IBM pushes Linux on Power processors

Big Blue puts more weight behind its effort to attract customers to Linux that runs on its own Power processors, an initiative that distinguishes IBM from its competitors in the server market.

Stephen Shankland principal writer
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Stephen Shankland
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NEW YORK--IBM has put more weight behind its effort to attract customers to Linux that runs on its own Power processors, an initiative that distinguishes Big Blue from its competitors in the server market.

In 2003, Linux on Power was a subsidized development project within IBM, but now it's a group with a revenue responsibility. To that end, IBM is working harder to attract software partners, write its own applications and ensnare customers.

"We're taking the value proposition of Linux and moving it to Power," Jim Stallings, general manager of Linux for IBM, said at a news conference at the LinuxWorld Conference and Expo here.

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And he's swayed some. Illuminata analyst Gordon Haff had been skeptical about the depth of IBM's Linux-on-Power push. "Linux on Power has been a lot of talk and professions of grand strategic intent without a whole lot of committed resources behind it. I don't think you can say that any longer," Haff said.

Among Linux on Power customers IBM announced Wednesday are Kendall-Jackson Wine Estates, Intermountain Health Care, the State University of New York at Albany, LexCom, National Semiconductor, Black Hills and Hitachi Global Storage Technologies.

IBM is trying to attract specific software partners in a handful of market segments, and is moving its own software to Linux on Power as well. At the show, the company is demonstrating its upcoming "Stinger" version of its DB2 database software that will run on 64-bit Power processors and take advantage of the new 2.6 kernel, or heart, of the Linux operating system.

Stallings hinted that more software partners may be appearing soon. "We're working closely with SAP to explore this area of Linux and Power," Stallings said. SAP's software is widely used to run accounting, inventory and other important business operations.

Linux is most widely used on computers using "x86" Intel processors such as Xeon and Pentium or Advanced Micro Devices' Athlon. Indeed, IBM's xSeries server line, which uses Intel processors, was the first foothold the operating system found within the company.

But Linux spread, first to IBM's mainframes and now to its Power processor-based pSeries and iSeries servers. Those systems today most commonly run two IBM operating systems, the AIX version of Unix and OS/400, respectively.

IBM hopes to make Power servers available at the same cost as those using Intel processors, said Brian Connors, IBM's vice president of Linux on Power. A key part of that will be the PowerPC processor, which is used in IBM's JS20 Power blade server as well as in Apple Computer's G5 computers.

Though Big Blue wants Power to be widespread, it doesn't have desktop computing in its crosshairs. "Our focus right now is clearly on the server," Connors said.

IBM--the loudest Linux advocate--was the first company sued by SCO Group in that company's attack on Linux. SCO argues that IBM breached its contract by moving Unix intellectual property such as file system software from Unix to Linux, a charge IBM disputes.

While several companies--Novell, Hewlett-Packard, Red Hat and the Open Source Development Labs--have begun indemnification programs or other legal protections for Linux customers, IBM steadfastly refuses to do so outside its contribution to the OSDL's legal defense fund.

"There's not a reason for having to indemnify if there's no basis for it," Stallings said.

In an interview, Stallings added, "Customers are not asking for indemnification. They're calling and saying, 'Explain to us what's going on.'" Once informed, they are happy to buy Linux, he said.

Customer views have been changing, though. Stuart Cohen, chief executive of OSDL, said in an interview that the Linux consortium began its $10 million legal defense fund for Linux users because of Linux customer requests.

Irving Wladawsky-Berger, the IBM vice president of technology and strategy who spearheaded Big Blue's Linux push, said IBM is addressing the situation as directly as possible with its legal fight against SCO.

"In our legal system, you get it over with by going to court," Wladawsky-Berger said. "We think the actions we're taking are absolutely the right actions to take the issue behind us."