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An Interview with John Patrick

Friday, March 31, 2000

By Andy Webb, Wall Street & Technology

IBM’s recent announcement of support for Linux, the open-source operating system designed by a global community of programmers, has given the OS a massive credibility boost. In fact, given the range and debth of the existing Web-related applications that IBM has already made available on Linux, it’s now increasingly being seen as a viable platform for financial e-commerce applications and Web sites.

John Patrick, IBM’s vice president of Internet technology and one of the leading figures in designinig IBM’s Internet strategy, has also been closely involved in IBM’s Linux initiative. In an industry where job-hopping and narrow specialization have become almost endemic, Patrick is unusual. A 30-year veteran of IBM, Patrick spent much of his early career in various sales, marketing and management positions and, among other innovations, was responsible for the development of IBM’s leasing business at IBM Credit Corporation. He then moved on to become CFO of a number of IBM business units, before switching in 1992 to become vice president of marketing for Personal Systems, where he was responsible for creating the ThinkPad brand.

More recently, Patrick has become increasingly involved with Internet technology, by creating such initiatives as the alphaWorks Web site, which is IBM’s online research and development laboratory for advanced Internet technology. Outside IBM, Patrick is also heavily Internet involved, being a founding member of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the international industry consortium responsible for realizing the Web’s full potential by developing common protocols that promote its evolution and ensure its interoperability. He was also a founding member of the Global Internet Project (GIP), an international group of senior executives from Internet-centric companies committed to fostering continued growth of the Internet, on which he serves as chairman.

In an interview with writer Andy Webb, Patrick discusses the implications of IBM’s support for Linux in financial markets, with particular reference to the open-source operating system’s role in financial e-commerce.

WALL STREET & TECHNOLOGY: With Linux Apache Web servers already hosting a huge number of Web sites, do you see the OS as having a primary role in financial e-commerce?

JOHN PATRICK: Only partly. We see Linux as a subset of an overall e-commerce solution, though we obviously see it over time as facilitating and accelerating the ability to become an e-business. The attractions are that it is open source, high quality and runs on many different platforms. We don’t think that any one hardware platform can meet everybody’s needs and we provide multiple platforms for that reason. Linux is attractive as it provides a means by which developers will be able to develop applications to run on whichever platform best suits their requirements. That could be anything from a high-end supercomputer, to a laptop — or a range of hardware in between.

WALL STREET & TECHNOLOGY: How do you see IBM’s support for Linux differing from that of other major OS and hardware vendors?

JOHN PATRICK: We feel that we’re taking a more aggressive stance than some other Unix vendors, some of whom are questioning the need for Linux at all. However, we feel that Linux’s cross platform abilities represent a big picture that’s worth seriously playing for.

WALL STREET & TECHNOLOGY: But is IBM’s announcement of Linux support anything more than an attempt to play catch-up with Sun and HP’s announcements and to cut into their marketshare?

JOHN PATRICK: Our goal is to be the industry leader in Unix systems and solutions and in the process better serve customers and offer them choices in the market. Linux is a rapidly expanding operating system and is part of the next big evolution in e-business standards, so it is only natural that we would want to offer customers the latest technology. Sun and HP’s commitment to Linux is relatively minor. IBM is committing technology, skills and an executive focus.

WALL STREET & TECHNOLOGY: Can you give an example of that?

JOHN PATRICK: We recently contributed IBM’s journaled file system technology (JFS) to the Linux community, with source code currently available for download from the open source and Linux zones in the IBM developerWorks Web site. One of the characteristics of the very best high-end, scalable, reliable operating systems that major financial institutions depend on, is journaling. Every transaction that occurs is journaled or logged, so that if there is an outage, data is not lost and a swift system restart can be made. That kind of system stability is obviously key to running high-performance e-business file servers. Linux doesn’t currently have this feature, which is one of the things that has prevented it from moving into the mission-critical applications areas. We aren’t just donating the source code; we’re also dedicating a team of software engineers to work full-time, adding journaling file system functionality to Linux.

WALL STREET & TECHNOLOGY: Does IBM still have the same committment to Project Monterey? Monterey’s objective of establishing a high-volume enterprise-class Unix product line that will run across Intel IA-32 and IA-64 processors as well as IBM’s Power processors in systems rangiing from departmental to large data center servers would seem to cover the same ground as Linux.

JOHN PATRICK: We still see the Project Monterey operating system as the premier operating environment for enterprise computing on systems using both Intel and IBM Power processor-based technology. Linux and AIX/Monterey serve different application segments — a situation we don’t see changing in the short term. We still intend to offer customers the capability to run Linux applications on both AIX and the Project Monterey operating system in the second half of this year.

WALL STREET & TECHNOLOGY: What has been the feedback from IBM’s clients regarding it’s support for Linux?

JOHN PATRICK: Consistently positive, because those leaving university campuses and joining the industry are now familiar with Linux already. The chief limiting factor for e-business is a skill shortage — not the ability to buy hardware and software — or lack of ideas or capital. A potential skill shortage clearly isn’t an issue with Linux. Clients also find the concept of open-source software appealing.

WALL STREET & TECHNOLOGY: How quickly do you see Linux finding a mainstream role in the financial industry?

JOHN PATRICK: I think it may take a couple of years before it finds its way into the financial applications area. In the short term, I think it will find a role within institutions as part of the “intelligent infrastructure.” For example, for mail and domain-name serving where the open source approach will appeal, because the large community working on it means that if ther is a security glitch, it gets discovered and fixed very quickly.

WALL STREET & TECHNOLOGY: But you still see the e-business angle for Linux as important?

JOHN PATRICK: Yes. To that end, IBM has already delivered all the critical elements of its application framework for e-business on Linux including WebSphere application servers powered by the Appache HTTP engine, Java Developer Kit, DBD universal database, Domino, Tivoli system management tools, MQSeries, and VisualAge for Java. Nevertheless, though, Linux has a place in e-commerce and the securities industry. I don’t see it quickly displacing existing IBM operating systems such as AIX and OS390 systems. After all, they have had three decades of honing at the high-end of the banking and securities industry.

WALL STREET & TECHNOLOGY: Despite the collaborative benefits of Linux’s open-source model, it’s not infallible. For example, the new Linux 2.4 kernel, which was due to add high-end support, scaling to eight processors from the current two, was scheduled for release at the same time as Windows 2000. It now looks as if it will be delayed by six months — doesn’t that pose someting of a problem?

JOHN PATRICK: While sooner is obviously better, given the stage that Linux is at in its evolution as a mainstream OS, I don’t think the delay is significant. The important thing is that it is coming, even if later than planned, especially since only a few people would have been ready to capitalize on it if it had arrive at the scheduled date.

[Quote 1] “Our goal is to be the industry leader in Unix systems and solutions and in the process, better serve customers and offer them choices in the market.”

[Quote 2] “Linux has a place in e-commerce and the securities industry, I don’t see it quickly displacing existing IBM operating systems such as AIX and OS390 systems.”