Welcome!

Linux Containers Authors: Yeshim Deniz, Liz McMillan, Pat Romanski, Carmen Gonzalez, Elizabeth White

Related Topics: Linux Containers

Linux Containers: Article

IBM's (now) not-so-secret Linux strategy

Two years ago, IBM said it was going to support Linux. It overdelivered. What's ahead for Linux at IBM.

AUSTIN, TX (LinuxWorld) -- It's been two years since IBM's first "Linux Summit." That event was held in Austin in the fall of 1999. I interviewed Robert LeBlanc during that two-day event to learn more about IBM's plans for Linux. With the fifth such summit taking place recently (the third in Austin, two have been held overseas), I was curious about what changes in the strategy IBM may have made since the initial summit. I sat down with Dan Frye, director of IBM's Linux Technology Center, during this summit to learn what has changed, what has stayed the same, and what the future holds for IBM interest in Linux.

Dan Frye, Director of IBM's LTC

Frye is a 14-year veteran of IBM with a background in theoretical atomic physics who describes himself as "not very technical." Before taking his current position at the head of the LTC, Frye worked on the development of the RS6000/SP, both in hardware and software. After transferring to a corporate group responsible for emerging technologies, he asked a simple question: What was IBM's Linux strategy? The question earned him the opportunity to develop one.

Frye's interest in Linux was sparked by a conference he had attended where attendees speculated on what computers would look like in ten years. Several models for future computing were presented. The "computer as commodity" model presentation noted that the operating system would be "Linux, of course." He started to research Linux.

Frye doesn't use Linux on his desktop. He doesn't push Linux because it is "neat technically" or because it is the right thing. He does it because it is good business to do so. In Frye's mind, it is all about providing the customer with choice.

When asked how IBM's Linux strategy has changed over the past two years, Frye said, "The strategy is remarkably similar." IBM, he said, "obviously is much more aggressive around Linux that we were two years ago." But the strategy laid out by LeBlanc has remained constant. They planned to put Linux on all their hardware. They planned to port their software to Linux. They planned to build a service offering around Linux. As Frye said, "Now we've done all that."

In at least one area, Linux on mainframes, the success has been surprising. Two years ago, LeBlanc would say nothing more than Linux on a 390 was something that was being considered. Today there is a national TV ad campaign touting Linux on IBM mainframes as a replacement for a server farm. Frye describes that segment of the market as being "wildly successful."

Repeating a question I asked LeBlanc, I asked Frye if IBM was comfortable working with the Linux/open source community. It seems an odd couple at first glance, this relationship between a global corporation and kernel hackers. But Frye, just as LeBlanc did two years ago, says the two work together well. Frye notes that they both want the same thing. "They want to see Linux grow up. They want to see Linux solve real problems. They are a technically oriented community. If you write good code, you'll be accepted. You write bad code, you'll get flamed. IBM engineers in general like that kind of atmosphere."

That process, of having gone from being a newbie to having become "a valued peer" in the open source community is what Frye sees as IBM's greatest success. Early on IBM focused on learning and listening. IBM did grunt work. Small patches here and there. Documentation for ReadMe's and HowTo's as well. Today IBM not only makes regular contributions in the kernel space (and elsewhere), IBM engineers have earned the level of acceptance that allows them to speak out when they think a maintainer or part of the community is wrong.

It seems there are always differences of opinion on matters of import being argued among the kernel maintainers.  Most currently, the debate over which VM has been running hot and heavy.  Because the proponents in this case are primarily Torvalds and Cox, some have begun to fear a split.

I asked Frye if he were concerned. His reply reflects familiarity with both the issue and the process. "No. Because this is the way the community works. The community works by trying out different things," Frye said. "You know, you can argue this in a theoretical sense, but the community doesn't work that way. The community works by trying multiple paths and seeing which one is best. It is a very flexible group that will conclude which one is best, and this microfork will heal itself."

IBM, Microsoft, and the Linux desktop

Has this coziness with Linux harmed IBM's relationship with Microsoft? Not to hear Frye tell it. Frye describes that relationship as being stronger than ever, saying, "This is not Microsoft versus Linux. This is about choice. What IBM brings to the table is the ability to not give customers a single choice but to find the best choice to meet their problems."

Other things have not changed. IBM still views Linux as a server solution, not as a desktop entity. When I asked a hypothetical question, assuming that the antitrust case results in Microsoft no longer being able to punish or reward vendors for offering other products in standalone or dual-boot configurations, if IBM would begin to preload Linux, he said no, not unless customers demanded it. They just don't see a market for Linux on the desktop, yet. If and when they see demand for Linux on the desktop, Frye says they will find a way to provide it their customers.

IBM still has no interest in offering its own Linux distribution. As Frye put it, "The Linux business model for IBM is straightforward: We sell the hardware underneath it, we sell the software on top of it, and we sell the services all around it. The fact that we don't sell the thin layer Linux operating system is frankly irrelevant."

