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IBM to sell 15,200 Linux servers to Japanese store chain


(IDG) -- In what could be the largest commercial deployment of Linux-based servers so far, IBM announced Thursday that it's selling 15,200 of its Linux servers for use in a Japanese convenience-store chain.

The Linux-based servers, part of IBM's new eServer xSeries, will be used in about 7,600 Lawson Inc. convenience stores throughout Japan, according to IBM.

The servers, which will be connected to existing touchscreen-equipped "Loppi" kiosks in the stores, will expand existing options for customers. Now Lawson shoppers will be able to download music, movies and other Web content in addition to booking airline and concert tickets.


"We realized there is no questioning the rapid growth of Linux and we wanted to take advantage of that growth," said Makoto Takayama, managing director and general manager at Lawson's new business division, in a statement. "Linux was our first choice to run these new applications because Linux is easy to maintain and costs less than other operating systems to implement. We chose IBM because of its clear commitment to Linux and worldwide capability to provide service and support."

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Steve Sollazzo, vice president of Linux strategy at IBM, said the deal shows "firm evidence that Linux is really beginning to ascend to the enterprise."

IBM and Lawson wouldn't release the value of the deal, nor would they announce what version of Linux the servers will be running. IBM offers four different distributions of Linux from Caldera Systems Inc., Red Hat Inc., TurboLinux Inc. and SuSE AG.

Sources close to the deal confirmed, however, that Red Hat Linux appears to be the version selected as part of the deal.

Sollazzo said the contract for more than 15,000 servers would be good for IBM under any conditions, but that it's particularly satisfying because it involves a large Linux deployment that will be part of the revenue-producing ingredients in Lawson's stores.

The new servers will be installed two to a store to provide redundancy, Sollazzo said. IBM support personnel in Japan will be linked to the stores electronically to allow remote monitoring and service, allowing store employees to concentrate on their customers and sales. The servers are expected to be installed by March.

Al Gillen, an analyst at International Data Corp. in Framingham, Mass., called the deal significant for IBM and Linux.

"It's a pretty big chunk of machines" being used by a very visible company, Gillen said. "We're seeing Linux being used in places where you might not have seen it happen two years ago."

The agreement shows confidence by a commercial enterprise in deploying a Linux-based system in a key part of its business, Gillen said. Part of Lawson's comfort is probably attributable to IBM having a global network of service and support to back up its systems, he said, as well as the availability of an IBM Linux Support Center in Tokyo.

"That will surely give [Lawson] a lot more confidence," said Gillen. "That's one of the things Linux has needed all along."

Bill Claybrook, an analyst at Aberdeen Group Inc. in Boston, called the deal the biggest Linux package he has heard about so far.

"On the Linux side, it's such a big deal that so many servers are being sold to such a large customer that it sort of catches everyone's eye," Claybrook said. "It's a perception at least that Linux is now being more widely accepted."

Claybrook said the deal is good because it highlights an application for Linux where it will provide strong performance.

The Linux-based, in-store terminals will also give Lawson customers real-time news and information from Internet feeds and communications satellites, according to IBM.

The Loppi terminals currently in Lawson stores use Microsoft Corp.'s Windows.

Lawson is headquartered in Osaka, Japan, and is one of the largest convenience store chains in Japan.

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IBM Corp.

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