IBM's Mills: Linux Will Be On Par With Unix In No Time

Big Blue’s Unix expertise will bring parity to kernel, he says

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IBM will exploit its expertise in AIX to bring Linux up to par with Unix, an IBM executive said Thursday.

During his keynote at LinuxWorld here, IBM Senior Vice President and Group Executive Steve Mills acknowledged that Linux lags behind Unix in scalability, SMP support, failover capabilities and reliability--but not for long.

"The pathway to get there is an eight-lane highway," Mills said, noting that IBM's deep experience with AIX and its 250-member open-source development team will be applied to make the Linux kernel as strong as that of Unix. "The road to get there is well understood."

IBM is among many individuals and vendors in the open-source community--including Linux creator Linus Torvalds--working on the Linux 2.6 kernel. Sources in the Linux community say they expect a summer 2003 release for the 2.6 production kernel and distributions based on it to follow in late 2003 and through 2004.

Stalwart Unix backers and some observers, including Gartner Group Vice President George Weiss, maintain that advanced capabilities such as dynamic partitioning and sophisticated workload management offered by Unix operating systems such as Solaris will enable the legacy operating system to stay alive for many years.

However, Mills hinted that the company's full development capabilities will be brought to bear in engineering the Linux kernel to offer vastly improved scalability, reliability and support for mixed workloads--and to obliterate Unix.

For instance, systems vendors will be moving beyond eight-way servers to 16-way servers and 32-way servers running Linux in the near future for supporting production

"The [Linux] 2.6 kernel will be a major step forward in scalability and robustness," Mills said, noting the Linux 2.6 kernel and the subsequent Linux 2.8 kernel will be "very important" releases in addressing complex workloads, scalability and multithreading features necessary for supporting "production, commercial, transaction processing application workloads."

In a meeting with CRN, Mark deVisser, vice president of marketing at Red Hat, agreed it will take time before Linux is fully ready for the data center. "We still have to work to do to get there, to the data center," in scaling up and scaling out, de Visser said.

Yet, the company's Red Hat Advanced server 3.0, due to ship in the second half of 2003, will take steps in that direction by offering clustering beyond two nodes and SMP beyond eight-way, he said.

Mills also attempted to dispel the notion that it will take a long time before all Unix applications can be re-engineered for Unix. "Porting is easy," he said, adding that IBM counts 4,200 applications in its global Linux applications directory and will invest heavily to bring more mainstream and custom applications to linux. "We're spending a lot of money to help them."

IBM, like Hewlett-Packard, has said that over this decade it would move away from Unix operating systems to Windows and Linux offerings. Sun Microsystems is the only traditional vendor that continues to identity Unix as its long-term direction.

Earlier this week at LinuxWorld, for example, longtime Unix vendor SGI took the wraps off its long awaited Linux server based on Itanium 2. The SGI Altix 3000, which can support as many as 64 processors in a single Linux node, is being marketed as a Linux supercluster that integrates the benefits of clustering technology to achieve supercomputing capabilities.

During the LinuxWorld show, IBM trotted out a host of customers that have switched from Unix or Windows NT to Linux including Supervalu, Banco Mercantile, JP Morgan Private Bank (Arrakis), Bank of Birmingham, Unilever, The PGA Tour and Mobile Travel Guide.

While IBM maintains it will continue to support multiple platforms for customers, including Unix and Windows, its continued investment in Linux helped the open-source OS to evolve into a commercial phenomenon.

In 2000, IBM made a $1 billion investment to grow the Linux industry. The adoption of Linux by Wall Street firms such as Morgan Stanley, the New York Stock Exchange, Merrill Lynch and Citigroup, and by customers in other industries, such as Google, effectively assures Linux's long term survival, Mills said.

Mills also emphasized that Linux has firmly established itself as a Windows competitor and is not going away.

"We've moved into the next stage of serious computing; we have crossed the chasm," Mills said of Linux, noting that any discussion of Linux going away now is absurd. "Nothing is going to take out Linux. Windows [may] become more scalable, but it's not going to take our Linux. It's a silly notion. Linux is deeply embedded in the infrastructure. It's unstoppable. "

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