March 29, 2002

IBM, SuSE team up to provide Linux support for big businesses

- By Grant Gross -

IBM and Linux distribution company SuSE have announced a "first-of-its-kind" partnership in which the two companies will jointly provide support and professional services for big-business customers using or switching to Linux. It's billed as an agreement that "will make Linux the confident choice of enterprise customers."This week was the case of the dueling Linux enterprise announcements, as Red Hat announced its enterprise server product in addition to the SuSE announcement. Look for even more choice for big-business customers as IBM plans to expand its support partnerships with other Linux companies in addition to SuSE.

Really, the IBM/SuSE partnership is an expansion of a working agreement IBM and SuSE already have. But Peter Nielsen, Linux offering executive for IBM Global Services, says the partnership will extend the reach of both companies as they're pitching Linux to big businesses. SuSE benefits from IBM's global reach, while IBM benefits from SuSE's market penetration in Europe and from offering a more complete Linux package to customers.

"IBM and SuSE believe that the whole will be greater than the sum of its parts," says the PR pitch that came with the press release.

Adds Gerhard Burtscher, CEO of SuSE Linux: "With the new IBM and SuSE worldwide service alliance, corporate customers benefit from the availability of enterprise Linux solutions combined with a broad range of joint support and service offerings anywhere in the world. This is a major step to make Linux corporate computing a reality."

What this means for customers, according to Nielsen, is a more seamless level of support and services when enterprise customers are using the SuSE Linux Enterprise Server in combination with support and services offered by IBM Global Services. The two companies will provide services, though a joint project office, including system integration and customization, and rollout and implementation services.

"Enterprise customers have expectations of a very high level of support," Nielsen says. "By really offering the combination of the maintenance which comes with the SuSE Enterprise Server, along with Global Services' support line, we think that gives a more complete enterprise level of service for Linux."

That will mean a close tie between support organizations at both companies, in which IBM Global Services can ask SuSE for fixes, can provide fixes, and can act as an agent for selling the SuSE Linux Enterprise Server," he says.

While SuSE is the first Linux distributor to enter into this level of partnership with IBM, look for more such agreements between IBM and other Linux companies. IBM PR people are fond of quoting a recent IDC report predicting 2002 will be a "breakout" year for Linux, with predictions that Linux will grow by 37% in the corporate IT market, while Windows NT will grow by just 6%.

"This is the most comprehensive agreement we have with a distributor," Nielsen says. "We're interested in relationships with any Linux services companies our customers are getting engaged with. This is just the first."

Stacey Quandt, a Linux and Open Source analyst with Giga Information Group, notes that the expansion of the SuSE and IBM partnership should have an impact on enterprise adoption of Linux. "Since service and support remains among the
top five selection criteria for end-users choosing a Linux distribution the
fact that SuSE and IBM have formed a closer relationship is significant," she says.

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