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Q&A, Part 2: IBM's Steve Mills on security, thin clients

He also touted IBM's WebSphere portal as a way for companies to save money

By Computerworld staff
October 21, 2003 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Steve Mills, senior vice president and group executive at IBM, runs the company's $13.6 billion software business. Yesterday at IBM's headquarters in Armonk, N.Y., Mills met with a group of Computerworld editors to discuss how security is affecting corporate decisions and to detail growing user interest in thin clients as an alternative to the Microsoft desktop. Part 1 of the interview is already online (see story).
The following are excerpts from Part 2.

There was a recent report, posted by the Computer & Communications Industry Association [an anti-Microsoft organization], that said Microsoft's dominance on the desktop was a big security threat [see story]. How are concerns about security affecting customer demand and customer choices on infrastructure and software? This is something that's going to be fascinating to watch over the course of the next year or so. The accumulated effect of virus attacks and worms [has] brought about a lot of anxiety among businesses around the world on the porous nature of their environment and the cost associated with remediating these things when they occur. Microsoft, for reasons ... of their technology, which was never designed for this type of interconnected, public-facing Internet environment, combined with the fact that they are an obvious target, has raised all these concerns. Businesses are asking the question, What should we do about this? What kinds of remedies? There are no perfect answers. Many of the answers are procedural in nature, and some are technological.
For example, from a technical standpoint, if you have Unix systems facing the public Internet, you have the ability to dynamically change those environments on the fly. The symbolic referencing structures within the Unix environment make that environment more flexible in terms of being able to make changes to it, to block and prevent things coming in. Businesses that have Unix systems facing the public Internet are somewhat better off than those that have Windows server systems.

You don't think it's dramatically different? I think it is dramatically different in the context of manageability and the ability to, on an emergency basis, update all of your servers on the fly to prevent certain things from intruding into your environment. It is a big deal. We do it in IBM. We don't have Windows systems facing the public Internet; we have Unix systems.

So is improving security just a matter of putting in better administrative controls, or is your safest bet to have a heterogeneous environment? I don't think that the heterogeneity per se is a requirement. The systems-characteristics issues do play a role in

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