IBM pins hardware plans on Linux

By Reuters

January 10, 2000

NEW YORK--IBM today will announce new steps to make Linux a centerpiece of its computer hardware strategy, in what amounts to the biggest embrace of the alternative operating system by a major computer maker to date.

Sam Palmisano, head of the IBM server group, said in an interview on Friday that he was committed to making all of IBM's major computer product lines Linux-ready, combining fragmented efforts IBM had made in this direction last year.

To spearhead the company effort, IBM will unveil a new unit within its enterprise hardware business group led by Irving Wladawsky-Berger, the founder of IBM's Internet business unit and developer of the company's "e-business" strategy.

The new unit will have responsibility for all Unix and Linux software efforts, for advanced computer designs and for bringing together IBM's next-generation Internet strategy.

Palmisano, as the man in charge of the unit responsible for most of the computer hardware sales at the giant computer maker and heir apparent to IBM chief executive Lou Gerstner, set out the plans in a letter to IBM senior management Friday.

"We believe we're now on the brink of another important shift in the technology world," Palmisano wrote. "The next generation of e-business will see customers increasingly demand open standards for interoperability across disparate platforms," he said.

He was referring to the wide mixture of computer systems IBM builds to suit different customer requirements--from PCs to mainframe computers--and the capacity of Linux to act as a unifying force across these various computer systems.

"We will essentially Linux-enable all our platforms," Palmisano said in an interview about IBM's evolving strategy to make IBM servers fully ready to work with Linux.

Linux is a modern version of the Unix operating system, the software widely used to control the powerful computers that manage central business operations at many companies, but its suitability for running desktop computers remains in doubt. Still, Linux has won broader mainstream acceptance during the past year as an alternative to Microsoft's dominant Windows software, especially for running the latest Internet business tasks.

In the coming weeks, Palmisano said he also plans to set up a new dedicated sales force within the server group to unify and push forward the marketing of its Unix and Linux products. IBM also is donating key programming code developed for its mainstay computer systems to the open-source software development community in order to boost the reliability of Linux for running business computers, Wladawsky-Berger said in an interview on Friday.

Analysts believe IBM has done more than any other major computer maker to back Linux, whose growing popularity could undermine the proprietary Unix strategies of rivals like Sun Microsystems, the biggest Unix computer maker.

Dan Kusnetzky, an analyst with market research firm International Data Corp. of Framingham, Mass., said IBM is at work on projects to Linux-enable its Netfinity PC servers and its mainframe-class computers, and to make its AIX version of Unix work more easily with Linux, among other systems.

"Among the major hardware vendors, IBM is the one that stands out the most in bringing Linux into its main business operations," Kusnetzky said. "The plan is to bring Linux and Unix under one roof now," he said of IBM's latest thrust.

This differs from other computer makers such as Compaq and Hewlett-Packard, whose support for Linux remains fragmented in various product lines, said Bill Claybrook, an analyst with Aberdeen Research of Boston, who also was briefed by IBM on its plans.

Palmisano said IBM's growing embrace of "open systems"--software whose features are designed by a growing body of independent programmers--is part of a multiyear undertaking to make IBM computers more adaptable to the changing industry.

In addition, the moves by IBM's computer hardware unit are part of a broader effort to stoke the lackluster growth of its vast computer hardware businesses, which account for as much as half of IBM's roughly $90 billion annual revenue.

IBM has been working on getting Linux to work on its mainframe S/390 computers, which are extremely fast, reliable and expensive. The most recent version of the heart, or "kernel," of Linux included software from IBM, said Alan Cox, a Red Hat employee and the second-in-command of the Linux project.

"Yes, you can now run Linux on an IBM S/390 mainframe," Cox wrote at his Web site, noting that the IBM effort overlapped work done by programmer Linas Vepstas. "Unfortunately, IBM secrecy caused a fair amount of duplicated work," Cox wrote.

CNET's Stephen Shankland contributed to this report.


