IBM scales up Linux initiatives

But some fear that direction may squeeze other projects

IBM has revealed further steps in its commitment to Linux, parts of which may make AIX users a little uneasy.

Last week, the company announced that it's delivering a 256-node Linux cluster to the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. While discussing the deal with Computerworld, Dave Turek, IBM's vice president of deep computing, said it would be the precursor to a packaged Linux cluster for commercial customers later this year.

IBM's Global Services division has already rolled out Linux clusters at several unnamed commercial customers' sites, said Turek. The systems will contain clustering technology ported from the RS/6000 SP platform and will run a range of applications. Those will include databases, data warehouses and electronic-business applications.

During the past two years, IBM has made a series of Linux-related announcements, including supporting Linux on all its servers and porting virtually all its applications and middleware to the operating system.

Several vendors, including TurboLinux Inc. in San Francisco, are already offering clustering software for Linux, and Silicon Graphics Inc. in Mountain View, Calif., recently announced a cluster offering that is mainly aimed at technical markets.

Some analysts said they wondered where IBM's increasing focus on Linux would leave Project Monterey, the joint attempt by IBM and The Santa Cruz Operation Inc. (SCO) in Santa Cruz, Calif., to develop a common Unix version for Intel Corp.'s upcoming 64-bit processors, called Monterey/64.

"I've seen signs that Monterey is not necessarily a long-term initiative for IBM," said Stacey Quandt, an analyst at Giga Information Group Inc. in Cambridge, Mass.

IBM's Miles Barel, program director for Unix marketing, disputes that. But Monterey will be able to run many Linux binaries, and Monterey applications will be easily moved to Linux. To make this migration easier, Turek said, IBM will port some features that are part of the AIX kernel and offer them as layered products on top of Linux.

"If Linux becomes the platform you want to be on five years from now, moving there from Monterey is going to be very, very easy," said Barel.

Strategy May Backfire

Barel said he hopes that this strategy will give Monterey an edge over Solaris because of Sun Microsystems Inc.'s more reserved position toward Linux. But it could backfire.

"Sun and HP will pounce on any whiff that IBM might be abandoning AIX," said Tony Iams, an analyst at D. H. Brown Associates Inc. in Port Chester, N.Y.

One RS/6000 user said he saw no contradiction in IBM's simultaneous support of AIX/ Monterey and Linux. "It encourages me," said Jay Chavez, vice president of worldwide Internet services at Ursus Telecom Corp. in Sunrise, Fla. "It means that they're not trying to lock me into one platform."

But if IBM continues to proselytize about Linux, "then I would be led to believe that users should be very careful about adopting Monterey," said George Weiss, vice president and research director at Gartner Group Inc. in Stamford, Conn.

Iams said IBM's support will be key to Linux. "If Linux is going to move into the big time, it's going to be with guys like IBM," he said. "It takes profound commitments and big bucks from major players."

However, Bob Venable, manager of enterprise systems at Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Tennessee in Chattanooga, said he doesn't believe that Linux will soon be able to support large systems like his Oracle database, which runs on a 12-processor RS/6000 System 80. But an IBM Linux offering, coupled with IBM services, could still be an attractive platform, he said.

Copyright © 2000 IDG Communications, Inc.

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