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IBM retooling Linux for new servers

Big Blue will complete the next step in its embrace of the Linux operating system by early 2003 as the company improves how Linux runs on its pSeries servers.

IBM will complete the next step in its embrace of the Linux operating system by early 2003 as the company improves how Linux runs on its pSeries servers.

Big Blue currently supports Linux, a clone of the Unix operating system, on its xSeries Intel servers, its iSeries mid-range servers, its zSeries mainframes, and its pSeries servers that typically run IBM's AIX version of Unix. Right now, pSeries servers require AIX, but future models will run with just Linux.

The move is part of broader Linux support that IBM is undertaking for its Power4 processor, the chip inside IBM's pSeries and iSeries servers, said Chuck Bryan, director of pSeries marketing. Big Blue is also working on improving Linux so it can take advantage of Power4 features for protecting data and exchanging information with other Power4 processors.

"The majority of this is our contribution to the community," Bryan said, referring to the process by which a company can contribute software into the open-source community that collectively develops Linux.

IBM is trying to use Linux as a means to simplify its broad and complex hardware lineup, to win the attention of a new generation of programmers and to gain advantage over rivals such as Dell Computer, Hewlett-Packard and Sun Microsystems. Those other server sellers also all support Linux, but IBM is funding extensive research such as its 250-person Linux Technology Center.

The expanded Linux support will come when IBM introduces lower-end systems using the Power4 processor. IBM is working to reuse the Power4 processor in less expensive packaging than the large "multichip modules" used in high-end Power4 systems.

The broader pSeries support dovetails with an announcement Monday under which Red Hat, the top seller of Linux, said it would bring its Advanced Server version of Linux to all four of IBM's server lines.

SuSE, a Linux seller based in Germany that has aggressively supported IBM's Linux push, already supports p670 and p690 servers with its Enterprise Linux Server version 7, released in July.

Unlike most operating systems, Linux can run on a multitude of hardware designs, including processors from Intel, Hewlett-Packard, Sun Microsystems, Hitachi and ARM. But that flexibility doesn't necessarily mean that Linux will be particularly useful on all those chips, because higher-level software such as a database also is required. The vast majority of software for Linux is used on Intel-based servers.

IBM is addressing this issue by ensuring its DB2 database software, WebSphere e-commerce software, Tivoli management software and Lotus e-mail and calendar software all will work on the different versions of Red Hat's Advanced Server, IBM said Monday.

IBM initially announced it was bringing Linux to all its server lines in October 2000. The company has been helping with the collaborative approach to bring Linux to the 64-bit Power processors, with IBM's Doug Engebretsen leading the effort at an organization called PenguinPPC64.