December 11, 2003

Novell and IBM team on Linux tour

Author: Joe Barr

Since November 6th, Novell and IBM have been touring the country together doing a dog-and-pony show about how they work together and separately to bring their customers the best -- especially the best as that relates to Linux. I was present at the 41st stop on that tour yesterday in Austin, Texas. This is a brief report on the message they are delivering.

About 50 attendees -- not including those from the host companies -- were at the Holiday Inn not far from the IBM campuses in North Austin yesterday. Chatting with a few of them before the session got underway, I learned that some had come up from Houston, which is about 200 miles southeast. Most of the folks attending are current Novell customers, though a lot of them had some familiarity with Linux as well. The talks were definitely aimed at current Novell users, perhaps to explain what the company's recent acquisitions in the Linux arena mean to them.

I don't know if IBM and Novell both still sell Netware, but in the old days they did: IBM in a blue box and Novell in a red box. The qualifying question at the start of a support call to either was what color box did you buy. If not the right color, you were given the phone number of the other company's support line. The two firms have a similar relationship today in regards to Linux. There are areas where their product offerings and support dovetail neatly, and other areas where they overlap. Using the term attributed to Novell's first CEO, Ray Noorda, it is an example of "coopetiton."

In the red box

Wade Tongen handled the presentation chores for Novell. Mike Persell did the same for IBM. They took turns before the group as they shared the two and a half hours pretty equally.

There were more than a few comparisons made between Linux and Windows during the morning, from both the red team and the blue team. Tongen pointed out how Microsoft customers had no choice other than to deal with Microsoft. With Linux, he explained, there are a number of vendors that customers can talk to to find the one best willing and able to work with them.

Mono was more important in the Novell purchase of Ximian earlier this year than I realized. It lines up nicely to give Novell an Linux equivalent for its Director-AppServer and Composer-DirXMAL .Net offerings. Novell is not interested in getting into religious wars between proprietary and open source camps. It simply wants to provide customers with choices.

Novell is not interested in getting involved with the KDE vs. Gnome wars, either. It is working hard in the SuSE purchase to ensure that KDE continues to thrive and be a vital part of the Linux landscape.

Novell was not exactly a Linux "newbie" on the day it purchased SuSE. Before the buy (actually, the buy will not be finalized for probably another 30 days) 600 of Novell's 1,200 support people held at least LPI 1 certification, and 200 held LPI 2 certification. Novell is setting up its own Linux certification program for Certified Linux Engineers (CLEs).

There is overlap between Novell's ZENWorks and Ximian's Red Carpet. A single person from Ximian is assigned the responsibility of taking the best from each to move forward with a single software management tool.

Novell will offer all its services in the short term (the next couple of years) on both Netware and Linux. Beyond that, they can't say if Netware will survive. From a business point of view, it would be better to support only one, and a big part of the value of the SuSE purchase would be to cut costs in having one. That's a lesson that IBM seems to have learned.

In the blue box

Mike Persell took over to bring IBM's story to the fore. He is part of IBM's Linux Impact Team, which helps IBM internally and IBM customers to absorb Linux technology. Persell estimates that about 7,500 folks at IBM have Linux somewhere in their job titles. He also told us that IBM has 15,000 Linux desktops running internally. Its choice of management tool for that desktop? What a coincidence. It's Ximian's Red Carpet.

Persell said IBM has found software management costs to be 10% lower with Linux than with AIX. But that's not all. Software management costs with Linux are from 20% to 40% less than with Windows. That's a nice delta.

How pervasive is Linux within IBM? Persell said that if you see the eServer label on a black box, that means it runs Linux, regardless of the architecture inside the box. He also commented on the fact that AMDs processors have IBM rethinking the X86 marketplace and what can be done there -- especially the 64-bit Opteron. It has a lot of folks at IBM busy removing Intel from slides and replacing it with the generic X86.

It seemed Persell's biggest two points about IBM's embracing of Linux and open source were these: on one hand it's all about open standards, and on the other it's about IBM giving customers what they want most, a single "throat to choke."


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