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IBM's eServer Strategy Strong on Linux and UNIX - page 3

A Writer's Note

  • March 10, 2003
  • By Brian Proffitt

When IBM looked at the market to see who was getting into Linux, the very first thing it determined, Michos said, was the need to "set up a value net of business partners" (primarily independent software vendors) that would enable IBM to offer real support to get customer's apps over to Linux.

Key areas of Linux growth, Michos explained, looked to be collaboration and high-performance clusters. Numeric-intensive computing was a very exciting area, Michos added, where customers could start in the Intel-based xSeries that can scale up to 16 processors now, and, if need be, shift to the RISC-based pSeries later if the need arose, either continuing with Linux or switching to AIX.

This notion of interchangablility between Linux and AIX would come up time and again during the course of this interview. IBM, as stated before, has gotten Linux to run natively on each of its eServer platforms, but is quite content to let the customer's needs dictate which OS--Linux, AIX, z/OS, Windows, etc.--would be run.

So what is the 20,000-foot view of the eServer series? Here is a brief encapsulation of the entire eServer line, as Michos described it.

First there is the zSeries, which is often referred to as the mainframe line. Several operating systems will run on these machines, including z/OS, z/OS.e, z/VM, VSE/ESA, and Linux, according to IBM"s Web site. Michos highlighted that with virtual machine partitions customers who might never have used mainframes before could have hundreds of Linux virtual machines running in their organization.

Next is the iSeries, which was formally known as the AS/400 series of machines. OS/400 will run on these machines, as well as Linux partitions. These are the mid-range servers that are used by governments and medium- to large-scale enterprises for on-demand computing.

Third is the pSeries, which both Michos and IBM's Web site both referred to as the UNIX servers. These are the systems that have the 64-bit POWER4 processors that will run AIX or Linux, as the case may be. This is also the line that IBM is very clearly going to take on Sun Microsystems.

"Sun is really on the ropes with UNIX," Michos said. Intel-based Linux servers are selling into the traditional Solaris/Sparc install base and now IBM is offering Linux and AIX on a RISC-based server as well.

Lastly is the xSeries, which runs Linux exclusively, though Windows partitions can be added. These are the low-end server offerings from IBM currently growing at a very strong rate according to those IDC numbers. "Right now," Michos empahasized, "we're the fastest growing company selling [Linux] Intel servers."

IBM is attacking this low-end server market unabashedly. "We were not the strongest player there," Michos said. "Sun and HP were. So that's where we went. We believe that for simple workloads, Linux is perfect."

But statements made by Michos seem to indicate that IBM is in no way abandoning UNIX, either. Michos emphasized the p690 server, known as the Regatta. This server "screams on high-end applications," Michos said, particularly with AIX. IBM, he said, is investing equally in Linux and AIX and in making the two operating systems work well together on the p690 and all the other eServers.

So is IBM just being schitzophrenic in its operating system plan? It does not seem so. "It's a '90s business model where the operating system is the strategic center," he said.

Instead, IBM wants to focus on providing at least two equally good operating systems and letting the customer decide which one they need--with IBM picking up the work on providing the proper middleware for the client.

As for who contributes code to the Linux kernel, Michos explained it in this manner: "We took 250 of our best programmers and put them into the Linux Technology Center." The workers at the LTC actively contribute to the Linux source code, but even their expertise is not perfect: "[The kernel developers] only take 80 percent of what we contribute," Michos added.

Through the lens of history, the follow-up question seems obvious: were those 250 programmers ever involved with the AIX project? But this is now and that was then, and IBM is no longer answering queries regarding this matter for the time being.

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