Industry Leader Q&A with IBM’s Inna Kuznetsova

Inna Kuznetsova is Director, IBM Linux Strategy. Her team drives Linux business across IBM, sets business goals and ensures business management system support for them. The team also follows the market trends and identifies key short- and long-term strategies; and works across the broad IBM organization to provide proper coverage of Linux in sales, marketing and product management.

Kuznetsova recently talked with LinuxLine about IBM's Linux strategy, how the approach has evolved, and what she sees ahead for Linux in the enterprise.

LinuxLine: What is it about Linux that makes it so strategic to IBM's clients?
Kuznetsova: Linux has evolved to provide enterprise-grade operating system functionality-combined with multiple possibilities to cut costs. These possibilities range from the general pricing structure and the ability to avoid version upgrade charges, to the ability to select the best platform for each workload staying within the same OS environment or consolidate workloads to reduce energy consumption for cooling. This makes Linux especially attractive during the recession-and combined with its robust functionality, improved RAS, one of the highest grades of security, open standards and ongoing evolution positions, it is a strategic choice for current and future deployments. The size and constant growth of the Linux market has attracted a large number of software vendors.

LinuxLine: What does this mean for customers?
Kuznetsova: It means customers have a good choice of all elements of their stacks. And the recent industry trend to move off Sun due to ongoing concerns about its uncertain future and lack of path forward on hardware contributes to the reasons to select Linux as one of the easiest and most attractive migration destinations.

LinuxLine: What are the components of IBM's cross-platform Linux strategy?
Kuznetsova: We believe that the customers get the best value from the ability to choose the best platform for each workload-as opposed to a 'one-size-fits-all' approach. So our strategy is focused on providing customers with a choice. All IBM server lines run Linux as Tier 1 OS-which means we do not only support it, but also have enabled Linux to take full advantage of underlying platform capabilities, such as high RAS.

For example, if you compare Linux and AIX performance on Power, you will see no difference-but there is about 20% difference in performance of Linux and HP-UX on Itanium. We ensure that customers running Linux on mainframes or Power Systems can take advantage of the additional platform capabilities, such as Live Partition Mobility on Power or dynamic memory upgrade on mainframes. We also provide customers with capabilities to run multiple operating systems on the same server-for example, Volkswagen AG runs both Linux and AIX on their system. We offer over 500 middleware products on Linux and an extensive portfolio of services, ranging from basic Linux support to comprehensive migration projects or unique proof of concepts building.

LinuxLine: Are there pivotal pieces or themes to IBM's Linux strategy?
Kuznetsova: We have identified five strategic areas for our investments that are based on market trends and customer requirements.

First is the Big Green Linux project-a cross-company initiative to reduce energy consumption in IBM and customers' data centers by server consolidation, improved resources management and workload balancing.

As a part of this project, we consolidated 3,900 servers supporting an IBM 8,200-server infrastructure on just 30 mainframes running Linux and project a huge reduction in office space and energy consumption as a result. Many of our customers consolidate workloads as well.  For example, Bank of New Zealand recently consolidated 200 Sun servers running internet banking and teller functions on mainframes with Red Hat Linux, projecting a 20% ROI over the life of the project.

The second strategic area is Linux for business critical workloads-we see a huge increase in customers using Linux to run complex vertical applications, such as financial trading, or cross-company solutions, such as ERP and CRM. Our role is to ensure that they have IT solutions that meet the requirements of such critical environments-high availability, security, enterprise-grade system management tools.

The third area is Linux for the mid-market. Mid-market lagged behind the large enterprise segment for a while, mostly because small IT departments could neither take on the support of multiple operating environments, nor get a sufficient number of applications to implement the full stack on Linux. With the growth of the Linux market, more software vendors have moved into it and today mid-market customers get a good choice of solutions and have started to actively leverage Linux to reduce IT costs. At IBM, we focus on developing solutions specifically for mid-market needs-easy to buy,
install and run.

