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IBM Chiphopper Throws Platform Doors Open for ISVs

Hopping Platforms

  • February 14, 2005
  • By Brian Proffitt

One of Linux' greatest strengths has always been the ability to place the kernel and much of the attendant operating system on many different platforms. Proponents of Linux will often point to this capability as a selling point. Opponents will also point to the same thing and argue that while in theory such capabilities are all well and good, actually implementing software solutions for many platforms is a detriment against developing for Linux.

Today's announcement from IBM promises to completely negate this argument, and move multi-platform development for Linux from theoretical to practical.

The full name of the program is the IBM eServer Application Server Advantage for Linux, but it may become better known under its brand name of Chiphopper.

In a nutshell, Chiphopper provides independent software developers the ability to create a single version of their software for Linux and then be able to port it to any platform within IBM's reach�x86, Power, and mainframe. All for a cost that will seem familiar to Linux and Open Source developers: free.

Scott Handy, IBM Worldwide's VP of Linux, detailed the program prior to todays announcement by describing the enormous market potential Linux has, citing the recent Gartner study that indicated Linux server sales at $1.3 billion for the third quarter of 2004. Analyst reports vary on units and revenues, but IBM is currently touting that in revenue, they have 37 percent of the Linux server market, with Hewlett-Packard at 23 percent, and Dell at 14 percent.

The figure Handy strongly emphasized was IDG's recent report that IBM holds 47 percent of the non-X86 Linux server marketplace�which is no surprise considering IBM's marketing of PowerPC- and mainframe-based Linux solutions. It is this figure that seems to be a big part of why Chiphopper came to be.

By creating an easier path to port Linux apps to these non-X86 platforms, Handy explained, then the 6,000 ISVs that IBM already works with will be able to spread their applications across the full range of IBM's product line. This will work to the benefit of both sides: the ISV will be able to reach a larger customer base, and IBM will be able to provide more application solutions to its eServer customers.

Handy also believes that having access to so many platforms will entice other ISVs to jump on the Linux bandwagon.

"We'll get more ISVs coming to Linux in total," Handy said.

The Chiphopper program is divided into five segments to assist participants. On the technical side, developers will have access to an Linux Standard Base AppCheck tool to ensure their application is compliant with the LSB. Handy noted that it was participation by the commercial distributions in the LSB that helped make Chiphopper possible.

"The distros have done all the hard work already, at the operating system level," Handy explained.

Program participants will also be able to use IBM's own HoPSCoTCH program, a custom app that will test an application for any particular chip dependencies that application might have. Once located, which Handy concedes should be a rare event, a workaround can be implemented by the ISV.

The second aspect of the Chiphopper program is also technical: while many ISVs might desire to port to, for instance, a mainframe, they might not have one lying about to test their application. For this problem, Handy explained, developers will have access to the IBM's Innovation Centers so they can test their ported application on the appropriate platform.

ISVs in the program should appreciate the business aspects of Chiphopper. The third portion of the program will be the certification of the application as "Ready for eServer," which Handy believes should provide a big boost in marketability for an application. If that doesn't do the trick, the fourth aspect of Chiphopper should: active marketing, sales, and post-sales support for the ISV to get their app to potential customers. In other words, access to IBM's sales channels.

The final aspect of program is production support for the application from IBM. If a customer has a technical problem with the application, Handy explained, the ISV should first determine if the problem also exists on the X86 version of the application. If it does, the ISV will be responsible for fixing the bug. If the problem only exists on the ported version of the application, IBM will provide the production support.

In conjunction with today's Chiphopper announcement, IBM announced the availability of three PartnerWorld special interest areas for Linux for ISVs:

A Solaris-to-Linux special interest area to address migration concerns from Solaris to Linux. It has been updated to include information on OpenSolaris, about which, according to Handy, IBM has great skepticism. Handy indicated that he does not see how Sun can generate support for its platform from the Open Source community, and if there is even any room for a thrid player on the X86 platform.

The other X86 operating system will be addressed in the Windows-to-Linux special interest area. It should include specific migration tips and a repeat of IBM's 40-city roadshow that will address specific developer concerns about porting to Linux.

Finally, the Chiphopper special interest area will address the needs of existing Linux ISVs who might want to explore moving to other platforms.

The Chiphopper program is immediately available today.

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