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ExxonMobil Travel Guide Migrating To IBM Linux Virtual Services

Vendor will host and maintain travel-planning and database apps for upcoming online service.
ExxonMobil Travel Guide LLC plans to launch an online service this year that will let drivers book and change travel plans while on the road. It's a new business model designed to generate revenue for the company, which launched two years ago with the financial backing of ExxonMobil and several other companies. To mitigate the risks of launching an online business that must accommodate the seasonal peaks and valleys of travel, ExxonMobil Travel Guide has signed a five-year contract to use IBM's Linux Virtual Services, one of the IT vendor's utility computing offerings.

ExxonMobil Travel Guide this week begins the process of migrating newly developed travel-planning and database applications for its Mobil Companion service to IBM, which will host and maintain them on a mainframe running Linux. The arrangement works like a cell-phone calling plan: ExxonMobil Travel Guide essentially rents mainframe, storage, and networking capacity from IBM and agrees to pay a minimum monthly fee per service unit--which represents the combined usage of mainframe, storage, and networking resources at an IBM data center. If ExxonMobil Travel Guide uses fewer service units, it pays the minimum; if it uses more, it pays for each service unit above the minimum. Although ExxonMobil Travel Guide wouldn't disclose how much it will pay IBM over the next five years, IBM generally charges about $300 per service unit for Linux Virtual Services.

IBM's zSeries servers, SuSE Linux, an Apache-based Linux Web server, DB2 Universal Database, and WebSphere application servers form the core of Linux Virtual Services. IBM can also host customers' custom-developed Linux applications. In addition to hosting applications, IBM also manages the applications and the physical environment around its servers.

CIO Paul Mercuro wasn't specifically looking for a utility computing setup, but he thought Linux Virtual Services was a good fit. "We're a relatively small entity with a big name," he says. "I expect we'll have to ramp up dramatically, but I didn't want to invest in the infrastructure up front." Instead, IBM creates a virtual server on one of its mainframes that will run ExxonMobil Travel Guide's IT resources, including the customer-relationship software the company developed in conjunction with GuestClick Inc. that offers mapping, hotel reservation, call-center, and personalization capabilities.

ExxonMobil Travel Guide is one of the first customers of IBM's Linux Virtual Services, which comes with its own set of risks. But Mercuro says the greatest risk was of missing out on a good opportunity. "Anytime you do something the first time, you expose yourself to the risk of something not going exactly the way you planned," he says. "That's fine. You need to know that going in and to prepare yourself."