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Targeting emerging markets where demand for its technologies is growing the fastest, IBM this month combined several initiatives, including Linux, grid computing and virtualization, to form a high-growth business group called Strategic Growth Initiatives.

“The opportunity here is that customers are asking for gridded Linux networks and virtualized servers that can run multiple operating systems,” said Jim Stallings, general manager of the new group, in an interview. “The big news here is the customer thirst for this.”

That demand is underscored by IBM’s recent second-quarter financial results, which showed double- and triple-digit growth in open technologies such as Linux and grid computing. In a recent letter to IBM shareholders and employees, Chairman Sam Palmisano reported that the Armonk, N.Y., company’s revenue in the first half of the year grew by 35 percent, to $1.9 billion, in the emerging markets of China, Brazil, Eastern Europe and India.

These nations are aggressively embracing open software and cutting-edge technologies as key drivers of economic success and development, Palmisano said.

Stallings, IBM’s former general manager of Linux, said the emerging markets have adopted open standards faster than other economies. “The real driver for these markets is that they are building out new infrastructures rather than replacing existing ones,” Stallings said. “So as they design these, they are looking for the greatest advantage and flexibility.”

While most customers are focused on reducing costs, the real driver for these markets is the customers’ awareness that they are building out new infrastructures rather than replacing existing ones, Stallings said.

Demand from the government sector in these economies has centered on grid computing, while in the commercial space, particularly in banking, there has been substantial interest in virtualization. In addition, Linux clusters are now so inexpensive that supercomputing has become an option for commercial companies, Stallings said.

“They have multiple centers that are being centralized, but they also have multiple workloads that need to be moved between different types of servers,” Stallings said.

One such company is Petróleo Brasileiro S.A. (also known as Petrobras), Brazil’s largest company. Carlos Eduardo Gastão, IT manager at Petrobras, agreed with IBM’s new vision.

The São Paulo company was looking for a high-performance cluster to speed its seismic, deep-sea oil exploration off the coast of Espirito Santo. The Petrobras unit there produces 42,000 barrels of oil and 1.2 million cubic meters of gas annually and employs 2,000 people.

Deep-sea oil exploration entails radiography of the soil and analysis and interpretation of information to determine the best locations for drilling for oil or gas. The seismic process reduces the margin of error considerably when identifying the area to be drilled, Gastão said.

After evaluating several solutions, Petrobras chose a grid of 18 IBM BladeCenter systems comprising 252 blade servers. The system occupies three racks of 84 blades each, less than half the space required by competitive systems, Gastão said in an interview from Brazil.

The operating system powering the solution is Red Hat Inc.’s Red Hat Linux 7.3. The servers also come with IBM Director software, which manages the system.

“We needed 10 times the installed capacity that we had from a previous proprietary Unix solution, as well as a compact solution that did not take up a lot of space and used the minimum possible power consumption and required less refrigeration,” Gastão said.

While the IBM solution was slightly more expensive than some others, it was the only solution that met Petrobras’ data center requirements, Gastão said.

“We wanted a Linux cluster for our seismic processing, as it offers more flexibility than a proprietary solution. The transition from the proprietary Unix application to Linux was easy for us, as our in-house team developed a specific process key to the seismic-processing chain that requires huge computational resources,” Gastão said.

The grid has already delivered significant performance improvements for Petrobras, with a tenfold reduction in processing time following its introduction. “We are, in fact, so pleased with the Linux cluster solution that we have made a corporate decision to implement 5,000 nodes throughout our data center,” Gastão said.

IBM’s Stallings said that for a long time, Linux was seen as a cost-reduction solution but that Petrobras’ Linux use was the opposite of that—it was about growth and scaling up.

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