The company is soliciting ideas and promoting its own recommendations on conserving resources through its Smarter Planet approach.
Bob Sutor, IBM's VP of open source and Linux, said IBM now has 500 software products that have been ported to run natively on Linux, an indication of the stake IBM has in Linux's future.
Sutor noted that statistic in an interview with InformationWeek, prior to his address at the Open Source Business Conference. Linux runs on all the server architectures offered by IBM and has helped make the mainframe a more cost-competitive architecture. All IBM storage systems also work with Linux, he noted.
What's less well known is that IBM plays a behind-the-scenes role in ensuring that Linux keeps its stability and robustness in the enterprise. IBM engineers maintain the Linux Test Project, a set of test suites available to open source projects to use in ensuring the reliability of Linux with their output.
IBM established the Linux Technology Center in 1999 at a time when Linux was not taken seriously by some IT managers. The center is responsible for making sure IBM products work with Linux and offers IBM customers a test bed in which to do things with Linux that IBM hadn't thought of itself. IBM engineers can sometimes augment an innovation at a customer site to make it more general purpose and useful to the Linux community.
Over the last year, IBM has been prompting greener practices in the data center and the application of more sophisticated technology to make a wiser use of natural resources.
"We're thinking about the Smarter Planet Initiative and how many ways Linux and standards fit into that," Sutor said.
"We can see the world is becoming instrumented, with RFID tags" on thousands of products. Why can't parking spaces be instrumented in some way to indicate when they're available, as opposed to "people driving around the block in cities, looking for parking?" he asked.
Through its Smarter Planet approach, IBM is soliciting ideas and promoting its own recommendations on wiser water use, cheaper health care record handling, smarter ways of managing life in cities, better oil field management, and more efficient consumption off the electrical grid.
Accomplishing this will require more standards, such as standard ways of measuring appliance electrical consumption and standard commands built into appliances for turning them on and off, based on grid conditions, he said.
There's "a synergy between our growing compute power and the use of open source" to forge a greener planet, he said. Linux, with its adjustable, modular nature, could serve as the operating system of choice in many settings, without adding to the cost of embedding a management system in appliances.
"You should be able to diagnose when your water heater is going bad," or automatically have your washer go on when the cheapest power is available in the middle of the night, Sutor said.
In the enterprise world, the current drive for cheaper technology can sometimes align with greener technology. Sutor switched from a discussion of standards for the public good back into IBM products. In December, IBM announced it would offer virtual desktops through Virtual Bridges software and Canonical's Ubuntu Linux. Virtual desktops can run on existing hardware, saving a hardware upgrade for the latest version of Windows. Or they can be displayed on energy-saving thin clients; IBM recently signed a thin-client agreement with Wyse, with some Wyse models consuming 6.6 watts, compared with 240-290 watts for standard PCs.
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