Inside IBM's Canberra Linux Technology Center

In September last year, IDG was the first to report that IBM had committed $200 million over the next four years towards Linux development in the Asia Pacific region. This investment, which is part of a global Linux push by IBM exceeding US$1 billion, is staged to benefit IBM's core businesses as well as the operating system itself.

Beneath all the marketing and fanfare of IBM's Linux crusade lies the establishment of 22 Linux Technology Centers in seven countries around the globe. It is here within the LTC framework where IBM will extend the boundaries of current open source development to help Linux, as expressed by LTC Director Daniel Frye, "grow up".

One such centre, the only in Australia, is located in Canberra. Computerworld was invited to take a tour of the centre and meet with the developers, including Frye himself who was visiting from Oregon, US.

"The primary role of the Linux Technology Center is to make Linux better, and eventually see it grow up", said Frye. "At present, the open source community doesn't have the resources to develop Linux in a way that will see it mature into an enterprise level Unix, and that's where we come in."

Frye outlined how IBM's commitment to Linux through the LTC is in a way that will benefit the operating system as well as its own business interests. "At the moment we have about 250 developers split into 100 for kernel work, 80 for non-kernel applications and the rest doing testing and documentation," said Frye. "We believe that Linux is the de-facto standard in development platforms because of its open nature, reliability, and the huge community support it has."

As well as the development commitment, IBM is also using the LTC as a method of promoting its relationships with business partners and open source developers. "I helped start the Open Source Development Lab," remarked Frye. The OSDL www.osdlab.org is an organisation which brings together open source developers and hardware vendors for more high-end application development.

Other more community oriented LTC work involves licensing and Linux standards. "We like releasing developed software under the GPL because it ensures that our work won't be hidden by anyone else," explained Frye. "Our relationship with the various distributions, including Debian developers is good because we are actively working to solve the software dependency problems which exist. Also, the Linux Standard Base chairman works in the LTC."

Some of the immediate goals the LTC has for Linux, Frye said, is the work going into the soon to be opened 2.5 development kernel. "For 2.5 we will be concentrating on the scalability of Linux for our 8 and 16-way SMP systems along with the I/O subsystem. This, along with security, IPv6, JFS [journaling file system], and enterprise volume management, will be our priorities." Although this work is ongoing, Frye pointed out that JFS is ready to proceed into 2.5 and that most distributions already support it.

In general, the Linux Technology Center is working to both consolidate and enhance Linux's strength as a server operating system. "Although we work and have good relationships with KDE and GNOME, we're not pushing Linux on the desktop at this time," said Frye. "It's quite possible that Linux will become a viable alternative desktop operating system, however, we are not sure if or when this will eventuate."

Regarding the Australian location of the LTC, Canberra has a significant place in the Australian Linux community. Canberra is the home of Samba creator Andrew Tridgell. It was also the location of the former Linuxcare ozlabs. Not surprisingly, most of the talented ozlabs team now make up the new LTC. Paul Mackerras - who is involved with the Linux PPC port, Anton Blanchard - a SparkLinux hacker, and Paul "Rusty" Russell - the well known kernel networking developer, are all part of the LTC to name a few.

For more information about the work being done at the LTC, see their website at http://www-124.ibm.com/developerworks/oss/linux/.

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