2000 Reuters

IBM plans pressure Linux companies

By Stephen Shankland, Staff Writer

January 10, 2000

IBM's increasing fondness for Linux raises the prospect that its vast services business could encroach on the turf of smaller Linux companies.

Big Blue today beefed up its plans to embrace Linux on all four of its server designs, improving how well Linux and IBM's AIX operating system work together and contributing more of IBM's own software to the collective Linux development effort.

Despite IBM's sensitivity toward Linux companies, the company acknowledges it will compete with smaller players such as Red Hat, VA Linux Systems and Linuxcare, which want to make money by charging for services such as installing, supporting, or tuning Linux systems.

"There's some competition," said Tilak Agerwala, vice president for Unix marketing and product management at IBM, referring to the Linux work of IBM's services division.

Though IBM has technical support deals with Linux sellers Red Hat, SuSE, TurboLinux and Caldera Systems as well as support shop Linuxcare, those relationships might not last forever. "Whenever they decide there's a lot of money in this, and we can get our own staff up to speed on Linux, then (IBM) might say, 'We'll just do it ourselves,'" said Aberdeen Group analyst Bill Claybrook. "I'm sure that (IBM is) planning on making money from services with Linux."

Linux, an open-source clone of the Unix operating system, competes with Microsoft Windows as well as several varieties of Unix. In the last year and a half, support by hardware and software companies and frenzied initial public offerings have helped to raise Linux from a hobby to an unavoidable feature of the computing landscape.

Though IBM's increased muscle does raise concerns for existing Linux companies, analysts also see Linux firms to benefit from the stronger position in the computing industry IBM will help bring.

"I think it's a good thing for them that IBM is putting all their platforms on Linux, because it has the potential to expand the Linux market," said Giga Information Group analyst Stacey Quandt.

Santa Cruz Operation, a longtime seller of Unix, has thrown some of its weight behind Linux services, investing in both Caldera Systems and TurboLinux.

Red Hat is undeterred by IBM's bolder Linux plans, noting IBM's investment in Red Hat.

"Regarding today's IBM news, we couldn't be more enthusiastic. IBM has long been a strategic partner of Red Hat, and their continued involvement adds validity and strength to the space," Red Hat spokeswoman Melissa London said.

But Claybrook predicted consolidation in the number of Linux companies. "Not all of them are going to be there at the end."

Curiously, Sun Microsystems and its Java software could be another victim of IBM's Linux strategy.

IBM has been one of the strongest backers of Java, which lets software run on a multitude of different computers, including all four of IBM's major server lines. But IBM and Sun have been at odds because of Sun's cancellation of plans to release control over the future of Java.

And now it appears that Linux has stepped in to fill some of the role Java once occupied.

"We're Linux-enabling all our servers," said Agerwala. Linux fits in with the list of Internet technologies such as XML, TCP/IP and HTTP that run on lots of different computers, he said.

"We believe the long-term growth of the Internet is about common application platforms that can harness leading-edge technologies and simplify customers' choices. We believe Linux will develop into that type of common platform," said Sam Palmisano, head of IBM's computer products group, in a memo Friday.

IBM used Linux as an example to say Sun and Microsoft, traditionally archrivals, are actually similar. By adopting Linux, with its open development process, IBM will be "on a side other than Sun and Microsoft, which are opposed to open standards and which favor closed, proprietary operating systems," IBM said in a statement.

The plan to more fervently adopt Linux is "the first important step in our vision to revitalize IBM's server business," Palmisano wrote.

Irving Wladawky-Berger, head of the now-closed Internet Division, will lead IBM's Linux strategy and will report to Palmisano.

Palmisano's endorsement of the Linux plan is significant, Quandt said. "I think it's particularly interesting that Palmisano is involved in this particular restructuring," she said. "Some people have commented that Palmisano is the next person in line after Lou Gerstener," IBM's current chief executive.

IBM's move also should give pause to Microsoft, she said. "It's a David and Goliath story. People generally like stories about a challenger to Microsoft's hegemony."


Copyright 2000 CNET Networks, Inc.