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IBM's Stallings hears customers' Linux stories

IBM Corp.'s Linux general manager Jim Stallings recently concluded his first 100 days in office with a trip to meet with 100 customers and hear their Linux stories.

Jim Stallings' first public appearance as the general manager of IBM Corp.'s Linux business was in January in New York City at LinuxWorld. Since then, unless you're an IBM enterprise Linux customer, you haven't seen much of the IT veteran. He's spent his first 100 days in office on a very un-presidential misson: meeting with 100 enterprise customers and hearing their Linux stories. In this interview, Stallings relays some of what he heard on his trip, what's helping and hampering Linux adoption in the enterprise and even a few words on SCO Group's billion-dollar suit against IBM.

After visiting your Linux customers during your first 100 days in office, what observations can you take away about Linux in the enterprise?

Stallings: I wanted to visit with 100 customers before I got too deep into the business. I want to hear the needs of Linux users. I am stunned by the velocity of Linux traction. Most of our largest accounts and biggest customers have a Linux strategy. Linux is a very aggressive tool to cut costs and simplify business. Companies are being aggressive moving file, print and e-mail services to Linux on Intel. Those workloads work well; Linux is very reliable there. Customers are also gaining confidence on a security level. The velocity of Linux adoption is extraordinary. There are no customers who are not either evaluating, piloting or using Linux in production.

What kind of feedback are you hearing from customers?

Stallings:What they all want to know now as they move out those defined workloads [file, print and e-mail serving] is how they can get to using Linux as a database server and for take-outs of Unix. I think Web-serving applications will be the next concentric circle Linux moves into. ERP [enterprise resource planning], CRM [customer relationship management] and other mission-critical applications are also being piloted and are moving over.

PeopleSoft recently announced it would port its applications to Linux on IBM systems. How would you convince customers currently using open-source ERP and CRM software to make the move? What benefits would you illustrate?

Stallings: PeopleSoft made the decision to Linux-enable its complete portfolio of business applications in response to customer demand. At this point in the game, it's not a matter of convincing customers to move to Linux -- the benefits speak for themselves. More and more customers are making the move to Linux because it's a low-cost, highly reliable platform. And with help from IBM, PeopleSoft will port 170 applications to run on Linux, giving customers the option to run their PeopleSoft ERP or CRM app on the open-source operating system. This announcement from PeopleSoft is significant.

It represents the largest commitment to Linux from an independent software vendor that we've seen to date. It really speaks to the momentum Linux has in the marketplace. Businesses are interested in an open, standards-based infrastructure instead of getting locked into a proprietary system, like Microsoft Windows.

How important is it for customers to hear about the success stories of other enterprises using Linux?

Stallings: They all want an industry reference from a comparable size company. When you decide to bring Linux into the enterprise, you're doing a business transformation; you're running your business a different way. You're adopting open standards and developing different skills. You are going to redeploy your business on new target servers.

What kind of questions are customers asking about Linux?

Stallings: Customers are getting real smart about Linux. In the beginning, they were looking at Linux and they didn't understand where to apply it best. Linux is strong in certain workload areas. Enterprises have to take advantage of the capabilities of Linux workloads. For example, where there is a low utilization of services on Unix boxes, 20% utilization in some cases running just file-serving applications, Linux presents an opportunity to consolidate your applications to cheaper, Intel processors. The next stage will be the database. Another problem is how to migrate from Windows to Linux. This is an area where Linux is gaining lots of traction. Microsoft has changed its pricing strategy and is not supporting Windows NT. There are going to be 100,000 servers out there not supported by Microsoft.

What are your short-term and long-term goals for IBM's Linux business?

Stallings: My short-term goal is to enable all of our server platforms to be Linux-ready. The longer-term goal is for the software stack to run in Linux environments and to create services capable of helping customers migrate to Linux.

We also want Linux to be a big part of our on-demand strategy. We've got to simplify business and demonstrate the advantages of consolidating servers and integrating Linux into the business to have a common operating environment. We want to create a utility configuration for e-business on demand. We are doing that, beginning with open standards and Linux.

What are customers asking you about the SCO Group suit against IBM, and what are you telling them?

Stallings: Well, there's legal action pending, and I don't want to share much outside of a legal setting. Honestly, we're not hearing a lot from customers. We'll share with them our position on Linux. I believe I am correct in saying there are no violations on any intellectual property issues, and we will continue to support our Linux customers. It will be business as usual.

Much is made of the Windows-Linux rivalry but, for the enterprise, the competition is essentially between Unix and Linux. What improvements have to be made to Linux to enable it to overtake large proprietary Unix installations?

Stallings: As Linux matures in scalability, availability, security, all the qualities that enterprise customers need for mission-critical applications, we will continue to see Linux adoption at the low end of the Unix market, servers with less then four processors. Linux is ideal for these types of workloads, which can include file, print and Web serving, as well as small office or departmental servers. IBM's growth in Unix has been focused on midrange and high-end systems. For applications that require highly scalable servers and need to run in greater then eight-processor SMP configuration, customers will want to go with IBM Unix servers. It is also interesting to note that IDC's Quarterly Server Tracker for Q4 2002 proved that IBM is the fastest-growing vendor in both Unix and Linux.

How does IBM balance its significant investments in Linux with supporting its AIX business?

Stallings: We're committed to both Linux and AIX. We intend to give our customers choices and a variety of solutions to meet their specific needs. The AIX platform is, and will continue to be, the premier operating system from IBM for eServer and pSeries. AIX contains enterprise features such as scalability, reliability, availability and serviceability features that will take years to materialize on Linux. Over time, Linux will mature into a complete enterprise operating environment.

AIX also has broad application support and industry acceptance. Customers have invested millions of dollars in AIX applications and skills. IBM plans to enhance and support AIX for years to come.

IBM was aboard early with the Opteron 64-bit processor, certifying DB2 for Opteron and committing to building a platform for Opteron on Linux. Which processor is IBM betting on: Itanium/Intel or Opteron?

Stallings: The processor is only a single part of the complete solution set IBM delivers to customers to solve their business problems. IBM's specific part of these solutions is based on the business problem and customer choice. That said, IBM will continue to offer customer solutions based on IBM Power, Intel and AMD processors.

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