IBM bullish on Linux, but will keep DB2 proprietary

The company says it has internal give and take between Linux and OSes like Windows, but no plans to open-source its DB2 database

IBM may have made the open source Linux OS a staple of its software line, but is is keeping its own DB2 database proprietary, a company official said on Wednesday afternoon.

Asked about the notion of open-sourcing DB2 during the Linux Foundation Collaboration Summit in San Francisco, Jim Wasko, director of the IBM Linux Technology Center, said such an issue was "a challenge for us at IBM." Afterward, he acknowledged directly that an open source avenue for DB2 was not planned.

[ The Linux Foundation announced a carrier grade Linux upgrade on Wednesday. | Get the latest insights and news on open source trends with InfoWorld's Technology: Open Source newsletter. | Follow Paul Krill on Twitter. ]

Wasko said there was conflict within IBM depending on different product lines, such as his having a Linux bias and Windows representatives in IBM having a Windows bias. "It's a constant give and take," he noted. "Do we sacrifice some software revenue for services revenue?" In another instance, the issue may be about whether to sacrifice hardware revenue, he said, joking that "it depends on whose bonus it's based on."

"It's something [in which] we constantly evaluate what makes the most sense," Wasko said during a panel session about Linux and enterprise and cloud computing. Just prior to the DB2 query, Wasko was asked whether Oracle's acquisition of Sun Microsystems and its open source projects, such as MySQL, had affected Linux usage with these products. "It's created some challenges for us," he responded. Elaborating on his response later, Wasko said Oracle has been trying to get customers to swap out IBM equipment for Oracle's own Exadata server and the Oracle database.

Earlier on Wednesday at the conference, Linux Executive Director Jim Zemlin cited the upcoming 20th anniversary of Linux, which occurs in August. "It's amazing to think but it's been 20 years since Linus Torvalds's original post announcing the Linux project," Zemlin said. The choice of the GNU General Public License for Linux and the freedom offered to use the software as users' pleased revolutionized the computing industry, he said.

Since then, companies like Red Hat have businesses around Linux, and key users abound, such as Google and air traffic control and global equity trading systems, Zemlin said. "You use [Linux] literally every time you surf the Internet." Meanwhile, participation in development of the platform is widespread. "Today, the Linux kernel community numbers in the thousands."

For 2011, Zemlin anticipates more innovative business models based on open source; pre-integrated, minimal-configuration computing powered by Linux; and an expansion of specialized, high-performance computing in the vein of IBM's Watson, which uses Linux. In the mobile space, much is still to be decided given the still-evolving marketplace, according to Zemlin. "My main point here is the fat lady hasn't sung yet," he said, noting that there is still "no declared winner" and opportunities abound for compelling products based on Linux.

He also advised against believing the "fear, uncertainty, and doubt" around copyright and patent issues: "I assure you, most of this really not relevant." People will comply with licenses, and the fear seems to emanate from Linux competitors, Zemlin contended.

During a panel session covering the Linux kernel, kernel maintainer Andrew Morton, commenting on where Linux might be in 20 years, said he suspected "it'll still be going strong." But there was a chance some new technology could come along and make Linux obsolete, while still emulating the x86 architecture, he said: "I doubt within 20 years' time the kernel's going to be much smaller or simpler or easier to understand."

Zemlin and officials from several companies, including Texas Instruments and Wind River, touted the foundation's Yocto Project. "[Yocto] is a set of common tools that will help companies, particularly in the embedded space, make custom products" and enable rich innovation, Zemlin said. Yocto Project Release 1.0 was made available on Wednesday.

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