The U.S. Navy’s cancelation of its $20 billion Zumwalt destroyer contract last week because of a 50% price hike is disappointing for the Linux community and surely must be for IBM The Armonk, N.Y.-based computer company developed Java-based, real-time capabilities to the Linux kernel specifically for the Zumwalt to ensure that all shipboard systems will run with precision timing, particularly battle systems. The Zumwalt’s unified computing system, developed by general contractor Raytheon Co.. in Waltham, Mass., runs on an IBM BladeCenter and IBM x86 servers on Red Hat Enterprise Linux.
Since the 2005-2006 Navy design undertaking, IBM has incorporated its technology in IBM WebSphere Real Time, a computing environment for running real-time Linux applications, and recently won an innovation award for its real-time kernel project at this year’s Red Hat Summit.
Now, after the completion of only two destroyers, the contract has been aborted, which surely means a hefty chunk of lost hardware sales for IBM but, more significantly, a step backward for shipboard computing technology, in general, and Linux in particular.
IBM spokesman Mike Darcy said he didn’t know the impact of cancelation on future IBM revenues but said that IBM will continue to work with other customers, defense and financial sectors among them, as interest “continues to grow” in real-time Linux operations.
“Real-time Linux will continue,” Darcy said. “This [the Zumwalt project] is a great showcase for Linux technology.”
Raytheon spokesman Jonathan Kasle agreed.
“We don’t believe the Navy can afford to put old technologies onto any ships,” he told the Boston Globe last week. “Zumwalt technologies advance mission capabilities to address current and evolving threats and support … lower ship personnel levels and lower operating costs. These technologies can be leveraged for future or existing ships.”
According to Darcy’s general reference to current “defense” customers, it appears that the military is already doing so. Let’s hope so. Reverting to old technology on new Navy ships is not the way to go.