IBM expects Linux to make money

IBM has combined its “church” and “state” Linux functions under Bob Sutor, whose title now reads vice president of open source and Linux. (Picture from the resume page of Sutor’s Web site.)
In the latest installment of his podcast interviews, Linux Foundation executive director Jim Zemlin found Sutor focused mainly on opportunities for server and cloud Linux, through partnerships with Red Hat and Novell.

A rush transcript has been posted to the Linux Foundation web site, for those who find reading faster than listening.

Sutor’s latest promotion gave him not only corporate responsibility for Linux but profit responsibility also.

“If it’s IBM software, and if it runs on Linux, I care about it, and from a software company perspective, we want to sell more of it,” he told Zemlin, and much of the discussion involved IBM’s search for Linux profits.

Sutor described Linux as a secret sauce that lets it sell complete systems which may include Tivoli management, Rational tools, Websphere web servers, and IBM hardware. He said IBM currently has over 500 software products running on Linux and over 30,000 Linux desktops.

Still, IBM is tightly focused on server sales and the development of clouds, which can be sold, rented, or deliver profitable services.

For cloud computing, “why wouldn’t you run it on Linux?” he asked, because Linux can deliver all kinds of virtualization and those who want Windows desktops need never know they’re not.

(Picture of tux in a suit from IBM developer Tung-Sing Chong.)

Thanks to clouds IBM can profitably deliver thousands of desktops that look like Windows but have Linux on the back-end. It can also sell servers that are compatible with its clouds at the deepest level. Its alliance with Novell assures Windows file compatibility, and the one with Red Hat helps it in the corporate market.

Sutor also said IBM’s intense efforts on behalf of the Open Docuement Format are centered on interoperability:

by driving something like OpenDocument Format, it means you could have an organization that used these tools, and some people could be on Windows, and some could be on Linux, and some could be on the Mac, and some could be on iPhones, and some could be on Android phones, and so forth and so forth.

Thanks in part to IBM’s work, Sutor said, some 16 governments are now either mandating ODF or “suggesting it very strongly,” which can be almost as good.

Sutor and Zemlin also discussed what might be called the “corporate-cloud boundary,” the point in the growth of an enterprise system where building a cloud starts to make economic sense. Clouds start to make sense when heavy virtualization takes place, Sutor said, and there are new problems to solve.

But Sutor also defended the enterprise model:

if you’re purely looking at Enterprise workloads, no—it’s not all going to go to a cloud. It may not even be the majority of it goes to the cloud.

One final point Sutor made is that cloud computing will not always be a Linux lake. There will be clouds that, for technical or billing reasons, run things other than Linux. IBM will be happy to build them, if it can make money at it.

And that’s the real bottom line here. For Sutor today, the bottom line is the bottom line. I see nothing wrong with that. Having profit going to vendors who use Linux may be the best possible advertisement for open source. And IBM is doing that.

BY Dana Blankenhorn

Dana Blankenhorn has been a business journalist for 30 years, a tech freelancer since 1983. You can follow Dana on Twitter. See his full profile and disclosure of his industry affiliations.

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