IBM and Linux: The next billion dollars

IBM is renovating its Power computers by investing a billion dollars into making it a full-fledged Linux line for Big Data, cloud, data analytics, and the datacenter.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

On September 17, IBM will announce at LinuxCon 2013 that it will invest $1 billion in new Linux and open-source technologies for its Power Systems servers. This announcement comes 12 years after IBM famously announced that it was backing the then unproven Linux with a billion-dollar investment.

IBM puts a billion-dollar bet on Linux on the Power platform.
Image: IBM

Jim Zemlin, executive director of the Linux Foundation, said, "The last time IBM committed $1 billion to Linux, it helped start a flurry of innovation that has never slowed. We look forward to seeing how the Power platform can bring about further innovation on Linux, and how companies and developers can work together to get the most out of this open architecture."

IBM has been moving towards making Linux more important on its flagship Unix/AIX Power Systems over the last year. In May 2012, IBM introduced its first Linux-only Power Systems, the Power 7 rack and blade servers. Then, this year, IBM introduced a new high-end Power Linux system, 7R4 server. This was quickly followed by IBM porting Linux's native virtualization, KVM, to Power and IBM, Google, and Nvidia founding the OpenPower Consortium to open up the Power chip family to other vendors.

What IBM wants for all these moves, and the $1 billion it will be investing in Power and Linux, is not to convert its existing AIX customers to Linux. Instead, Dan Frye, IBM's VP of Open Systems Development, said Linux on Power is meant for new big data, cloud computing, analytics, and datacenter customers.

IBM also believes that Linux on Power will be more affordable for datacenter customers. Lisa Orr Johnston, IBM's VP of Worldwide Marketing, said, "One Power processor can replace 10 Intel CPUs." This, in turn, will drastically reduce datacenter power and cooling costs.

In a statement, IBM fellow and VP of Power Development Brad McCredie said, "Many companies are struggling to manage big data and cloud computing using commodity servers based on decades-old, PC-era technology. These servers are quickly overrun by data, which triggers the purchase of more servers, creating unsustainable server sprawl," McCredie explained. "The era of big data calls for a new approach to IT systems; one that is open, customizable, and designed from the ground up to handle big data and cloud workloads."

What this means in the short term is that IBM is setting up a new Power Systems Linux Center in Montpellier, France, and setting up a Linux on Power development cloud. This cloud is meant to serve the growing number of developers, partners, and clients that are interested in running Linux on Power Systems. This free cloud service is ramping up its infrastructure to provide more businesses with the ability to prototype, build, port, and test Linux applications on the Power platform as well as AIX applications.

That sounds good, but is IBM serious about adding Linux as more than just an SKU on its Power line? Frye said that yes, IBM is quite serious about making Linux a real alternative on Power for its customers. Frye added that Doug Balog, IBM's new general manager for Power Systems, will be pushing Linux hard on the Power architecture.

At the same time, Frye added, AIX won't be going anywhere. "AIX remains in place. The AIX customer base is loyal and it continue to sell, so the AIX sales, technical support, and marketing team will be staying in place."

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