January 7, 2010

Fujitsu Gets, Gives Value to Linux

If asked to name significant Linux organizations, Fujitsu Ltd. might not be a company that comes immediately to mind. But to underestimate the value Fujitsu brings to the Linux ecosystem would be erroneous: the world's fourth-largest IT services provider and Japan's top IT company has a big stake in Linux, and some big-name Linux customers.

Just how big? Currently, Fujitsu is the number-two server vendor contributor to Linux kernel development, behind IBM. Their Linux deployments include the replacement of existing mainframes at the Japan Ministry of Justice and the Tokyo Stock Exchange--systems that are recognized as being among the strongest Linux deployments in the world in terms of size and reliability.

So how did Fujitsu, a company with a strong history selling mainframes with proprietary operating systems, become such a leader in the Linux ecosystem? Like many other vendors, it was the customer who guided the way.

Like many mainframe providers, Fujitsu is able to provide end-to-end service to its clientele, because they designed and manufactured almost all parts of their mainframes including peripherals, middleware, and the operating systems. This also afforded Fujitsu's customers a great sense of reliability for their mission-critical operations.

"Japanese customers are very, very sensitive about reliability and availability of their mission-critical systems," explained Yoshiya Eto, Director, Linux Development at Fujitsu. "In general, Japanese are quality conscious. The main reason is that IT (Information Technology) in Japan is profoundly woven into the fabric of our society, compared to other developed countries. So, we sometimes see news headlines about suspending business infrastructure due to system problems."

At the same time, customers were also requesting more open systems--something that Fujitsu's mainframe offerings just did not have. They wanted more open environments while avoiding vendor lock-in and taking advantage of global cutting-age standard technology. Faced with was at first glance two very diverse needs, Fujitsu began searching for a solution that could fulfill these requirements.

What they found was Linux.

Linux would work for Fujitsu because its open code would satisfy customer requirements and allow the IT vendor to use their engineering staff to solve any problems that might occur.

However, the solution was not perfect. When Fujitsu first looked at Linux several years ago, there were some features under development in Linux for Japanese mission-critical systems. Faced with this challenge, Fujitsu decided to begin directly contributing to Linux by participating in the Linux kernel community to add the mission-critical tools the operating system was lacking at the time.

By actively contributing to the Linux kernel at the Linux kernel community, Fujitsu has enhanced and created core dump functions, event tracers, and more, which are at the same level as mainframe functions. The company also invested talent and resources into creating troubleshooting software, so support engineers could more efficiently fix problems with Linux. Resource control features and schedulers were built to ensure better response times in mission-critical online transaction processing systems, as well.

Specifically, Fujitsu opted to go with Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL), because of its abundant independent software vendor ecosystem, Eto said. In addition to tight collaboration with the Linux kernel community, in order to improve RHEL and enhance smoother communication with Red Hat, Red Hat and Fujitsu created a joint development organization within Red Hat. Fujitsu was the first vendor to send its engineers to Red Hat for the joint efforts, a path that other vendors have since followed.

The return on Fujitsu's efforts has been worth it. Linux was deployed as the core part of the next-generation trading system for the Tokyo Stock Exchange on the first business day of 2010, January 4.

The new system, dubbed "Arrowhead," will handle all trading of cash equities such as stocks and convertible bonds. The new system will have an order response period of 10 milliseconds or less.

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