Fourth, there is Linux on the desktop-a fast growing area supported by multiple factors, from low adoption of Vista to availability of products for heterogeneous systems.

And last, there are always emerging Linux workloads, cloud being of the most popular examples. We run clouds in all parts of the world based on IBM Blue Cloud architecture, built on Linux and we offer services to quickly plan and deploy a private enterprise cloud. IBM collaborates with strategic alliances-Red Hat and Novell-to develop, market and deliver solutions in all five areas.

LinuxLine: How has IBM's Linux focus evolved over the past years?

Kuznetsova: IBM has been committed to Linux for 10 years. In fact, back in December '08 we celebrated a decade since our decision to run Linux on IBM servers and later in the year we will mark the 10-year anniversary of the IBM Linux Technology Center, a large group of developers dedicated to Linux and open source. Over those years we became one of the top providers of Linux solutions. We also became one of the major players in Linux community-we are the second largest contributor of Linux kernel changes, a platinum-level member of the Linux Foundation, and an active participant in a number of organizations promoting open standards and protecting the Linux ecosystem-the Open Invention Network, the Free Software Foundation, the Software Freedom Law Center, the Linux Standards Base, and Common Criteria certification, just to name a few.

We partner with such leaders in the Linux market as Red Hat and Novell- not only in sales and marketing, but in development of new technologies, testing early versions and planning new strategic initiatives. Last, we practice what we preach-we became one of the largest commercial users of Linux. In addition to the already mentioned consolidation of our infrastructure on Linux, we run multiple deployments of Linux in business-critical environments-thus, a 300 mm. chip plant near New York, a large supplier to the defense industry, runs its operations on Linux. We run sales tools and configurators on Linux in Europe and over 25,000 IBM employees work on Red Hat Linux desktops. Our commitment to Linux is as strong as ever as we start our second decade.

LinuxLine: Why is it important for organizations to include Linux in their overall IT infrastructure?
Kuznetsova: It is important to include an OS only if it fits the customer's IT strategy and requirements-there is no 'one-size-fits-all' prescription for any technology. Customers should always question the reasons for transition to Linux from the standpoint of the advantages they get. Linux will always be optimized across all hardware platforms-by the nature of its design by a community. Therefore, customers who have an open source strategy and look for easy ways to integrate different hardware in one system, choosing the best platform for each workload yet staying within the same OS environment, may benefit. This becomes the case even more with the growth in M&A activity that always happens as the market comes out of a recession; merging IT systems is one of the most expensive tickets of integration work and Linux often helps to lower the costs.

Overall, cost reduction is one of the major drivers in adding Linux to IT infrastructure. It offers more flexibility and control over expense (e.g., no payments to upgrade to a higher version of the same distribution). It allows for consolidation of workloads on higher platforms, such as mainframes or Power Systems-significantly reducing the energy consumption and office space. Last, you should not overlook the substantial savings provided by Linux on desktops-not only through subscriptions vs. Microsoft licenses costs, but also the avoidance of desktop hardware upgrades.

LinuxLine: What can it offer to them?
Kuznetsova: IBM offers a choice of hardware platform-with a possibility to select the
best combination of platforms for customer's strategy and environment, including running multiple OS on the same server. We have over 500 middleware products running on Linux. And last but not least-we have proven experience to help customer evaluate, plan and execute migrations. We have migrated over 1,800 customers from competitive platforms to IBM over the last 3 years with the help of IBM Migration Factory. Many of them choose Linux as destination-for example, about half of all large Sun customers who moved to IBM after the Oracle-Sun merger announcement use Linux.

We can leverage IBM LTC to create unique proofs of concepts and plan solutions jointly with customers that push the envelope in terms of complexity and technological advantage. Or, on the other side of spectrum, we can offer pre-integrated solutions developed specially for mid-market customers, such as Lotus Foundations-easy to buy, install and run. We also offer office software packages for Linux desktops-Lotus Symphony and Open Collaboration Client-that allows customers to work in a heterogeneous environment, where Windows and Linux desktop users can successfully collaborate on the same documents and projects. And, we have virtual desktop

Last, but not least, due to its small footprint, Linux is often used in clouds. IBM offers a spectrum of services helping customers to build and deploy their internal clouds with Blue Cloud architecture based on Linux.

