In what could be the largest commercial deployment of its kind to date, IBM last week announced that it's selling 15,200 Linux-based servers to a Japanese convenience-store chain.
The Linux servers, part of IBM's new eServer xSeries, will be used in about 7600 Lawson convenience stores in Japan, according to IBM. It will also run the installation, using remote monitoring software and services.
The servers, which will power the stores' existing touch-screen-equipped "Loppi" kiosks, will enable shoppers to download music, movies and other Web content in addition to booking airline and concert tickets.
Steve Sollazzo, vice president of Linux strategy at IBM, said the dealis "firm evidence that Linux is really beginning to ascend to the enterprise."
IBM and Lawson wouldn't reveal the value of the deal, nor would they announce what version of Linux the servers will run. IBM offers distributions of Linux from Caldera Systems, Red Hat, TurboLinux and SuSE AG.
However, Red Hat spokeswoman Melissa London said US-based Red Hat is providing the Linux software that IBM will use in the Lawson servers.
Two servers will be installed in each store to provide redundancy, Sollazzo said. IBM support personnel in Japan will be linked to the stores electronically to allow remote monitoring and service, leaving store employees free to concentrate on customers.
The servers are expected to be installed by March.
IDC analyst Al Gillen described the deal as significant for IBM and Linux.
"It's a pretty big chunk of machines" being used by a very visible company, Gillen said. "We're seeing Linux being used in places where you might not have seen it two years ago."
The agreement is also important because it shows that a commercial enterprise has the confidence to deploy a Linux-based system in a key part of its business, Gillen said. Lawson's comfort is probably partly attributable to the fact that IBM has a global service and support network which includes the IBM Linux Support Centre in Tokyo,he said.
"That will surely give [Lawson] a lot more confidence," said Gillen. "That's one of the things Linux has needed."
Bill Claybrook, an analyst at Aberdeen Group, believes the deal will significantly improve the general perception of Linux.
"It's such a big deal that so many [Linux] servers are being sold to such a large customer that it sort of catches everyone's eye," Claybrook said. "It's a perception at least that Linux is now being more widely accepted."
Claybrook said the deal is good because it highlights a kiosk-based application that will be a good showplace for what Linux can do for retailers.