Linux going mainstream in Asia: IBM

Linux will play a greater role as a platform for workload consolidation as it moves into mainstream enterprises this year, according to IBM Corp.

"I think 2001 is the year Linux crosses over from technology-centric early adopters," said Steven Solazzo, IBM's vice president of Linux sales and marketing. He cited a study by the International Data Corp. (IDC), which predicted a 28.4 percent growth in the Linux shipments in 2001, up from 24 percent in the middle of last year. "In the next few years, we will see only two high-volume platforms in IT industry -- Windows NT/2000 and Linux," he said.

This will make Linux a magnet for application developers and for skills. "Already, we are seeing a shift in the United States -- many graduates come into the market with Linux skills. This popularity will force changes in the industry," he added.

Workload consolidation is one area of opportunity that IBM sees in the Linux space. It involves running multiple, independent workloads on large, centrally managed platforms.

According to Solazzo, banks, telecommunications companies and service providers are among the companies which have expressed interest in this. For example, many financial organizations are moving their server farms onto the 390. "They are porting their applications onto Linux and running them on dedicated machines or alongside OS/390 workloads," he said.

IBM will also be unveiling Linux support for the AS/400 in the second quarter of this year, said Solazzo. He believes that in the Asia-Pacific, the midrange server will be a popular platform for workload consolidation as companies seek to simplify their IT environment.

He sees companies running their databases and bread-and-butter applications on OS/400 but other functions like Web servers running on Linux.

"As excited as we are about Linux, we recognize that today, it can't do everything," Solazzo said. For instance, it is still not a very good platform for extremely high-volume transactions or for very high scalability in terms of SMP (symmetric multiprocessing) support. Currently, Linux provides four-way SMP support, and is expected to provide eight-way SMP support by the end of the year.

Two other areas of opportunity for Linux in the enterprise space are in distributed applications that require a very reliable platform and remote management capabilities, and in server clustering. Solazzo gave the example of Dutch oil company Shell, which uses over 1,000 rack-mounted IBM xSeries servers to provide over 1 Teraflop computing capability.

Despite these moves, Solazzo does not see Linux cannibalizing IBM's traditional markets. "We think it is not likely that companies will port their existing applications onto Linux -- there is no economic value in doing that. Instead, Linux gives us an entry point into new areas like Internet data centers and service providers, where IBM does not have a high workload. It gives us another horse to ride."