UPDATE: Small step for IBM, giant leap for Linux

Linux is over the moon as the open source operating system wins big contract
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Contributor on

IBM announced Thursday what it called the biggest ever commercial use of Linux, inking a deal to outfit a Japanese convenience chain called Lawson with more than 15,000 IBM eServers running the alternative operating system.

"We think this will be the largest Linux installation in the world," said John Callies, IBM vice president, xSeries servers. IBM said the deal calls for nearly every one of Lawson's 7,600 stores to install two Linux servers, which will feed Windows-based "Loppi" self-service multimedia terminals. These terminals will allow customers to perform a variety of tasks, including downloading music and video clips, as well as purchasing airline and concert tickets online.

Under terms of the deal, IBM also will provide Lawson with deployment and application-migration services. The parties declined to disclose the value of the deal. "Lawson needs almost 7-by-24-level reliability," Callies said. "They want to do backup in a way that allows them to switch between servers cost-effectively and efficiently."

Callies declined to say which Linux distribution IBM will pre-load on the Intel-based xSeries systems for Lawson, claiming that Lawson did not want that information made public. IBM has partnerships in place with a variety of Linux vendors, including all of the big four -- Caldera, Red Hat, TurboLinux, and SuSE. Sources close to the deal said Red Hat Linux will be the Linux distribution that will be pre-loaded on Lawson's servers.

The Lawson deal is not only significant for IBM, but for Linux as a whole, said Bill Claybrook, research director for Linux and open-source software with market researcher Aberdeen Group. Claybrook said he considered the Lawson win to represent the largest number of servers sold pre-installed with Linux. "The [Lawson] deal doesn't mean Linux is suitable for all enterprises, but it does have the potential to help all of the Linux companies," Claybrook said.

Claybrook said he believes IBM won the deal not only because of its growing reputation as a company that's serious about Linux, but also because it has a true global network for service and support.

According to new data released by International Data Corporation (IDC) in Japan, Linux currently represents eight percent of all server operating systems sold in 2000. Server-based Linux, in terms of units sold, grew more than 144 percent from year-to-year in Japan, IDC said. Windows NT dominated the Japanese server operating system market for the year 2000, with more than 60 percent share, while Windows 2000 commands another 18 percent, IDC added. Unix came in with roughly nine percent share, by IDC Japan's estimates.

There are real differences between operating systems. Even though vendors try to one-up each other's claims of reliability, scalability and price/performance, there remains many differences. The recent hack of Microsoft and its repercussions have strengthened Mary Jo Foley's belief that the operating system wars are alive and well. Go to AnchorDesk UK for the news comment.

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