Brazilians Reap Benefits Of IBM's Long-Haul Linux Strategy

Jul 25, 2006 (01:07 PM EDT)

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IBM thinks Linux could be the engine that drives Brazil's up-and-coming IT industry to the next level. And it wants to be the company Brazilian developers turn to, as they learn the rules of the road.

Brazil's emerging IT market, like those in China, India, and elsewhere, is hardly a secret among western technology firms: Microsoft, for example, has steadily increased its efforts to market Windows and related technologies, targeting both potential customers and Brazilian software developers. At the same time, enterprise Linux vendors such as Red Hat and Novell are also moving to stake their own claims in the still wide-open Brazilian IT market, opening full-time offices and hiring staff to direct the companies' efforts.

Big Blue Puts Down Roots

Of the foreign software companies operating in Brazil, however, IBM may be the single most established and influential players -- a position the company underscored earlier this year, when it pledged $2.2 million to build a Linux Technology Center in Sao Paulo. Although such an investment looks modest by U.S. or European standards, in relative terms it represents a major commitment -- both in terms of the money involved and as a reminder that IBM considers Brazil a key piece of its long-term Linux strategy.

In fact, IBM is already a familiar presence within Brazil's open-source developer community: The company's first Linux related project, a joint promotion with Brazil's federal government, launched in October, 2003. "There is strong government support for Linux in Brazil, with the twin objectives of saving money and encouraging the development of a local ecosystem of ISVs and business partners," said Adam Jollans, IBM's Open Source strategy manager in Brazil. "The result of this is a thriving Linux market in Brazil, across both private and public sectors."

According to Jollans, demand for Linux and other open-source technologies has also diversified in qualitative terms; today, IBM provides its Brazilian customers with solutions ranging from relatively simple e-commerce solutions to advanced Linux-based clustering and high-performance computing solutions. Nevertheless, Brazil's IT labor force, like its markets for IT products and services, demands a different approach from companies that typically tailor their marketing efforts to more experienced IT professionals. "Although the Brazilian Linux solutions market is more mature if compared to a couple of years ago, training and education is still highly demanded by the market. says Reinaldo Roveri, an analyst with IDC who covers the Brazilian IT market.

In this context, IBM's investments in Brazil, including its Linux Technology Center, serve a dual purpose: they establish the company as an authoritative voice within the country's Linux developer community; and they enable the company to provide relevant, Linux-related training and educational opportunities.

IBM opened its first Linux Technology Center in 1999; today, it runs around 40 such facilities worldwide, including a number in strategic emerging markets such as India, China, and Southeast Asia. Together, the centers now employ around 900 software engineers, including 300 who work full-time on Linux-related software projects.

Although IBM expects the technology centers to pursue research interests that are relevant to the company's bottom-line success, the company also expects each center to contribute both knowledge and working code back to their host countries' developer communities. The engineers at IBM's Brazilian Linux Technology Center exemplify this process: Their applied research projects will deal with interoperability issues between Linux with IBM's own Cell and Power processors; address usability issues involving Linux and the company's server lineup; and conduct Linux security-certification research.

IBM's Linux Technology Center will also enable the company to work more closely with Brazil's academic community; the center itself is actually a partnership with the State University of Campinas, or "Unicamp." Many of the center's employees will be Unicamp students, faculty, or recent graduates, and IBM also plans to offer scholarships to Unicamp students.

"Researchers at Unicamp are collaborating with IBM computer scientists in Brazil to help train recent graduates at the University's Computer Institute. IBM also contributed professional mentors to help manage project development," Jollans said. "So, together, IBM will be working with Unicamp to challenge students and recent graduates to seek internships and job opportunities."

"The benefit to students," he added, "will be the opportunity to work with world-class engineers and developers at IBM and computer scientists in Brazil." In the long term, of course, IBM also stands to benefit, as it turns out a generation of engineers who are familiar with and highly knowledgeable about the company's Linux-based technology solutions.

A Battle Linux Could Still Lose?

According to Jollans, almost every major industry in Brazil, from telecommunications and financial firms to the country's leading medical research institutions, is now making significant Linux and open-source technology investments. Roveri, however, warns that Brazil's open-source honeymoon still has the potential to go awry. "Linux in Brazil is seen as an alternative, low-cost solution for infrastructure, web applications, and non-critical systems. However, Brazilian companies still have a lack of confidence regarding the use of Linux to run mission-critical applications, such as ERP, for example," he says.

Recent surveys conducted in early 2006, he stated, indicate that many firms are preparing to purchase precisely this sort of mission-critical software. Given both the opportunity these purchases may represent to open-source vendors -- as well as the consequences if Brazil's developers and technology vendors cannot deliver the goods -- IBM's investments of both cash and knowledge are extremely timely.

The rise of the Internet ushered in the age of open standard computing, with customers demanding freedom from relying on any single information technology vendor," Jollans asserted. "Customers in Brazil and worldwide