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IBM's eServer Strategy Strong on Linux and UNIX - page 2

A Writer's Note

  • March 10, 2003
  • By Brian Proffitt

It is not often that timing plays a big role on LinuxPlanet stories. After all, we're a feature site more than anything else, so stories don't have to be written with the same kind of deadlines as some of the more news-oriented sites. But in this case, timing is much more important.

The interview conducted for this story was conducted at 1 p.m. EST (1800 GMT) on the afternoon of March 6. The first paragraphs of the story were written later that same day--all before any word had reached LinuxPlanet (and, presumably, IBM) about the SCO Group's lawsuit. Great care is taken here to point this out, as it is important to understand the context in which this article was initially written.

"At first glance, IBM is an easy Linux player to describe: big company, invested $1 billion in Linux, likes the color blue. Favorite turn-ons: large, multi-cluster server rooms. Biggest turn-offs: Sun, HP, and Dell.

"But looking again, there's a lot more going on at IBM than just a company selling Linux servers to all comers. For one thing, the company's size alone raises the chances that one hand at IBM is not going to know what the others hand is doing. For another, the diversity of what IBM offers its customers is pretty large-scale. Is it a server company? Is it a software company? Is it selling application development and support services?

"It's almost as if you need a roadmap to figure out what's going on just in this one company alone, particularly on the server side, where IBM offers four completely separate product lines--each able to run Linux natively. That is about all the eServer product lines have in common, as each line has a very definite target niche and, Linux aside, rather different offerings.

"In order to get the 20,000-foot view of IBM's eServer line, you need to go to the top. In this case, that's Rich Michos, who is IBM's VP of Linux Servers. Michos actually has two distinct responsibilities in his job: on a day-to-day level, he is responsible for the xSeries of IBM eServers. But on a broader scope, he is also responsible for directing the course of all four of the eServer lines.

"Speaking with Michos, or pretty much any one else at IBM these days, you get the very strong sense that they are still very flush with the success of the numbers recently released by industry analyst IDC that ranked them as the fastest growing server company in the market, and put them on top of quite a few of the 2002 fourth-quarter and year-end revenue rankings. Rankings that put them on top of or very close to HP, Sun Microsystems, and Dell, three companies that IBM certainly does not mind passing by. The sense of triumph is palpable at IBM these days, as their sales numbers continue to grow despite a depressed IT economy.

"Currently, IBM has four server product lines: the zSeries, iSeries, pSeries, and xSeries. As mentioned before, all of these lines will run Linux natively--but that's not all they do. Each platform can run different operating systems besides Linux, and each server line has different configurations that allow them to perform vastly different tasks.

"So the first question for Michos has to be, with all of these different offerings, not all of them Linux, how does IBM balance the sales of its servers? The answer was textbook customer service 101: by focusing on the customer's needs. But the added twist was that operating systems do not necessarily play a factor in what the customer really needs.

"'We have very focused strategies,' Michos explained, 'We look at the workloads of the businesses we deal with and determine what's the best solution for them.' As Michos went on, it became clear that in IBM's worldview, the operating system, and even the hardware, was not the main touchpoint of selling to a customer.

"To get to this point, IBM examined the market and determined who was buying Linux and why. From there, they could determine how to tailor their product offerings to meet those needs. Since they had Linux working on all of their platforms, they could concentrate on hardware configurations more than operating systems."

And there the first draft of the article ended. Already, the implication that IBM was not focusing on any one operating system in its server strategy was alluded. The actual quote would have come later in the story.

Now the rest of the piece will be written, in the context of a reporter who has 20-20 hindsight and a interviewed Michos for whom the SCO lawsuit was still in the future. The slant of the story, as one might guess, will take a different course than it would have had the article been finished on March 6.

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