IBM Announces Aggressive Linux Campaign

Big Blue to evacuate its Internet division, promote "Linux-enabling" of IBM hardware.

In an attempt to re-invigorate its Enterprise Server Division (ESD), IBM has announced an "aggressive campaign to promote the Linux open source operating system". As part of this campaign, IBM will disband its Internet division begun four years ago, and move former Internet division executive Irving Wladawsky-Berger into a new Linux group within IBM's ESD.

"The next generation of e-business will see customers increasingly demand open standards for interoperability across disparate platforms," said Samuel Palmisano, IBM senior vice president. "Linux ... will play a pivotal role in this."

Far from abandoning its Internet strategy, the decision to dismantle IBM's Internet division comes with the realization that there is no part of IBM that does not affect the corporation's relationship to the Internet. Thus, a separate division focusing on the company's Internet strategy, per se, is increasingly seen as outdated and must be outgrown.

While it is widely believed that IBM's embrace of Linux will help the open-source operating system gain increased credibility among other major corporations, it is also clear that IBM is banking on both Linux and the Open Source movement to help renew interest in and purchase of its servers, which have faced stiff competition in recent years, particularly from Sun Microsystems' server line.

As part of the campaign, IBM will "Linux-enable" all of its hardware and will port applications and middleware to Linux as well. IBM also says it will collaborate with the Linux Open Source community to help develop IBM technologies.

At the same time, IBM's closer relationship with Linux is not expected to conflict with IBM's work on its own operating system, AIX. IBM involvement with the Monterey Project--their plan to run AIX on Intel's IA-64 chip--is also said to not be affected by the new Linux initiatives.

How will IBM's new commitments to the Linux OS affect other corporations that have made Linux a major part of their strategic plans? At the hardware level, companies such as VA Linux Systems are trying to change the terms of the debate, emphasizing that as a bona fide Linux company with years of expertise and experience, they offer more than simply Linux-in-a-box. "More" in this context refers to the holy grail of "services"--which has increasingly been the area that technology companies have sought to exploit.

At the software level, it is important to note how IBM is trying to remain as open as the operating system it has begun championing. AIX remains an IBM priority, and the company has stated its preference for a "more robust" system, better able to handle the work of high-volume corporate computers with even greater reliability. This talk from IBM, and the company's interest in having the Open Source community help create new IBM technologies, hints at possible development at the kernel level, in the same way TurboLinux developed proprietary kernel extensions for its clustering software.