IBM made its integrated middleware platform for the government, retail and banking sector available on the Linux operating system on Friday.
The platform, which is already available on Windows and Unix, combines industry-specific middleware with its software portfolio including application server WebSphere and database DB2.
Adam Jollans, worldwide Linux strategy manager at IBM, told ZDNet UK that this release is in response to the movement of Linux up the stack into mission-critical, industry-specific applications.
"Linux is growing up and being used for more serious applications," said Jollans.
"Customers have tried out Linux on their file, print, DNS and Web servers, and a lot of the time have been pleasantly surprised that reliability and security is better than expected. They are now saying, 'Linux was great for these infrastructure tasks, can we use it for our ERP, our HR systems?'" said Jollans.
The company is initially targeting these three markets although it plans on extending the platform to the automotive, healthcare and consumer industries.
Jollans said the reason for targeting banking and retail is because they have large networks of distributed branches, with a server in each branch. Linux provides good support for remote working which saves companies the cost of having IT staff in each branch.
IBM also hopes to take advantage of the fact the Windows NT goes out of support at the end of this year, which means that companies have to decide whether to upgrade to Windows 2003, or migrate to Linux.
Gary Barnett, research director at Ovum, said that the announcement was not a big surprise.
"Linux is one of IBMs core operating systems so I would expect them to be releasing major products on Linux," said Barnett.
Competition is strong in the area of industry-specific middleware, including competitors such as Microsoft, Oracle, SAP and BEA.
Oracle has an advantage over IBM in this space as it dominates the database market and has a strong presence in the applications market. Microsoft also has a strong offering through its ISV channels which package products for the Windows platform, according to Barnett.
There is also competition from the open-source community, which already offers a variety of enterprise applications including databases such as MySQL and PostgreSQL, and application servers such as JBoss and Apache Geronimo. These offerings are not packaged, but cost savings could encourage customers to do their own integration.
Jollans said that he does not see open-source middleware solutions as a threat to IBM. He said that an open-source project needs to have enough people working on it and an unmet need, in order to be successful. He believes that Linux has been successful because it had contribution from a variety of industry sources including IBM, Novell and Sun. It also met an unmet need in the operating system market.
"The IT community needed a Unix-like operating system which could run on Intel servers and Linux met that need," said Jollans
But he claims that open-source database and Web applications are less likely to ever reach the level of success that Linux has.
"With databases, customers need a solution that is scalable, robust and cross-platform. That solution has already been met by various vendors, such as Oracle. There is no unmet need," said Jollans.