IBM chief says Linux ready for mission-critical apps

IBM appears hell-bent on making 2001 the year it establishes Linux as a major e-business platform enterprise and is poised to put its money, technology, and marketing muscle behind it

          IBM appears hell-bent on making 2001 the year it establishes Linux as a major e-business platform enterprise and is poised to put its money, technology, and marketing muscle behind it.

          In his keynote address that opened LinuxWorld Expo yesterday, IBM president and CEO Sam Palmisano said the open-source operating system is ready to leap the chasm between merely being "a nice modular technology" for smaller business systems to being an integral platform for conducting "real e-business."

          "We see Linux as ready for real e-business, mission-critical applications because of its rapid global adoption, its inherent enablement for multiple platforms, and [because] it is now and will continue to be the fastest-growing operating system in the world," Palmisano says.

          Palmisano quotes recent market share numbers from International Data Corporation that shows Linux having captured 28% unit share of the overall server market in 2000. He says he expects that figure to jump to 38% by 2004.

          To help ensure that Linux is even more readily adopted by large corporate accounts, IBM will dedicate $US300 million of the $US1 billion it has earmarked for Linux this year towards services and support over the next three years. Many of those services will be designed to help large accounts develop and integrate Linux and compatible applications into their existing host-based environments.

          "It is as simple as this: people out there need to [decide] whether they are going to vote for Linux and open-source technologies or not. IBM has voted to back open-source technologies. We are putting a lot of our prosperity at stake with this [$US1 billion] investment," Palmisano says.

          Despite its investment and its other considerable economic and technological resources, Palmisano admits that IBM cannot ultimately establish Linux as a premier e-business platform by itself. The company will continue to work even more aggressively with the Linux community at large to accomplish that goal.

          "IBM invests $US5 billion a year in research, but we can't solve this problem ourselves. By working together we can entrench Linux as a serious e-business platform," Palmisano says.

          One by one, Palmisano tried to explode what he believes are the four myths of Linux: that it has little scalability, that it is only a niche operating system, that it cannot be used for mission-critical applications, and that it is a chaotic "bathtub of code" from which anyone can create without adhering to standards.

          Attempting to disprove that Linux cannot scale, Palmisano says that may have been true a couple of years ago, but that during the past year multiple Fortune 1000 companies and universities have successfully implemented supercomputer-class implementations, including the University of Illinois and Shell Oil, which has set up a 1000-server node network.

          Palmisano says Linux has now grown out of being a niche operating system, as is evidenced by the diverse market segments now using it, and using it for a wide range of application needs.

          "You can say that [Linux] is being mostly used by ISPs, telcos, and other web services providers. Well, just those markets are about a $US1 trillion niche. That is a niche big enough to play in even for IBM," Palmisano quipps.

          Trying to shatter the notion that Linux is not ready to control corporations' mission-critical applications, Palmisano points to several deals with companies that are buying native versions of Linux to run on Big Blue's z900 series of mainframes or to run it in a partition under the OS/390 mainframe operating system.

          Palmisano cites recently released total cost of ownership studies that show Unix-based workloads consolidated on a single IBM mainframe prove corporate users can save significant investments on hardware, software, services, and administrative costs.

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