Linus Torvalds began writing the Linux operating system in 1991 to teach himself how to use the Intel 80386 chip. As such, the program was initially designed to take advantage of all of the chip's idiosyncrasies. Since then, Linux has become significantly more portable, running on everything from PCs to mainframes to embedded devices.
Already, IBM sells about 50 percent of its solutions on Linux platforms, according to Tom Swett, global general manager, IBM Financial Markets. "We've demonstrated that the cost of computing with Linux is going to be more efficient in a number of ways," he says.
Attempting to regain the ground it ceded to Microsoft and Intel with the growth of Windows in the 1990s, IBM has released a low-end server designed expressly to run Linux. Returning the favor, Linux has evolved the capability to take advantage of the specific features of IBM's Power Architecture, an open chip design initially developed by IBM, Apple Computer (Cupertino, Calif.) and Motorola (Schaumburg, Ill.). "As Linux and its capabilities continue to evolve into the mainstream, we've got the platform that will allow that transition to happen quickly," says Dwight Tausz, business development executive for IBM's Linux on POWER initiative.
IBM Power Architecture can allow a single server to act as if it were several. "You can take a four-way [OpenPower] 720 and make it look like a virtual 40-way server," says Tausz. "Linux kernel 2.6 allows you to take advantage of that processor and that virtualization."
In practical terms, virtualization allows an enterprise to consolidate all of its various servers onto a single box, keeping the individual applications intact and their connections with the network unchanged. While this capability had been present in the Power Architecture chips, it has now been unlocked by the latest version of the Linux operating system.
Once an operating system and a computer chip have learned to work in harmony, the next step is finding applications.
Sybase (Dublin, Calif.) has teamed up with IBM to offer its enterprise database software on these IBM Power Architecture servers using Linux. "This new partnership will provide world-class, mission-critical 24/7 support worldwide," says David Jacobson, senior director of product marketing, Sybase. "It's backed by the largest number of Linux experts anywhere in the world, between Sybase and IBM."
Their first target market is financial services, where Sybase has its strength in capital markets and insurance. In banking, the company's biggest plays can be found overseas. "We just signed Bank of China -- among the three largest banks in China and one of the five largest in the world -- to run Sybase," says Jacobson. "They're looking for departmental solutions to run their bank branches, and they're looking for enterprise-wide systems to roll those bank branches together."
The January '05 issue of BS&T will include further coverage of banks' choices in the operating systems market. Watch for it!