Linux Is Finally Prebundled on the iSeries
March 29, 2004 Timothy Prickett Morgan
When buying a new PC or server, the one thing you don’t want to do is install the operating system: It is a messy, time-consuming job. With Linux, which is unfamiliar to many people who are diving in for the first time, an install can be confusing if not downright dangerous if your frame of reference is Windows or OS/400. IBM and Novell have finally fixed this problem by prebundling Linux on IBM’s entire eServer line.
It is safe to say that if we all had to install our operating systems, the use of computers would significantly diminish. (I’ve always done my own installs, just so I know what Windows, Linux, or Unix is up to. Nonetheless, I am frequently baffled by cranky software.) For small businesses, buying a preloaded operating system is the only practical option, since they often do not have the expertise to do it themselves and end up with a secure, stable box. And while some midrange and enterprise customers create their own custom operating system and application stacks for PCs and servers, most buy machines with the base operating system configured. The preload option not only makes it easier for customers to start using a new computer but also gives them equal choice (do I buy OS/400 preloaded or Windows preloaded, or should I do my own Linux?) at the moment of purchase, and they can choose their operating systems based on the merits, not on their desire to avoid work.
For the past several years, as Linux has caught on, PC and server makers have been hesitant to make Linux a preload option, since this requires a lot of testing (which costs money) and it might rankle Microsoft (which can cost money, too). But with more enterprises asking for Linux preconfigured on machines, the major vendors think the market is finally real and that they can spend that money to make Linux a real option on their machines.
IBM has signed so many deals with both SuSE (which is now part of Novell) and Red Hat over the past three years that you may have been lulled into the mistaken impression that you could just buy an eServer with Linux versions from these companies pre-installed. It has been a do-it-yourself affair. And only recently have IBM and its channel partners been able to take an order for SuSE or Red Hat Linux and then pass it back to those companies so they could fulfill it.
With the new agreement IBM inked last week with Novell, you can now order Linux from either vendor and have it preinstalled on any eServer machine: iSeries, xSeries, pSeries, zSeries, BladeCenter, or the Opteron-based eServer 325. IBM is only bundling the SuSE Linux Enterprise Server 8 edition on its machines, so if you are buying an entry xSeries box and you want SuSE 8 Standard Edition, which is a low-cost, trimmed-down version, you will have to buy a bare-bones machine and install it yourself. Eventually, as IBM and Novell figure out that they need to preload and preconfigure SuSE 8 Standard Edition so they can get into small accounts, they will likely expand their relationship. Novell says that the deal is effective immediately and that IBM can start preloading now. When IBM actually starts preloading SuSE Linux is now a matter of tweaking its sales and manufacturing processes. This could take days, weeks, or months. The IBM-Novell preloading deal seems to be connected to the $50 million cash infusion Novell got last week from Big Blue, which was announced in November 2003 as Novell was acquiring SuSE.
Over at Red Hat, it was apparent not only that IBM did not give it $50 million in cash but also that IBM has been giving Red Hat the cold shoulder, since the company’s agreement with Big Blue only calls for a license of Red Hat Enterprise 3.0 to be bought and shipped concurrently with any Power-based machine, including the iSeries, the pSeries, and the JS20 PowerPC 970-based blade servers for the BladeCenter chassis. Neither Red Hat nor IBM announced the specifics of the shipment plans for the agreement.
Both IBM and Hewlett-Packard seem to be leading with SuSE now. Red Hat had better be nice to Michael Dell, and it might want to stay on Scott McNealy’s good side, too.