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Buddy system: IBM sells Linux "clusters"

The servers are grouped so they share workloads and ensure computing is completed if a single server crashes. Will Big Blue find the concept notoriously tricky as others have?

IBM has begun selling Linux servers grouped into "clusters," which share workloads and ensure computing is completed even if a single server crashes.

Clustering is a notoriously difficult problem that usually takes years to solve, as companies such as Microsoft and Sun Microsystems have learned when trying to reproduce the clustering expertise Compaq Computer developed with its OpenVMS and Tru64 operating systems. Clustering is also difficult to install and run, leading to only a gradual adoption.

IBM has some software that helps manage servers in a cluster, but for high-availability features, Big Blue is relying on other companies' software to bring the feature to its Intel-based server line.

IBM is selling Linux clusters based on software from Steeleye Technology, Mission Critical Linux and PolyServe. The systems run Red Hat's version of Linux but also use IBM software that lets the systems share the same file system, software IBM originally developed to manage large numbers of its pSeries Unix servers that run IBM's AIX version of Unix.

A cluster of eight two-processor servers, including software, networking hardware and installation, costs $85,000 and will be available in the United States on Nov. 26.

Compaq is working to improve Linux clustering as well, releasing some of its software to the "open source" programming community that collectively develops Linux. And Red Hat, the leading Linux specialist, has been working on its own clustering software.

IBM's cluster systems are tested to work with several software packages, including IBM's WebSphere e-commerce software, its DB2 database software, Sendmail's e-mail software and other programs.