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Tue, Oct 05, 2004 - Page 12 News List

IBM uses Linux platform for huge global upgrade

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , NEW YORK

IBM has just completed a three-year, US$100 million overhaul of the software engine behind the world's airline, hotel and rental car reservations systems, and credit-card systems like Visa and American Express.

The company plans to announce the retooling of the little-known program, an aging workhorse of mainframe computing, this week. Its goal, executives said, was to rejuvenate what it considered a strategic product -- TPF, for transaction processing facility -- with the help of the Linux operating system.

The potential new markets, according to the executives and industry analysts, include serving as the transaction-handling back-end for instant messaging and logging data from mobile sensors and radio tags used in retailing or domestic security.

The program generates hun-dreds of millions of dollars of revenue a year for IBM in hardware, software and services. The potential for new business in the banking, financial services, retailing, government and manufacturing sectors could reach US$2.7 billion by 2007, according to a study by a research firm.

"The retooling of TPF opens up a new ecosystem of potential partners for IBM to work with," said Scott McLarnon, a consultant at IDC, which conducted the study for IBM.

The program is a computer operating system, but a very specialized one -- a kind of traffic cop for transactions, handling several thousand each second. A small community of 3,000 or 4,000 programmers worldwide have worked with the program, all of them fluent in arcane software tools like IBM 370 assembly language.

The costly reworking to place the program in the Linux camp means that applications can be developed by programmers working with widely used programming languages like C++ and writing on the Linux operating system.

"We've jumped to Linux," said Stuart Waldron, a senior technical staff member in IBM's software group. "Anybody who works on Linux can now work on TPF."

The shift to Linux as a development environment will drive down the programming and maintenance costs.

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