IBM to bolster Linux strategy

IBM'S Linux strategy will take another step forward next week when it unveils plans to deliver several key enterprise-level capabilities that allow the open source operating system to scale and run more robustly on its Netfinity line of PC-based servers.

At next week's LinuxWorld show in San Jose, Armonk, N.Y.-based IBM will extend the core elements of its X Architecture to its Netfinity servers operating under Linux. Those elements include such products and technologies as Netfinity Director systems management software, memory chip kill technology, PCI hot-swap capabilities, Light Path Diagnostics clustering, and its "software rejuvenation" technology.

"We see this as a pretty big step forward as the X Architecture represents IBM's server crown jewels. We think it is what differentiates us from competitors in many enterprise applications involving scalability, manageability, and availability, said Sandy Carter, director of Solutions Marketing for Netfinity, in Raleigh, N.C.

IBM's X Architecture is the company's design blueprint for building enterprise capabilities that subscribe to industry standards. The company has been doing this over the past couple of years by cascading down key technologies from its proprietary mainframe, RS/6000 and AS/400 platforms to work on its Intel-based Netfinity line.

The company also plans to show off a new yet-to-be-named Web-based tool that helps corporate customers more accurately measure the bottom line benefits of implementing various pieces of the X Architecture compared to corresponding products from competitors. That tool is expected to be available in October.

The version of Netfinity Director for Linux, to be delivered either late this year or sometime in next year's first quarter, has been high on the wish lists of IBM's Linux users. The product allows corporate shops to remotely manage and deploy entire server configurations to run mission-critical applications.

Allowing Linux to exploit IBM's Chip Kill technology is a first for the open source operating system, according to IBM officials. The capability allows users to recover from 8-bit memory failures or even entire chip set failures.

Typically, competing technologies today only allow users to recover from single bit failures.

"This brings RAID-like availability to memory. Prices on processors and disk storage are dropping at about 60 percent a year, but memory is doing so at half that rate and applications are becoming more and more memory hungry. The bottom line is that a one gigabit memory chip causes 150 times more outages over three years than a Chip Kill will," Carter said.

Another capability rare in Linux environments today is IBM's software rejuvenation technology. This technology, now shipping on the company's Windows-based Netfinity servers, automatically alerts administrators to potential failures in aging software so they can be proactive in averting system failures.

"Many Linux (implementations) are robust, but mission-critical customers often tell us that one failure is one too many," IBM's Carter said. "In research with Duke University, we have discovered that system crashes are three times more likely to happen because of a software problem than a hardware problem."Another X Architecture feature that will work with Linux is the Netfinity Advanced Service Processor. This chip allows administrators to manage and completely manipulate Netfinity servers remotely, doing so with just a laptop from home using only a phone line.

Separately, IBM at next week's show will also announce it plans to pre-load versions of Linux from Caldera, Red Hat, and TurboLinux on selected Net Vista and Aptiva desktop and ThinkPad laptop systems. The company will offer TurboLinux 6.1 with a suite of Linux-based productivity applications aimed at small business along with a utility for making it easier to install the software.

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