Growth Path for IBM Linux

Jim Stallings, IBM's new general manager of Linux, prepares to build on the vision of his predecessor.

IBMs new general manager of Linux, Jim Stallings, has a tough act to follow in Steve Solazzo, who spearheaded the Armonk, N.Y., companys thrust into Linux and is credited with building that move into a billion-dollar business. Stallings took time late last month to sit down with Senior Editor Peter Galli and discuss his Linux vision.

eWeek: Tell me a bit about your history at IBM.

Stallings: Ive spent a lot of time within IBM, as well as an entrepreneur outside the company. In total, Ive spent about 18 years with IBM. I have been in branch sales; worked on several corporate assignments in the chairmans office; and was also vice president of worldwide sales for the then AS/400 group, where I worked with [IBM Senior Vice President] Bill Zeitler.

I left IBM in late 1996 and became [chief operating officer] of Physician Sales & Services Inc., a distribution company in the medical supplies business. From there, I founded a startup in the home technology business in Florida, known as eHouse, geared toward bringing smart devices into the home that could be controlled remotely.

eWeek: So what dragged you back?

Stallings: I got bored playing golf, and IBM had changed. I had a lot of friends and contacts there. The timing was extraordinarily good for me. IBM was launching a brand-new initiative, a new agenda, with e-business on demand. I literally showed up in September 2002 as that was rolling out. It was something I could understand and something I lived through as an entrepreneur. I could relate to the business issues that IBM was trying to solve. I thought it would be a lot of fun to get involved in, and it was. I was in charge of integrated accounts, some 60 large IBM accounts.

eWeek: Had you, up to that point, had much exposure to Linux?

Stallings: No, not really, and I shared that with the team early on. Outside, we read about it, but we did not deploy Linux in any of the environments I was in before. I was aware of it but not to the level I am now.

eWeek: Steve Solazzo is credited with building IBMs Linux business into what it is today. What are your priorities, and what do you see as your role going forward in the short term?

Stallings: Steve is a great visionary and did a fantastic job. One of the things I want to drive is to really make Linux enterprise-ready [and] demonstrate this to the market with real customer solutions. But we need to also make sure that, as we deploy it with customers, it has all of the functionality it needs to support them. Its moving out of pilot phase into production phase, and we have a lot of strength and capability around that in IBM. We know how to do that. We have to bring that competence to the Linux world, so thats a focus.

We also want to grow our business substantially. Making sure we stay on the hypergrowth track with Linux is another goal because it has proven that it does have an impact on server growth, solutions growth. Thirdly, I want to make sure we continue to participate in the open-source community because that is the secret sauce in Linux. Its not proprietary. I want to make sure we participate in that side so we can share what we do real well.

eWeek: What do you need to do to make sure Linux continues to grow?

Stallings: There are a couple of things. As we grow our base of customers who have deployed Linux, [which] typically start small but eventually become production clients, as they move to production they require a lot of services. We are the biggest services company in the world. We have a solutions set of things that we can offer, which is one way to grow. If you consolidate from a multiserver environment to a big single server, this requires help. We can provide both the server and the services around that.

The other thing is continuing to enable all the platforms in the IBM family of products. When you do that, then no matter where the customer interacts with us, Linux is a part of this picture.

eWeek: A criticism of IBM is that the embracing of Linux was simply to drive your services business.

Stallings: Here are the numbers. Some 15 to 20 percent of our servers [sold] are Linux-driven. So it helps our server business, and we make a lot of money from our server business. There are other companies who dont make any money from their server business. Dell [Computer Corp.] and IBM are the only ones out there making money on their server business. So Linux is important to that business for us. It just so happens we also have a services business, and we make money on that, too.

eWeek: IBM said it remains committed to its Unix-based AIX product, but this competes with Linux in many ways. How do you work around this?

Stallings: Its driven by the customer. What we find is that our customers have, and want, both. Thats why we offer both. This whole notion that theres going to be one operating system is incorrect. Enterprises arent going to throw out huge investments in infrastructure overnight and migrate. So theyre finding that Linux is one way to unite these islands of information and data. The power now is that the customer can choose.

eWeek: Are you going to be spending a lot of your time talking to the big customers?

Stallings: Im on a 100-day plan to meet as many customers as possible. Ive spent the past 10 days getting to know the team we have supporting it and a few customers. But Ill be unleashed after LinuxWorld. Thats where you find the opportunities.