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IBM Wholeheartedly Embracing Linux

IBM Corp. Wednesday moved to slough off its reputation as a stodgy, slow-moving enterprise by throwing its considerable support behind Linux. And it is evangelizing Linux's readiness to enter the enterprise.

At the LinuxWorld Conference & Expo New York 2001 Wednesday, Big Blue committed to spending $300 million on Linux services over the next three years. IBM has already committed to investing $1 billion in Linux over the next 12 months.

That $300 million will go towards Linux e-business enablement and migration services, open source consulting for the Linux environment, and Web and High Availability Cluster services. Big Blue has also pledged to enhance its services relationships through an international technical support agreement with SuSE, and by building on existing agreements with RedHat and Linuxcare.

Sam Palmisano, president and chief operating officer of IBM, drove home IBM's commitment to Linux during his Keynote address Wednesday, saying that IBM believes Linux will become the dominant operating system on Web servers in the next few years.

"This is certainly a disruptive technology that we're all going to be working with for a long time," Palmisano said.

He said Linux is the key to the grail of ubiquitous connectivity -- portability across various types of systems and infrastructures -- that the IT industry has been seeking for several decades and first tasted with the explosion of Internet technologies. Why? In a word: standards.

"Think of Linux as applications connectivity," Palmisano said. And with the ability to set a standard for applications to communicate with each other, he declared, "Linux is ready for real business...The year 2001 will be the year that Linux grows up in the enterprise."

One of the factors in Linux's ability to drive standards adoption is its global acceptance.

"It is the first operating system that wasn't developed in the U.S.," Palmisano said. "This thing is accepted all over the world. The value proposition is the ability to write an application without having to worry about the plumbing."

Recognizing the signals -- IDC has predicted that Linux will hold 38 percent of the market by 2004 -- Big Blue is taking Linux seriously, even though it offers its own proprietary flavor of Unix.

"More and more [Linux] is becoming the focus of all IBM development," Palmisano said. "At IBM we have made our choice. We have voted for open source industry standards. We don't invest $1 billion casually."

Palmisano, who has been with IBM for 30 years, said he first became interested in Linux after accepting his present position with the company. At that point, he traveled around the world meeting with customers and the one thing everyone was talking about, he said, was Linux. Since that time, IBM has implemented Linux on its eServer z900 mainframe and has proceeded to set up Linux systems for companies like Shell Oil, Deutsche Telekom, Weather.com, even Morgan Stanley. Deutsche Telekom, a subsidiary of T Systems and one of Germany's largest telecoms, is in the process of installing Linux on a z900 for managing its e-mail databases.

However, he said four myths have to date hampered the acceptance of Linux, and IBM is making an effort to dispel those myths. The first is that Linux can't scale. While he conceded that may have been true a year ago, Palmisano said that argument no longer holds water. Referencing the z900, he simply asked, "What is larger than a supercomputer?"

The second myth is that Linux is only a niche player. But, he said, Web server vendors, ISPs, telcos and Internet application providers are all utilizing Linux. That, he estimated is 40 percent of the industry. "I guess 40 percent is a niche," he quipped. "That's even big enough for IBM to play in."

The third myth, he said, is that Linux is not ready for mission-critical production environments. He dispelled that argument by referring to Morgan St