IBM: LTC core to Linux development

Despite being one of the world’s biggest advocates of open source, IBM is not one for investing in just any development project.

While the vendor is very supportive of Linux, it doesn’t uphold the same attitude towards all open source initiatives, IBM Linux business manager Geoff Lawrence said.

“It’s very important to be selective and recognise that just because it is open source, it doesn’t mean that it’s something we would encourage or invest in,” he said.

“An open source product has to meet the quality standards that we require and that our customers are likely to want.”

One of IBM’s key strategies for furthering its role in the development of Linux has been the formation of a Linux Technology Centre (LTC). Created three years ago as part of the vendor’s $1 billion investment into the Linux operating system, the LTC currently comprises 12 specialised staff in Australia, as well as an additional six staff members in the US. The LTC is fully funded by IBM US.

The LTC’s primary focus is on the specifics of the Linux kernel core relating to IBM’s Power PC hardware, including its Power PC chips and enterprise servers.

LTC manager Hugh Blemmings said a lot of what LTC does involves interfacing with the Linux community at large. Because of this, a significant proportion of the open kernel architecture available to all Linux developers and users today stems from IBM’s own team of developers.

“Every single Linux system in the world is using some code developed by our team,” he said.

Blemmings said IBM’s open source strategy revolves around an emphasis on trying to contribute to existing projects, rather than develop their own from scratch.

“Part of the LTC’s role was to identify what open source developments IBM should be working on,” he said. “We strive to work with existing projects.”

“It’s evolutionary rather than a conscious decision such as ‘well, we’ll support this one, this one and this one’,” Lawrence added.

“We’re focusing more along the lines of recognising a need for our customers and understanding open source as the best fit for that need.”

Development fundamentals remain unchanged

Commenting on the increasing interest large-sized commercial vendors have taken in the Linux operating system in recent years, Blemmings said the fundamentals of developing such tools and software have not changed.

“The reality is that most developers work for a corporate identity. It hasn’t changed the way we work… it doesn’t mean we own Linux,” he said.

“[Our involvement] doesn’t mean we have any particular sway over what the Linux consortium does. What it does mean, though, is that we can contribute a lot to the intellectual property of the Linux kernel.”

Lawrence said Linux is still the same product underneath the various vendor packages – whether the packaged product is from SuSE or Red Hat.

“The difference now is that vendors are starting to present Linux in a traditional manner for the corporate market,” he said.

“It makes it easier for the business world and governments to adopt Linux.”

Adding to this, Lawrence said Linux has become so mainstream in IBM’s customer strategy that is now “business as usual”. While unable to put a figure on the revenue brought in by Linux, Lawrence said the operating system has become an inherent part of its products and services.

“Every one of our hardware teams will be selling Linux on their boxes – it really has become a standard part of our business,” he said.

“Linux has had an incredible, rapid maturity.”

IBM is the main (penguin) sponsor of the Linux.conf.au event, being held in Adelaide between 14 and 17 January 2004.

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