LinuxLine: What is the extent of the resources IBM's has committed to the Linux kernel?
Kuznetsova: IBM Linux Technology Center (LTC) developers actively participate in Linux kernel development-in fact, we are the second largest commercial company-provider of kernel changes according to the recent results published by Linux Foundation. We also work on subsystem development with a focus on areas that help our clients further leverage Linux as a business critical environment, such as RAS, systems management and security, as well as new expanded functionality, like Real Time. In addition, IBM supports over 100 large Open Source projects-Mozilla, Apache, Eclipse, just to name a few. We have over 1,000 developers engaged in Linux and open source work.

LinuxLine: Why are virtualized Linux desktops getting so much attention? Why do they work so well?

Kuznetsova: Virtualized Linux desktops allow for deployment of a desktop environment from a server-a user can sign up from any desktop computer connected to the network and get access to his/her files and documents, as well as the necessary office productivity tools. It provides a lot of advantages.

First, the virtualized Linux desktop approach offers increased security. Since the data never leaves the server, it allows the employees to work from different location without putting sensitive data at risk. For example, doctors can work on medical histories-from different offices of the same medical network without taking social security numbers and insurance information out of the building on a laptop, where it can be stolen complicating patients' lives and creating liability for the employer.

Second, there are lower desktop hardware costs since a virtual client has a smaller footprint. Less powerful hardware and smaller footprint also account for additional energy savings.

Third, there are significant savings in system administration and customer service, since the work can be performed from a server. All of this explains a growing interest to virtual desktops, especially in industries where these advantages are critical, such as call centers or medical networks.

LinuxLine: Can you give us an example of situations in which they have been deployed to an organization's benefit?
Kuznetsova: Glendale Adventist Medical Center in Southern California hospital deployed 65 thin clients to provide its patients with email and web access bedside. They improved the quality of customer care-the patients can get connected to loved ones, edit and share photographs, surf the web to evaluate treatment options and prepare for the discussion with the doctor, play music and check email. And at the same time the hospital reports over 90% reduction in customer service calls and 50% reduction of the overall IT costs compared to maintaining normal desktops. The IT management is centralized and secure, requiring negligible time to maintain the system. Linux offers a lower cost than proprietary operating systems and because the hospital is using energy efficient thin clients, the energy consumption is reduced compared to regular PCs. They also improved the patients' privacy-no personal data is left on the local monitor after the patient checks out of the hospital room.

The hospital sees this added client services as a way to attend to the patients' emotional needs and to differentiate its business from competitors.  Using virtual Linux desktops and a centralized server is a way to keep the costs at a minimum. In the future, the hospital plans to extend these patient desktops to its greater hospital network and explore
tapping them for clinical use.

LinuxLine: What are some of the new frontiers and initiatives for Linux that you see ahead?
Kuznetsova: I think we will see growth in the number and complexity of business-critical environments built on Linux, often associated with consolidation of workloads to reduce energy consumption. The growing trend to migrate off Sun to Linux supports this trend.  Cloud implementations-both the private clouds, behind the firewall, and commercial clouds-will mature and gain broader acceptance.  Today, we already see a high level of interest in Linux and open source in growth economies. The customers are less burdened with legacy systems and often need to stretch budgets further, so they leverage Linux to cut costs while growing their IT infrastructures.  And, we will most certainly see more customers taking advantage of open source desktop alternatives.

Editor's note: Inna Kuznetsova was promoted to Vice President, Marketing and Sales Enablement, IBM Systems Software, STG, after this interview was  conducted. With a broad mission that includes Linux, Kuznetsova is taking her team and her previous mission to the new organization.