IBM to spend $200M on Linux in Asia

IBM will spend up to US$200 million over the next four years to fund Linux development in the Asia-Pacific region. This was the commitment made last week by Kakutaro Kitashiro, president of IBM Asia-Pacific, in line with his company's global thrust to promote Linux and open source solutions across IBM's entire range of computing platforms.

The $200 million effort in Asia-Pacific is part of a $1 billion war chest that IBM Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Louis Gerstner said his company would be spending this year in various Linux efforts.

In an exclusive interview with Computerworld Philippines, Kitashiro said IBM's efforts in the region would focus on developing engineers and the facilities to support Linux systems. In support of these efforts, he said, he has appointed dedicated Linux general managers in each of the five geographic divisions that make up IBM Asia-Pacific.

GAINING GROUND

Kitashiro said Linux is already gaining ground and strong customer interest in China, Japan, Korea, and India.

"China is supporting Linux very aggressively, and there's a lot of interest in Korea, as well," Kitashiro said. A major attraction is the cost savings that organizations can realize by using a free, open-source operating system as opposed to a licensed, proprietary system.

Asian countries, in fact, are probably more open to Linux solutions than are economies where Unix and Windows NT are already well established. "Developing countries are potentially more open to Linux if you move quickly," Kitashiro said, "I think Linux has a lot of potential for the Philippines, too," he added. "You have a very good potential to develop the software engineers to support Linux. I want to see Linux support functions become available in the Philippines."

Citing the Indian experience, Kitashiro said a good base of technical expertise can be a strong foundation for a high value- added software industry.

"India has been very successful, and it can be done here," Kitashiro said. "If you can build enough technical resources to support your customers, that's a good base to develop engineers to support people outside the Philippines. First, you need to support the local market. Once you have the critical mass, you can move on. In India, we did not start with a development laboratory. We started with developing people to support the market, but since we had built up over 2,000 software engineers in Bangalore, part of the resources are now becoming part of the software development lab."

Kitashiro also said he wants to see more Philippine companies using Linux, not only for Internet applications but for financial and mainline business applications as well.

Kitashiro acknowledged that most Linux usage today is focused on Web servers and back-end database and transaction processing. He added, however, that other mainline business applications such as enterprise resource planning (ERP) and customer relationship management (CRM) will become available on Linux.

"Other applications will be coming. CRM and ERP should come. They're not here yet, but they should come this year or next," Kitashiro said. "Linux is no longer just a Web server, it's moving towards becoming a major application platform.

Kitashiro said Linux draws its strength from its reliability and stability, but needs to build up its ability to scale.

"Linux, Unix, and Windows will be the main operating systems in large volumes, and IBM wants to be ahead of this change. We don't want to be a follower. We want to be a leader," Kitashiro said.

COMPETITION

While Linux may compete against IBM's own version of Unix, Kitashiro said scalability issues would continue to create opportunities for AIX or IBM's mainframe operating systems.

"Linux today cannot handle all applications, such as very large databases or large transaction processing, because it doesn't scale up very well," he said. "In these instances, AIX or a mainframe OS would still be more capable."

Eventually, however, Linux will also become more scalable, Kitashiro said.

Kitashiro also stressed that IBM supports open standards such as Linux and is ready to compete on the basis of functionality, reliability, security, availability, support, and service.

"IBM supports Linux and open standards where everyone can compete by providing better service. The customer benefits most from open standards," he said. "You can try to control the market by being proprietary, but that will limit the market," he said. "The market will grow if you compete using the same standards. The best and most efficient will win, and that's okay, because we will try our best to be the best and most efficient service provider on that platform."

LOCAL EFFORTS

For his part, IBM Philippines president Ramon Dimacali said the local office has already set up a team to focus on Linux products. The local subsidiary is also working with its educational joint venture, the Asia Pacific College, to enhance the Linux skills of its graduates.

Dimacali added that the market for Linux solutions will likely grow as more Internet data centers (IDCs) set up shop here and use Linux as a platform for delivery.

Dimacali also said he expected IBM's business in the Philippines to grow up to 30 percent this year, as local companies build up their IT infrastructure.

He also held out the prospect of a large outsourcing deal -- a first for IBM Philippines -- that may be closed by the first quarter this year.

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