LINUXWORLD: More services aimed at businesses

Last year's LinuxWorld Conference & Expo in New York was a time for major vendors like IBM and Hewlett-Packard to debut new hardware offerings running various flavors of the Linux open-source operating system.

This year, with Linux-based server sales holding their own, the focus is on keeping those customers happy by giving them the kind of service and support that until now has mainly gone to customers running Unix and Windows. The Linux community is also looking for ways to broaden use of the operating system in business computing.

IBM, HP and Red Hat Inc. are among the major companies announcing details of their Linux strategies for this year prior to the opening this week of LinuxWorld at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in Manhattan. An educational conference opens tomorrow with seminars and training, and the show opens Jan. 30. All events continue through Feb. 1.

Mike Balma, a Linux strategist at HP, said the move to an increased array of outsourcing, migration and porting services that have been traditionally available to Unix customers is part of the continued rollout of the operating system within HP's product line. Previously, HP had informally offered such integral service and support only to its best Linux customers. But as the operating system gains momentum, more customers are seeking more services, he said.

"A worldwide customer base makes this viable," Balma said.

Also new for HP is utility pricing, which is now being offered to Linux customers, allowing them to pay for the operating system based on usage -- rather than standard licensing fees. Lower usage means lower fees, while higher usage would bring higher fees for customers.

"This is part of an overall strategy for HP," Balma said. "We firmly believe that utility pricing is the way to go."

HP is also announcing new products in the telecommunications and networking markets, including new servers and increased graphics capabilities aimed at customers requiring high-performance 3-D graphics, such as engineering and animation. "Linux is coming in in different places than people expect," Balma said.

IBM late last week announced its first Linux-only mainframe due in March. The company said the mainframe, which it will offer at a starting price of US$400,000 and which has up to four processors, will bring mainframe computing to businesses at lower prices than seen before.

The new machines will "expose Linux on the mainframe to a new set of customers who didn't have traditional mainframe skills," such as application service providers, said Peter McCaffrey, managing director of zSeries sales at IBM.

Traditional mainframe users are also being targeted with the new hardware, because it will allow server consolidation and lower costs, he said. The new mainframes will available with the operating systems of Red Hat, SuSE AG or TurboLinux Inc.

Red Hat plans to tout broadened services to customers and is unveiling new secure enterprise services and support programs to larger businesses. "We're really scaling this thing and putting in enterprise functionality," said Paul Cormier, an executive vice president of engineering at the Research Triangle Park, N.C.-based Linux vendor.

The new offerings will include workgroup services aimed at managing large numbers of machines, as well as new tools to provide multiple administrative, updating and security capabilities under the Red Hat Network management services.

LinuxWorld will feature keynote speeches by HP CEO and Chairwoman Carly Fiorina Jan. 30, followed by Sanjay Kumar, president and CEO of Islandia, N.Y.-based Computer Associates International Inc., Jan. 31.

About 150 vendors are expected at the show, which is down from about 200 at last year's LinuxWorld, said Rob Schescherareg, a vice president of sales, marketing and product development at Boston-based IDG, which runs the event. Some of the decrease is due to the economy, because some of pure-play Linux companies no longer exist, he said. IDG expects up to 19,000 visitors to the show, down from about 25,000 last year.

"What we're seeing is the maturation of the market," Schescherareg said. "That's really nothing but good news."

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