IBM Unveils Linux VAR Initiatives

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IBM used its annual PartnerWorld conference, held here this week, to unveil initiatives around Linux, including new programs and a new server consolidation technology.

Linux is continuing its rapid growth of the past couple of years, said Steve Solazzo, vice president of Linux at IBM.

"We've seen strong demand across our hardware and software server lines, obviously on the xServer series, surprisingly strong on the zServer series, and now with the iSeries shipping, all of those platforms represent good opportunity for our partners," Solazzo said.

As a result, IBM unveiled a partnership with VMware, a developer of technology to virtualize servers. The VMware solution allows a single Intel-based xSeries server to support up to 20 virtual servers running Linux, Microsoft Windows or NetWare, allowing up to 20 individual, often under-utilized, servers to be consolidated into one system, said Solazzo.

On Monday, IBM also introduced its Ready, Set, Linux, Go program, a follow-on to its Ready, Set, Linux initiative unveiled last year.

The original Ready, Set, Linux initiative had three phases, including making solution providers Linux-aware, then Linux-trained, then ultimately Linux-certified, said Solazzo. New this week in the Ready, Set, Linux, Go program are sales and marketing tools to help solution providers build demand for their solutions, and linking them to IBM sales teams and other channel partners, he said.

Solazzo said more than 5,000 partners went through IBM's Ready, Set, Linux initiative last year. Of those, more than 1,000 actually were certified for their Linux skills, he said.

Another new program, aimed at application providers, is called the "Solution's Edge for Linux." The program offers ISVs assistance in porting applications to Linux, testing them and deploying them, and includes test-drive facilities for the iSeries and the zSeries to give the ISVs virtual access to the servers, Solazzo said.

IBM plans to unveil programs over the course of 2002 to help build customer awareness and demand in Unix. These programs include a road show in 30 major cites worldwide aimed at bringing together potential Linux customers and solution providers, said Solazzo.

While an increasing number of applications are supporting Linux and helping move the operating system into the enterprise, Solazzo said the process is far from complete.

"I look at the application question as kind of a glass half-full, glass half-empty," Solazzo said. "Certainly, the glass is half-empty, and as an industry we need to do a lot more to get more applications out and available. On the other hand, just from our perspective, we have a global solutions Web site which hosts applications. It's purely voluntary, where application providers come and post their applications to make them available. We have over 2,800 posted applications already available on Linux. So I think the glass is half-full as well."

Among the applications unveiled at PartnerWorld are a clustering software for Linux and Windows environments from Steel Eye Technology, Mountain View, Calif.; and an integrated messaging, calendar and e-mail solution for Linux from Dallas-based Bynari.

Despite IBM's commitment to Linux, Solazzo said the company knows it will cannibalize sales of products installed in more well-established operating systems.

"Sure, there is some substitution that goes on," said Solazzo. "When a retailer decides to populate their store with Linux servers, they're not choosing to populate those same stores with a Microsoft solution, for instance. Or, when an oil processing company decides to do their seismic processing based on Linux clusters, they're not making a decision to put in a custom supercomputer. Sure, there's some technology substitution going on here. But our view is we're either going to drive that along with our partners, or the industry and customer demand is going to drive it for us."

Solazzo said recent moves by Sun Microsystems and Hewlett-Packard into the Linux space are good news for IBM.

"To us, it means the boat's going to get crowded," he said. "There's a lot more of us here in the boat. But I think that's good for us here, and in the market. As strongly as we feel about Linux here at IBM, if IBM were the only company supporting Linux, that wouldn't be enough to stimulate the market development the way it should be."

Solazzo said there is still a chance that Linux could fragment into multiple proprietary versions a la Unix. "Which is why you've seen from IBM [that we will not create our own Linux," he said. "We will use the community's own. And by doing so, we will not fragment Linux."

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