As to the future, IBM sees Linux as having a vital role in the years ahead. The reasons for that are that it will be able to do more and it will be easier to use. Frye said, "You're going to see it do things at the middle of the enterprise. You are also going to see increasing Linux on appliances, on small devices, in the embedded space. You are going to see it in less technically advanced shops as well. As it continues to get easier to manage, more robust, then you don't have to have a highly technical shop."

The summit attendees reflect the changes that have ocurred over the past two years. Frye said of the initial summit that it was "It was almost an anti-establishment era, the people who were coming around were Linux enthusiasts. Few people at that first summit had a job that had to do with making Linux successful." He concluded by saying "Two years ago we had 300 Linux enthusiasts coming together at the summit. Today we have 300 Linux professionals coming together to talk about what we are going to do... and the 300 is just a small fraction of the people at IBM who are working on Linux every day.

More Stories By Joe Barr

Joe Barr is a freelance journalist covering Linux, open source and network security. His 'Version Control' column has been a regular feature of Linux.SYS-CON.com since its inception. As far as we know, he is the only living journalist whose works have appeared both in phrack, the legendary underground zine, and IBM Personal Systems Magazine.

Comments (0)

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.


IoT & Smart Cities Stories
At CloudEXPO Silicon Valley, June 24-26, 2019, Digital Transformation (DX) is a major focus with expanded DevOpsSUMMIT and FinTechEXPO programs within the DXWorldEXPO agenda. Successful transformation requires a laser focus on being data-driven and on using all the tools available that enable transformation if they plan to survive over the long term. A total of 88% of Fortune 500 companies from a generation ago are now out of business. Only 12% still survive. Similar percentages are found throug...
Every organization is facing their own Digital Transformation as they attempt to stay ahead of the competition, or worse, just keep up. Each new opportunity, whether embracing machine learning, IoT, or a cloud migration, seems to bring new development, deployment, and management models. The results are more diverse and federated computing models than any time in our history.
At CloudEXPO Silicon Valley, June 24-26, 2019, Digital Transformation (DX) is a major focus with expanded DevOpsSUMMIT and FinTechEXPO programs within the DXWorldEXPO agenda. Successful transformation requires a laser focus on being data-driven and on using all the tools available that enable transformation if they plan to survive over the long term. A total of 88% of Fortune 500 companies from a generation ago are now out of business. Only 12% still survive. Similar percentages are found throug...
Atmosera delivers modern cloud services that maximize the advantages of cloud-based infrastructures. Offering private, hybrid, and public cloud solutions, Atmosera works closely with customers to engineer, deploy, and operate cloud architectures with advanced services that deliver strategic business outcomes. Atmosera's expertise simplifies the process of cloud transformation and our 20+ years of experience managing complex IT environments provides our customers with the confidence and trust tha...
Where many organizations get into trouble, however, is that they try to have a broad and deep knowledge in each of these areas. This is a huge blow to an organization's productivity. By automating or outsourcing some of these pieces, such as databases, infrastructure, and networks, your team can instead focus on development, testing, and deployment. Further, organizations that focus their attention on these areas can eventually move to a test-driven development structure that condenses several l...
The graph represents a network of 1,329 Twitter users whose recent tweets contained "#DevOps", or who were replied to or mentioned in those tweets, taken from a data set limited to a maximum of 18,000 tweets. The network was obtained from Twitter on Thursday, 10 January 2019 at 23:50 UTC. The tweets in the network were tweeted over the 7-hour, 6-minute period from Thursday, 10 January 2019 at 16:29 UTC to Thursday, 10 January 2019 at 23:36 UTC. Additional tweets that were mentioned in this...
Over the course of two days, in addition to insightful conversations and presentations delving into the industry's current pressing challenges, there was considerable buzz about digital transformation and how it is enabling global enterprises to accelerate business growth. Blockchain has been a term that people hear but don't quite understand. The most common myths about blockchain include the assumption that it is private, or that there is only one blockchain, and the idea that blockchain is...
Never mind that we might not know what the future holds for cryptocurrencies and how much values will fluctuate or even how the process of mining a coin could cost as much as the value of the coin itself - cryptocurrency mining is a hot industry and shows no signs of slowing down. However, energy consumption to mine cryptocurrency is one of the biggest issues facing this industry. Burning huge amounts of electricity isn't incidental to cryptocurrency, it's basically embedded in the core of "mini...
In his general session at 19th Cloud Expo, Manish Dixit, VP of Product and Engineering at Dice, discussed how Dice leverages data insights and tools to help both tech professionals and recruiters better understand how skills relate to each other and which skills are in high demand using interactive visualizations and salary indicator tools to maximize earning potential. Manish Dixit is VP of Product and Engineering at Dice. As the leader of the Product, Engineering and Data Sciences team at D...
The term "digital transformation" (DX) is being used by everyone for just about any company initiative that involves technology, the web, ecommerce, software, or even customer experience. While the term has certainly turned into a buzzword with a lot of hype, the transition to a more connected, digital world is real and comes with real challenges. In his opening keynote, Four Essentials To Become DX Hero Status Now, Jonathan Hoppe, Co-Founder and CTO of Total Uptime Technologies, shared that ...