December 14, 2000

Big Blue's Linux evolution

Author: JT Smith

- By Dan Berkes -

Who would have thought -- even just a year ago -- that one of the most successful combinations of Linux and hardware would come from IBM? With a Web-serving mainframe in Scandinavia, an oil-sniffing supercomputer for Shell, and plans to pour another $1 billion into Linux during 2001, the electronics giant has discovered that Open Source is good for the bottom line.Not too long ago someone, somewhere at IBM figured that Linux would make a decent operating system for their mainframe computer products. Like all good things, it's hard to just stop at one, and IBM simply couldn't contain itself with a single mainframe distribution. Before they knew it, they were clustering like there was no tomorrow.

One of the first IBM clusters was a 256-machine configuration at the University of New Mexico's Albuquerque High Performance Computing Center. Comprised exclusively of IBM's Netfinity servers, the cluster can provide up to 375 gigaflops of processing power.

If your budget won't scale to handle a mainframe solution, IBM will be more than happy to sell you, oh, say a Netfinity server or two to handle e-mail and Web transactions for your small concern.

What good is selling Linux if you can't provide the software your customers need to make it through the day? Enterprise Web applications including Domino, DB2, WebSphere and a healthy dose of network applications like Network Dispatcher to keep things on balance come close to providing a one-stop shop for all things Linux.

IBM realized that plunging into the Linux abyss on their own would be, well, kind of stupid. The company has allied itself with some of the key players in the Linux world including Red Hat, Caldera, TurboLinux, and SuSE.

The company is bound and determined to prove that Open Source is more than just a corporate division these days. Speaking at the eBusiness Conference & Expo in New York on Tuesday, IBM chairman Louis Gerstner declared proprietary code to be on its last legs.

"The infrastructure technology for the Internet is not good enough," said Gerstner. "The movement to standards-based computing is so inexorable. That's why we're betting a big piece of IBM's future on Linux."

Big, indeed: Gerstner also announced that it plans to sink a sizeable chunk of change into Linux next year, to the tune of $1 billion. The specifics of what those billion dollars will buy have yet to be made public.

IBM has kept the ball rolling with a slate of impressive Linux-based announcements since the start of December.

Swedish telco and Internet provider Telia plans to flush their 70-server Sun farm in favor of a single IBM mainframe running Linux. All of the company's home and business users -- nearly one million total -- will be serviced by a single S/390 unit in Copenhagen.

On the same day that Gerstner was busy predicting the death of closed-source protocols, Royal Dutch/Shell announced the impending installation of the world's largest Linux supercomputer. The array will consist of 1,024 IBM X-Series servers to run geophysical applications in a search for new oil and gas resources.

The fruits of IBM's Linux labors have helped other companies in the Open Source business as well. On Wednesday, shares of Red Hat and NewsForge parent company VA Linux posted impressive gains, mostly based on the announcements of IBM's billion-dollar Linux investment.

Years ago, the saying was "No one was ever fired for buying IBM." With the company's aggressive Linux efforts, that might not be an old saying for much longer.

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