Happy Together: IBM, Linux and Small Businesses

There are several reasons why more and more small businesses are using Linux to provide cost-effective computing solutions. As a platform, Linux is flexible, reliable and has a lower cost of ownership when compared to many UNIX- and Microsoft-based solutions. It’s also the fastest growing operating system in the world, according to Scott Handy, IBM’s director of Linux software solutions.

Handy said IBM has focused on providing Linux-based solutions since 1999. Back then half of Big Blue’s Linux customers were small businesses. Handy said the numbers haven’t changed much for IBM over the years — small- and medium-sized business represent 20 percent of the company’s revenue in 2002.

Small business support for Linux-based computing solutions is significant. According to Gartner research, 45 percent of mid-sized businesses are already using or experimenting with Linux right now. Handy explained how some small businesses end up landing on a Linux-based computing solution.

“During the initial phase of adoption, most small businesses will use Linux to setup a file, print or Web server through one of our resellers or partners,” Handy said. “Local and regional resellers know these small businesses — they need to build an open, flexible system that will provide a reliable computing solution with a low total cost of ownership.”

IBM continues to work with its partners to offer a variety of advanced computing systems to the mid-market and help smaller businesses make educated technology decisions. IBM has repackaged components of its Linux-based WebShpere family of computing solutions and introduced WebSphere Express.

WebSphere is a collection of Internet infrastructure software known as middleware. It enables companies to develop, deploy and integrate e-business applications, such as those for business-to-business e-commerce, as well as business-to-consumer offerings. WebSphere supports a myriad of business applications — from simple Web publishing to enterprise-scale transaction processing.

WebSphere is capable of transforming the way businesses manage customer, partner and employee relationships because it is an information technology system that solves business problems. WebSphere Express is a low-cost, easy-to-use adaptation of the enterprise-class product that has been customized for the small business market.

Another offering, the Integrated Platform Express, bundles WebSphere Express with hardware. This gives IBM’s partners the tools they need to create Linux-based solutions for small businesses, including virtual Web hosting and Web services for application integration. Both types of services that help mid-size businesses share data more effectively, respond to changes quickly, and transform internal and external business processes.

One such business is Suppleye.com. Based in Akron, Ohio, Suppleye.com is a small business with less than a dozen employees. Suppleye.com is the first e-commerce solution developed specifically for ophthalmic surgery centers and suppliers. It was originally a supply chain management offering created around a WebSphere commerce-based catalog, where customers could go online to re-order ophthalmic surgery products after preparing a manual log during surgery.

Suppleye.com automated the entire paperwork chain with IBM’s Web services. Its wireless solution allows nurses in the field to scan patient data, surgery logs, and re-order information into handheld devices, then download data to the website. Web services allows Suppleye.com to take the data a step further, transferring the updated information to the company’s backend, enabling the company to make real-time updates for accurate order processing and fulfillment, while introducing greater efficiency into the supply chain.

Suppleye.com customers benefit from being able to do more than just order supplies over the Web — now it’s an entirely Web-based process — rooted in an IBM reseller’s ability to use Linux-based technology to build on Suppleye.com’s legacy systems.

Marianna is another small business that is benefiting from WebSphere’s Linux-based computing. After seeing the impact of using IBM’s Intel-based servers and Express software running on Linux at Sal’s Professional Grooming, a division of Marianna, the company made the move to use the solution for their e-commerce site, too.

Working with IBM business partner, eOne Group, Sal’s first created a business-to-business site to showcase its ever-changing variety of pet grooming products. The new site solved an old problem &#151 because the small business could only afford to print a catalog once a year, product listings would change before the ink dried. With WebSphere Express, Sal’s now allows partners and suppliers to track orders online — anywhere, anytime — instead of having to go through a customer service representative, and Sal’s listings are always current.

Upon the successful debut of Sal’s business-to-business site, Marianna upgraded its business-to-business site using the same solution — IBM’s Integrated Platform Express running on Linux. Marianna is using WebSphere Express and IBM xSeries servers, along with an e-commerce application from eOne Group, to sell an extensive line of beauty products online. The solution provided a low cost, reliable infrastructure for this mid-size company to continue doing business more efficiently.

According to Gartner, small business software spending is expected to be consistent over the next few years. Small businesses are looking at how they can invest wisely and get more from their existing systems. IBM is working with its partners to take its advanced technology offerings to the mid-market and help small businesses make educated decisions about using Linux-based computing power. Together IBM, its partners, resellers and small business are combining forces to keep computing costs down and customer sales and satisfaction up as the result of employing Linux-based systems.

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