Building the Linux business infrastructure

IBM has the Linux middleware tools you need today--but so do Oracle, BEA, and many other enterprise software vendors. Why the rush, and what's in it for you?

You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows--or a CIO to know that Linux has become a major server operating system. The real question for IT managers is whether Linux is ready to move beyond file and Web servers to application and Web services servers. The answer, if IBM has anything to do with it, is an unqualified yes.

IBM has been a major Linux supporter for years. And, with the arrival of UnitedLinux, both IBM's internal programming efforts and its independent software vendor (ISV) partners will have much less trouble and spend less money porting and building Linux applications.

Given all this, it should come as no surprise that of the more than 300 IBM middleware products available, more than 50 are now available on Linux on IBM's Intel-based xSeries servers and 20 are ready to go on the mainframe zSeries.

IBM's WebSphere, its Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE) application server and leading middleware product, has long been available on Linux for the X and Z series, and is in late beta on the iSeries (formerly the AS/400 line) and the pSeries (also known as the RS/6000 line). WebSphere on these platforms is expected to be available in the first quarter of 2003, with the iSeries version appearing first.

Other core IBM middleware products--its DB2 database offering, Domino, and the MQSeries--are also already available on the X and Z lines. Simultaneously, IBM ISV partners--such as AccPac, Computer Associates, Sage, SAP, and SAS--either have brought their business applications and middleware products to IBM's Linux lines or are in the process of doing so.

Why are they bringing their middleware to all these different platforms? The simple answer is that different customers have different needs. Adam Jollans, IBM's Linux strategy manager, says a small shop or a decentralized company might go with the xSeries, whereas a larger company that's comfortable with centralized computing might go with the midrange iSeries or mainframe zSeries.

The one platform that isn't getting much attention is the pSeries. While acknowledging that most RS/6000 administrators are happy with the more mature AIX 5L, Jollans says IBM plans to bring its middleware offerings to Linux on this platform as well. He foresees a day when Linux-only shops will want to move to the eight-way processing power of the pSeries, and they'll want to take their Linux middleware-based applications with them.

Jollans says customers want enterprise middleware on Linux for workload consolidation, server consolidation, and Web applications. "Two to three years ago, it was technical people wanting Linux for file and Web servers," he says. "Now it's IT managers and CIOs looking for a good, stable operating system and middleware." Cost is another consideration. "Time and time again our customers are looking at Linux as a way to save money," Jollans says. "Rarely do other options come to play."

Ed Lynch, IBM's Linux systems manager, says another long-term driver is making IT departments look to Linux middleware. "What keeps CIOs up at night? 'I've got too much work to do and not enough bodies to do it.' So where are people with skills and what skills do they have? There's a natural wave to ride on and that's Linux," he says.

Another reason, according to Dan Kusnetzky, IDC vice president for system software research, is that IBM sees Linux as an emerging market. With little additional effort, he says, IBM can move its AIX efforts to Linux while supporting Linux unification. "With this, IBM can ride Linux into new markets and into places where IBM hasn't been able to get into for years." Kusnetzky considers this Linux strategy a wise move because for IBM, "the more platforms it can play on, the more revenue it can attain."

Exactly how much revenue IBM gets from Linux middleware (and Linux in general) is almost impossible to determine. IBM refuses to reveal exact revenues generated from its famous billion-dollar investment in Linux and AIX. Kusnetzky believes that AIX drives most of the revenue, but that in two to three years, Linux and its middleware will be IBM's most profitable line.

IBM isn't the only big software vendor to throw its weight behind Linux.

Oracle is also making a big Linux middleware push. While IBM is essentially working with two major Linux vendors (UnitedLinux and Red Hat), Oracle and Red Hat are working hand-in-glove in a three-way play in which Dell provides hardware, Red Hat develops an Oracle-friendly Linux (Red Hat Advanced Server), and Oracle adds Real Application Clusters and support for Red Hat's clustering file system to its Oracle 9i database. In this way, the three companies can give customers a complete package of hardware, operating system, and middleware--just as IBM and Sun already do.

Hewlett-Packard is also making a hard enterprise Linux push. But after being one of the first to embrace Linux middleware, HP appears to be moving out of the middleware business. Sun is also quickly moving into Linux middleware. In early February, Ed Zander, COO and president for Sun at the time, announced that Sun will port "the entire Sun Open Network Environment (ONE) implementation to Linux."

Pure application server companies are also on the Linux bandwagon. For example, BEA Systems' new high-end Java Virtual Machine, WebLogic Jrockit, runs on Linux as does WebLogic Server 7, the company's flagship J2EE application server.

It's not just about Linux
The move to Linux middleware represents a true change, says IDC's Kusnetzky, and in the end helps to unify the Unix platform. "HP is talking about how HP-UX will be able to run Linux applications; so is Sun with Solaris," he says. "ISVs are going to be asking themselves, 'Why should I bother to develop for a specific Unix if I can develop for Linux and it will run on almost all Unix platforms?'" Kusnetzky says that IBM is smart in betting big that Linux will become the universal enterprise Unix platform of tomorrow.

Not only are IBM, Oracle, and other middleware vendors embracing Linux, they're also embracing J2EE-- almost all Linux middleware products are based on J2EE application servers. This isn't an about-face, but it doesform a strong bond between Linux and J2EE.

One could even argue, as Kusnetzky does, that CIOs decide what database and middleware they need before they decide which operating system to support, rather than vice versa. "You don't want to lock yourself into hardware and operating systems, because that only makes it harder to migrate as technology improves," he explains. This approach is especially safe considering that middleware development has largely divided into two camps: Net supporters (Microsoft) and J2EE supporters (everyone else).

Will your organization be trying out Linux middleware? Why or why not? TalkBack below.

A frequent ZDNet contributor, Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols is editor of Practical Technology and chairman of the Internet Press Guild.