IBM Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Co. are making it safe for enterprises to dip their toes into the Linux waters, according to a recently released research report.
Research and consulting firm D.H. Brown Associates Inc. recently evaluated the Linux strategies of the four big-iron server vendors IBM, HP, Sun Microsystems Inc., and Dell Inc., across criteria that included: whether the vendor pursues a broad or focused Linux strategy; product line breadth; system pricing; areas of added value; services and support; and community support.
"Significant support from the software and systems community fuels this increasing Linux relevance," said report author, executive vice president and research director Pierre Fricke. "Dell's, HP's, IBM's, Sun's and Oracle's commitment and delivery of Linux solutions all serve to make Linux a safe environment."
IBM and HP garnered high marks, especially in services and support, product line breadth, application focus, community leadership and value-added services like system management, hardware differentiation, blade server offerings and open-source partnerships.
Sun and Dell were lauded for their focused Linux strategies. Sun was tops on the desktop, while Dell scored high marks for its customer experience.
IBM and HP were recognized for their broad Linux strategies, defined as approaches that try to drive Linux into new and existing market segments. Sun and Dell, meanwhile, have stronger, focused strategies and concentrate their efforts on specific areas where Linux dominates in the enterprise, like network perimeter applications and Internet infrastructure.
HP picked up significant muscle last year when it acquired Compaq and assumed control of its IA32 Proliant server line. Along with IBM, HP is in hot pursuit of high-end business, focusing on ERP, high-performance computing clusters and even grid computing. IBM is also making gains in server consolidation projects with Linux on the mainframe.
"IBM pursues the broadest and most aggressive strategy driving Linux into most segments and industries in the enterprise with its large kernel, operating system and middleware investments along with broad ISV programs," Fricke wrote.
Dell and Sun have more narrow focuses. Sun is investing in edge-of-network applications and even the desktop. Dell, meanwhile, has strong partnerships with Oracle on 9i Real Application Clusters and is targeting high-performance computing opportunities and Unix migrations to Linux.
IBM, HP leading way with products
IBM is also a Linux server leader with products available on Intel, RISC and mainframe servers. It is also solid in Linux software and middleware support, DH Brown said.
HP, meanwhile, is a close second, DH Brown said. Its Linux offerings go across its Alpha, IA32 and IA64 server systems, as well as its StorageWorks line and even iPAQ handheld computers.
Sun offers Linux products on its Cobalt appliances, IA32 servers and its new SunFire V60x/V65x two-way servers and the Sun Fire x86 blade server. Dell also offers Linux on its server, storage, client lines and dedicated network appliances.
Price is right
DH Brown evaluated the big four on pricing, based on eight-way SMP servers running the 2.4 kernel. The report evaluates pricing on Linux server offerings, including appliances, rack servers, two-way and four-way systems. Dell had the lowest system pricing that included services and preloads of Red Hat Linux. Sun is comparable with Dell on appliances and rack systems. But Sun offers only entry-level Linux systems, Fricke wrote.
IBM and HP suffer here because they chase high-volume pricing, which is higher than Dell's. Similar configurations are also more expensive than Dell's.
Services and support
IBM Global Services leads the way in the services and support category, DH Brown said. HP runs a close second after acquiring Compaq's significant services presence on the IA32 end. Both offer multivendor technical support and service offerings and their Linux support matches that of other proprietary platforms like IBM's AIX and HP-UX.
Dell includes enterprise support into its contracts, and offers the same level of support for Linux as it does for Windows. But it only supports Red Hat Linux.
IBM, HP in front with apps
IBM again was singled out in the report for "expanding the application base on Linux...and enabling the transition for ISVs by means of enablement programs and tools," the report said.
Dell, HP and IBM all support Oracle 9i database and SAP applications. IBM and HP, meanwhile, stood out for opening Linux centers for vertical markets like the financial services industry, particularly with Solaris migrations.
HP has inked strong partnerships with BEA, Oracle and SAP, supporting R/3 on Linux. Dell's application strategy targets the enterprise, especially migrations from Unix. Dell also partners on Oracle database applications and with SAP, and has ISV relationships with BEA, BMC, Computer Associates and Veritas, among others.
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