningful presence, sources said.

"It is a move that can only help us sell more RS/6000s into markets where we are not all that strong, like ISPs and universities where [Linux] grew up," said a source close to IBM. "Plus we are seeing substantial demand from customers and we tend to listen to them. It is a fairly easy decision to make."

Some observers question whether bundling an open-source operating system might threaten proprietary software businesses surrounding AIX, including the operating system and the thousands of AIX-compatible applications. IBM officials reportedly believe the opportunity available to them in the Linux market can cover any losses they would suffer elsewhere.

"It isn't a dangerous decision if it creates a whole other business for IBM. And not just for software but services and support," an IBM insider said. "Besides most of the play for Linux will be on the Intel-based platforms."

IBM will still back AIX as its "bulletproof enterprise operating system," and will continue to aggressively develop and support it, according to one source.

In addition to IBM's work with Red Hat, the company next week will announce support for Pacific HiTech and Caldera Systems.

"More than any other computer company, we are worldwide. We realize that different distributors have different strengths in different parts of the world. So to play on a world stage, it is necessary to deal with different distributors,'' another IBM insider said.

IBM Corp., in Armonk, N.Y., can be reached at www.ibm.com. Red Hat Software Inc., in Research Triangle Park, N.C., can be reached at www.redhat.com.

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