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Embracing Disruptive Innovation


Disruptive technology shakes up our ideas about what’s possible and how businesses can operate and thrive. When Linux* first gained popularity in the late 1990s, it was considered a disruptive technology that many companies were reluctant to try, let alone employ for business purposes. Linux and open source have changed business culture and technology so much that many people can’t imagine operating without them. Could IBM Watson* exist without Linux? The answer, of course, is no.

The innovations spurred by Linux and open source have opened up new possibilities, expanded new markets and changed business values. Open source has gained in stature as increasingly more organizations adopt it due to its flexibility and collaborative nature. New communities have sprung up to work together on advancing open source and Linux. Companies are now using collaborative teams to create and develop new business services.

IBM saw the potential in open source and Linux and became a supporter almost 15 years ago. Look no further than Watson for an example of how IBM used Linux to move the concepts of big data and analytics from idea to reality.

“IBM’s strategy for open source is based around sponsoring innovation, contributing code and programming resources to open-source projects and then translating that open-source innovation into the products and services that deliver value to our customers,” says Jean Staten Healy, director, Worldwide Cross-IBM Linux and Open Virtualization. As they have evolved, IBM’s focus also has altered. “What’s changed is the range and variety of open-source projects IBM is involved in and the increase in IBM helping new open-source projects move into more complex software,” she adds.

Anyone can make a contribution in the open-source community, and no single vendor can dominate the market. “The key factor for nurturing open-source communities is realizing that everyone has something to contribute,” Staten Healy says.

IBM’s embrace of Apache Hadoop, an open-source platform and big data engine for building applications, is just one example of how IBM is supporting and leveraging the open-source community. Hadoop was developed on Linux, which enabled fast innovation and portability across platforms. IBM was quick to employ these capabilities in Watson. “IBM Watson, which was developed on Hadoop and Linux, was easily built on Power* technology to take advantage of parallelism in the POWER* chip, allowing it to deliver faster analytics,” Staten Healy explains.

Watson was the first big data breakthrough, ranking answers based on its confidence level. That was a major step in generating meaningful analytics and creating a higher degree of certainty around the analytics, which didn’t exist before. For any company using big data, “that level of certainty is what businesses need to make decisions,” Staten Healy says. “Customers are challenged by the velocity, the volume and variety of the big data they are receiving. They need to analyze this mass of information to extract insights and make business decisions.”

Shirley S. Savage is a Maine-based freelance writer. Shirley can be reached at savage.shirley@comcast.net.


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