- By Grant Gross -
More evidence of the growth of Linux in business settings: IBM reports that the number of its business partners supporting the company's Linux-based software has increased by 800% in the last year.
Yes, that's right, 800%; we didn't add an extra zero. The number of IBM business partners supporting IBM's middleware software for Linux grew from 548 to more than 4,700 in 2001.
Business partners -- mostly resellers of IBM products to small- and medium-sized businesses -- don't translate immediately into more businesses using Linux, but they wouldn't be flocking to support Linux if there wasn't a market, says Scott Handy, IBM's director of Linux software solutions.
"Our business partners are business people themselves," he says. "They only will enable themselves for new technology when they see opportunity. This is really a testament to the opportunity that Linux is presenting in the marketplace."
Handy says IBM's experience is that half of the Linux market is in large enterprises, but the other half is in those small- or medium-sized businesses. IBM's business partners sell software packages including IBM's DB2, WebSphere and Lotus products for Linux.
At IBM's PartnerWorld in San Francisco this week, the company announced new initiatives to help its business partners market Linux-related software to customers. In addition to existing IBM initiatives that introduce its business partners to Linux, pay partners to get Linux certification, and provide ongoing support, IBM announced a new set of marketing and sales tools designed to help its business partners sell Linux solutions. IBM had been paying its business partners up to $3,000 for getting a Linux Red Hat or LPI certification; now it will also pay business partners coming over from selling products competing with IBM for both a Linux certification and an IBM certification.[See more information at this IBM press release.]
More than 1,000 IBM business partners were certified in Linux in 2001. "It's a pretty aggressive program we have," Handy says. "We're not going to stop with this incredible success we have; we want to accelerate it."
While the incentives are obviously working at attracting business partners to Linux, one IBM partner says Linux is almost selling itself these days. Roger Luca, v.p. of sales for Mainline Information Systems, says the interest in Linux-based solutions from his customers has gone from mostly curiosity, to wanting a prototype environment, to genuine interest in buying. That's happened in the two years his company has been pitching business solutions on Linux.
"A couple of years ago, it was like, 'Hey, this stuff is kind of interesting, let me read about it,' " he says. "It's now, 'How can we deploy something here; it's starting to look like this thing has some sea legs.' When watch the progression from 'Send me a white paper on Linux' to 'Let me prototype something,' to 'Can you get here faster?' that pretty much tells the story."
Interest in business solutions is driven by a couple of factors, Luca adds; growing general use in back rooms of all kinds of business, and the ability to run all kinds of hardware. "Whether on Main Street or Wall Street, Linux is lurking somewhere in our customers' enterprise," he says. "That portability of moving it from platform to platform, I don't care if you're a small enterprise or a large enterprise, this industry has wanted that kind of portability forever. What we call the 'write once, run anywhere' aspect of Linux cannot be overstated."
Mainline's interest in Linux came when the company saw the operating system as becoming both pervasive and "potentially disruptive" in a positive way, Luca says. "If there's going to be a disruptive technology, you want to be on that curve," he says. "Look back at history of this industry -- the folks that get in on disruptive technology are those that win."
Luca believes the Linux growth curve is just beginning to shoot up. "There are those who were first, and then there's the rush to be last," he says. "I think we're just approaching the rush-to-be-last phase."
IBM's Handy sees customers wanting to go beyond using Linux with Apache for Web servers or Samba for file print servers. "What we're finding is they now want to do business applications and get the same benefits of cost-performance and reliability," he says. "Everything that Linux has been used for is great, and Apache is great, now let's take it to the next level."
Handy says the increase in business partners supporting Linux both parallels and foreshadows the growth in Linux for end users. "There's no doubt in our mind that the momentum behind Linux is definitely there and continuing into this year. Momentum breeds momentum in this marketplace."
Handy notes independent software vendors are also picking up on this Linux growth curve. IBM's Global Solutions Directory now lists more than 2,800 applications that run on Linux, compared to 2,300 last June.
"In the early days, a lot of times Linux was used for just what came in the box," he says. "Now we're seeing revenue generated for our software ... and the business partner and application software and services they sell around it. Those business partners wouldn't be in this if there wasn't some revenue for them."
Most business partners are adding Linux as another option to other operating systems they support, Handy says. "We used to get a lot business partners who asked us, "Isn't Linux free, how do I make money on Linux?' We say, 'How do you make money on Windows today?' And they say, 'Well, I sell health care solutions,' and we say, 'Well, then you sell health care solutions,' you just happen to sell it on Linux.
"I say to them, 'How much money did you get from the sale of the Windows operating system in your last sale?' The answer is always zero. The business model is exactly the same on Linux, they don't have to change their business model."