Linux branching out, says IBM exec

Adam Jollans, Linux strategy manager for IBM, discusses how he sees Linux adoption evolving across vertical industries and in businesses both small and large, and how IBM is adapting its own Linux strategy to mesh with those trends.

How is IBM's Linux strategy changing?

We've been involved with Linux for about seven or eight years now. The initial state we saw Linux being used was for edge-of-network department servers and Web servers, but we've seen it more recently used for mission-critical applications, for business applications and as part of larger solutions.

In what industries are you seeing the most traction for Linux?

We see it especially big in finance; Wall Street has been using Linux for some time, and that's really about being able to do computations faster. We're seeing it starting to be used in some of the banks, as they refresh their branches and look at how the branch is part of the whole way you engage with the customer. So a customer may go to a branch one day, go to a phone system one day, and a Web system the next day. The second area we're seeing is retail, where again you're going through a technology leap there in terms of the branches and shops. But what we're finding with Linux is people want to customize so if you're doing a checkout, for example, they want to be able customize quite heavily. And the third area where we're seeing adoption is government, where you try to reduce costs and provide new system services at the same time.

What are the different challenges around Linux for small and mid-size businesses versus the enterprise?

With SMBs, they're very interested in cost reduction and flexibility, but they want support and they want integration and they want the applications. So, key to the SMBs is the partner network. Enterprise customers are looking at costs, but also at how do they mix together open-source and commercial software.

Have you seen more adoption among SMBs or enterprise users around Linux?

The majority of the adoption we've seen so far has been in the enterprise space. We're now starting to see the SMB space move to Linux.

What are you doing to grow your partner network around Linux for SMBs?

I think the last counts I saw in business partners on Linux was around 5,000 to 6,000. We're not so much focused on growing that total number, as helping those partners grow their business.

How is IBM software revenue on Linux doing?

It's been growing faster than Linux, and that's because people are moving from using Linux for simple tasks to more complicated tasks so they start to want reliable transactional databases and Web application servers and so on. We see this especially around Web application servers, Web commerce servers, and the integration between Linux and other parts, and also systems management.

Do you plan to work with any of the smaller Linux vendors in addition to the partnerships you have with Red Hat and Novell?

We're doing sort of tactical activity with some of the smaller players, but we're primarily targeted in looking at the businesses and businesses tend to want more stable systems. . . which is why we tend to focus on Red Hat and Novell.

Any smaller Linux vendors you see making inroads?

One we found very interesting is Ubuntu, which is looking at providing very accessible desktop distribution for use in a variety of countries. Part of what we see Linux opening up is accessibility to computing for a wider group of people. We're seeing Linux being used in Brazil, for example, with local PCs to enable many more people to get access to computing. Another example is the MIT project to provide a US$100 laptop.

How is the trend toward virtualized IT environments affecting IBM's Linux strategy?

If you look at where we're going in computing, more and more we're going toward a pool of computers in the center that are virtualized in a number of ways and then dynamically reallocated where the applications run, based on topology, availability, processing characteristics and so on. So, ten years out you won't know where the applications are running and you won't care. Linux fits in with this very well because it runs on a very wide variety of different architectures.

A step along the way to that is what we've done with the U.S. Open and a number of other tennis tournaments, where we've provided the IT infrastructure. Those loads on the Web site are very valuable. So we've done work with having a sort of grid of computers available and even to the extent of dynamically provisioning them. We're automatically detecting when the load is going up and then stopping background work and reprovisioning Linux Web servers for the tennis Web sites, all in a matter of minutes That's sort of the way it's going in terms of where do we get computing power, how do we allocate the computing power, and how do we manage the process.

Linus Torvalds has come out against version 3 of the GPL (General Public License). How does that change things?

Anything Linus says matters, but GPL 3 is in a very early stage. A number of people are looking at it a number of ways.

Do you think we'll stay at GPL 2?

I don't think that decision has been made yet; we're still at a very early stage.

What about Linux on the desktop?

Adoption is still in the early days. The market share is still in the single digits, according to analysts. The areas where we see Linux on the desktop is in: [application] development ... in Hollywood animation ... and in call center or bank tellers, where you want to restrict what they're able to do. The areas where it is starting to go into wider office use is in government and education, in terms of cost cutting and open computing.

If you look at the desktop market, there's a chicken-and-egg situation in terms of applications and usage. Usage will happen when you have applications, and applications will happen when you have usage. But I think there's a sort of a tipping point, which is about the 10 percent mark, where ISVs will look at it.

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