While Linux technology has increasingly become a cost-saver in enterprises, the open-source operating system has proven a lifesaver in some ways for IBM's server business, said William Zeitler, senior vice president of IBM's server group in his keynote here at the LinuxWorld Expo.
Zeitler, a 30-year IBM veteran in charge of IBM's complete server business from mainframes to entry-level Intel boxes, said that the move by IBM to fully embrace Linux has radically changed Big Blue as a company overall. IBM supports the operating system across its server lines and invested US$1 billion in Linux development last year.
"Linux has forced some of the most comprehensive strategic rethinking we've ever done at IBM," Zeitler said. "The adoption of Linux completely reshaped our entire server business."
IBM began to offer Linux on its low-end Intel-based computers as demand for the operating system gained momentum, he said. But IBM insiders were at first cold to the notion of adopting open-source software as a core product offering across all server lines.
"People in the mainframe group said no one would buy it. I said that's fine, because no one is buying [mainframes] anyway," Zeitler said.
The result of the Linux mainframe port has helped to turn IBM's high-end server business around, resulting in mainframe sales growth over the last five quarters, Zeitler said.
"The last time our mainframe business grew at all before that was 1989," he said. "We went from a decline for 12 years in a row to being the fastest-growing platform of any server... You think I believe in Linux? You bet I do."
As for the future of Linux, Zeitler said he foresees the continuation of Linux use at the high end - mentioning IBM customers such as Shell, which uses Linux clusters for compute-intensive gas and oil exploration applications - and the evolution of grid computing for scientific research.
Grid computing involves the interconnection of servers by running a layer of software on top of all servers, allowing nodes with different operating systems to share resources such as processing and storage over a wide area. The concept has been called the successor of the Internet, by allowing computers to communicate directly to each other to collaborate on problem solving, rather than serving as just an electronic interstate for sharing HTTP and multimedia traffic. Deployments of grid technology such as the multi-organizational TeraGrid and projects at the University of Pennsylvania are being used for such projects as cancer and genetics research, Zeitler said.
"This interconnection of heterogeneous environments won't happen without open systems," he added.