IBM exec says Linux is ready

By Sam Williams

February 01, 2001

Sam Palmisano, president and chief operating officer for IBM (IBM), said despite lingering criticism, the GNU/Linux operating system is "leaping the chasm" between cutting-edge and mainstream operating systems users.

"Linux is ready for real business," said Palmisano, delivering the keynote address at this week's LinuxWorld Convention and Expo in New York City. "We are moving very rapidly." Palmisano's speech came on Wednesday morning, the first official day of the three-day show.

Palmisano, the No. 2 exec at IBM behind Chairman Lou Gerstner, used his 40-minute keynote to dispel a number of self-perceived "myths" regarding Linux's scalability and reliability as a "mission critical" technology platform. At one point Palmisano let videotaped testimonials from large scale customers including Royal Dutch Shell (RD) and do the talking for him.

Personal account

For the most part, however, Palmisano's speech delivered a rare personal account of how one of the high-tech industry's most powerful executives became a devout Linux convert.

"I've been in this business for 30 years," said Palmisano, dressed in a blue blazer and starched blue shirt with the trademark executive tie noticeably absent. "I know it sounds strange to say that, especially since I've spent those 30 years with the same company."

Palmisano said his introduction to Linux came when he had the "good fortune" to switch jobs two and a half years ago. Formerly the head of IBM Global Services, Palmisano became senior vice president of the company's enterprise systems group in September 1998. One of his first decisions as director was to fly around the globe in order to meet with and survey the business needs of IBM's largest customers.

It was during that trip, Palmisano said, that he first encountered the Linux phenomenon.

"Every where you went -- Germany, China, wherever -- you could hear people talking about this," Palmisano recalled. "You couldn't miss it."

After returning from the trip, Palmisano said he consulted with his management staff, most of whom were already in the process of investigating the Linux phenomenon. He quickly asked some of his advisers, including current vice president of technology and strategy, Irving Wladawsky-Berger, to do a feasibility study on Linux.

"Sure enough, they came back very, very quickly," Palmisano said. "In fact, they says, 'We could have all our products Linux compatible within six months.' That, to me, seemed amazing, especially when you consider how many products we have."

IBM the biggest early adopter

That optimistic scouting report would set in motion a full course-correction for the Armonk, N.Y.-based computing giant, a course-correction that would result in December's announcement by Gerstner that IBM will invest $1 billion in Linux services and development during the 2001 calendar year.

Palmisano said customer enthusiasm, combined with IBM's own growing commitment to open Internet standards, motivated the decision. Palmisano made sure to reference IBM's 5-year-old "e-business" strategy throughout the speech. While such shameless buzzword dropping gave the speech an overall odor of revisionist history, Palmisano made sure not to give himself or his company too much credit.

IBM may not have backed Linux from day one, Palmisano acknowledged, but after experiencing a companywide turnaround in the wake of the Internet connectivity explosion in the early 1990s, IBM executives weren't about to get caught napping as another explosion rumbled under their feet.

"This is just like the Internet," said Palmisano, citing recent IDC reports pegging GNU/Linux as the dominant server operating system in 2004. "It's moving that fast.

After Palmisano's speech, Charlie Greco, president and chief executive officer of IDG World Expo, and Linus Torvalds, creator of the Linux kernel, presented the $25,000 IDG/Linus Torvalds Community Award to Andrew Tridgell and Jeremy Allison, lead developers of the Samba project. The award goes out to nonprofit software and community service projects.

Tridgell, an Australian programmer who now works for Linuxcare in addition to managing the Samba project, alluded to Palmisano's speech when he said that open standards still have a long way to go.

"My fervent hope is that someday Samba won't be needed anymore," said Tridgell, alluding to his development team's 10-year cat-and-mouse efforts attempting to maintain Linux and Unix compatibility with Microsoft's (MSFT) proprietary SMB protocol, a key component in Windows NT networking. "Maybe then we can get to work on something really fun."

Sam Williams is a freelance writer covering open source software and high-tech culture. If you would like to submit a letter to the editor regarding this story, email


Copyright 2001 Upside Media Inc.

IBM's Palmisano touts Linux at confab

By Mary Jo Foley

January 31, 2001

NEW YORK--IBM President Sam Palmisano kicked off the LinuxWorld Conference and Expo on Wednesday morning with a slew of hardware and software announcements supporting the open-source operating system.

On IBM's docket are a new 64-processor IBM server that can run existing Linux applications unchanged, courtesy of some new IBM middleware; a Linux-based workstation using Intel's high-end IA-64 processors; and Linux versions of IBM Domino Workflow and Tivoli systems management software.

Palmisano highlighted the developments in his opening keynote address at the trade show, which is being held in New York this week.

Palmisano emphasized that IBM is banking on Linux being ready for "real business." He said that 2001 will be "the year Linux grows up in the enterprise."

Palmisano spent much of his talk attempting to debunk what he called the "four myths of Linux"--Linux can't scale, it's only a niche play, the operating system isn't ready to handle mission-critical demands, and it's a "bathtub" of source code with little rhyme or reason behind it.

To refute those notions, Palmisano cited a number of recent IBM Linux customer wins. Deutsche Telekom subsidiary T-Systems will install Linux on an IBM eServer zSeries server to manage e-mail databases for its customers by running hundreds of Linux partitions.

"We don't invest a billion dollars casually," Palmisano told the audience. "Lou (Gerstner) and I don't write those checks without some...scrutiny."

During the past year, all of IBM's hardware, software and services divisions have made Linux a top priority. IBM has announced plans to translate all of its application and infrastructure software to Linux and has made Linux one of the operating systems available on most IBM hardware, ranging from its NetVista thin clients to its S/390 mainframes.

IBM said it plans to spend more than $300 million, or one-third of the company's $1 billion Linux commitment--on Linux services. IBM CEO Lou Gerstner announced IBM's $1 billion Linux commitment last month.

The Linux services budget will be spent on building up over the next three years, "e-business enablement and migration," open-source consulting; and Web and high-availability cluster services.

As part of its services push, IBM said it will broaden its service relationships with SuSE, one of the four major Linux distributors. IBM already has service agreements in place with Red Hat and Linuxcare, which is in the process of merging with TurboLinux.

On the hardware side, IBM's Linux plans include the 64-processor eServer x430, which IBM is touting as the first server to run middleware called the Linux Application Environment (LAE). LAE sits on top of the Dynix Unix-like operating system, which powers the IBM server.

IBM has opened a Linux Competency Center in Beaverton, Ore., where Linux software writers can test their applications on LAE.

The LAE layer is designed to allow existing 32-bit Intel-based Linux applications to run without being recompiled on the new 64-processor servers. To take full advantage of the 64-processor functionality, however, customers will need to redesign their applications or write new ones from scratch, IBM executives acknowledged.

IBM also unveiled plans to ship this summer IA-64-based Intellistation Z Pro workstations that will run one or more Linux flavors.

Palmisano discussed new IBM Linux-based development tools and services that target the IBM PowerNP network processor, a chip embedded in routers and other communications equipment.

And he took some thinly veiled potshots at rivals Microsoft and Sun Microsystems, neither of which has been much of a Linux or open-source backer.

"Change--some are excited about it; some are really threatened about it," Palmisano told the LinuxWorld Expo audience. "This (Linux) is certainly a disruptive technology we'll be working with for many, many years to come."

Palmisano closed by addressing the Linux audience directly. "You are the community that will get this done," he said. "But we need to work together."


Copyright 2001 CNET Networks, Inc.