January 30, 2002

Japanese computer makers and IBM unveil new Linux technology

Author: JT Smith

- By Mike Newlands -

IBM and Japan's three largest computer manufacturers, NEC,
Hitachi, and Fujitsu, have announced the first concrete results of a 20 billion yen ($165 million USD) partnership formed last May to develop an upgraded Linux operating system designed specifically for large corporate computing systems.

In a press statement, the four partners say they have developed software to swiftly detect operating system errors and prevent similar problems from recurring. This, they say, is key to the goal of developing a Linux-based operating system that can be used in corporate computing systems demanding the highest levels of reliability. "It is considered
essential in monitoring operating systems for malfunctions and boosting
security," the statement read.

The new software, which was unveiled in Japan last week, is the first
result of the company's combined efforts involving more than 500
software engineers. It will be incorporated in the upgraded Linux OS the
partners are developing and hope to offer has a commercial version in 2003.

All four firms had been developing their own operating systems for
enterprise computing separately, but announced in May 2001 they would
instead jointly develop a new Linux-based operating system. By pooling their
efforts, they aimed to cut the cost and development time.

"Linux needs some re-tuning in order for it to be used in the
enterprise area. Currently it is mostly used in the network area," said NEC
spokesman Kosuke Yamauchi at the time of the announcement. "Availability, reliability and other mission-critical aspects need to be improved."

He said the project would initially focus first on improving the
reliability of Linux so that it can better compete with the various types of
Unix-based operating systems. The breakthrough announced last week was
the result of this initial focus.

"In the enterprise area, there are three or four operating systems," Kosuke said.
"Proprietary systems are used in mission-critical applications, then Unix and then
Linux and others like it. Linux needs to be enhanced step-by-step,
first to Unix level and then maybe the higher level."

The companies will also offer all their new technology to the Open
Source community, in the hope it will become an industry standard, as well
as lower the cost of developing peripheral software.

When the four companies announced their partnership last May, they were
careful to reassure the Open Source community that it would be part of
the development plans. Linux founder Linus Torvalds has consistently
rejected any involvement from businesses trying to push the course of
Linux development to just their own commercial interests.

"The Open Source Community shall never be neglected," said an official
with IBM Japan. "We have no intention of complaining about the latest
version of Linux, much less of having a great impact on the next
version." He said all results of the joint development by the four companies will be
reported to the Open Source community "and we will leave the community
to decide if the reported technology should be adopted."

An executive of one of the Japanese companies (not identified in the report) was quoted by Nikkei Systems Provider as saying: "IBM approached us about making this tie-up.
They said in order to develop the enterprise-use Linux market so that
large-scale corporate users could adopt Linux more easily, the Linux
kernel must be modified. And the actions of four large vendors would be more
likely to motivate the Open Source community to act than IBM standing
alone." An executive with one of the other Japanese firms said: "IBM's
passion really dragged us into this partnership, as worldwide it is
investing $1 billion in Linux this year alone."

That executive was also quoted as saying the Japanese companies were motivated by becoming major players in the server software market: "In the 1990s, just like IBM, we
took a back seat to the software offensives of Microsoft Corp., Sun
Microsystems Inc., Oracle Corp., EMC Corp. and others. But in the 2000s we hope
we will be the leaders by leveraging our services. This kind of change
symbolizes the history of IT industry. Linux open-source software is a
tactical tool."

The four companies are playing for big stakes in the rapidly-growing
Japanese server market, according to data and forecasts recently released
by technology research firm International Data Corp.

IDC says the Linux operating system is increasingly being used in
personal computer servers in Japan and is threatening the dominance of the
Windows operating system in the field. By 2004, IDC estimates 24% of all PC
servers in Japan will have Linux operating systems, more than triple the 7.4%
in 2000.

The report also notes that corporate clients have been calling for
Linux-based operating systems for large enterprise systems, which it says
is what prompted IBM, NEC Hitachi, and Fujitsu Ltd to get together and
jointly develop one.

As of now, it says, Linux is only slowly being adopted in operating
systems for large enterprise systems, which traditionally have been the
domain of large mainframes. Major computer firms consider their in-house
developed variants of Unix as their mainstay product for large
data-processing jobs, the report notes, but he four-firm partnership is planning
on changing that.

The IDC reports points out Linux enables users to develop data systems at about half
or even one-third the cost necessary to develop systems otherwise, which
is a major advantage in today's troubled economic times.

Linux is also making inroads in other Japanese market sectors,
including PDAs, where market-leader Sharp Corp. and other makers have recently
introduced products with embedded Linux operating systems. The latest
Linux-powered product, from Laser5 Co., is a business-card-sized Linux
server that sports 16MB each of flash memory and DRAM, eight times the
main memory capacity of its predecessors. The extra memory eliminates the
need to use compact flash cards to store data, opening up the compact
flash slot on the device for wireless LAN, digital camera and other
expansion cards. The card's main use is expected to be in remote monitoring
equipment and measuring instruments.


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