RealTime IT News

Linux Begins Its Descent Into the Enterprise

Echoing sentiments from LinuxWorld Expo last February, hardware and software vendors next week plan to challenge the notion that Linux is only meant for the lighter tasks of corporate computing.

New strategic ties with software infrastructure (or so-called middleware) vendors and key customer wins will serve to build more momentum around the open source movement in convincing IT decision-makers that Linux is completely enterprise-ready.

"The big theme of LinuxWorld is the momentum it has in the enterprise," said Mark de Visser, vice president of marketing at Red Hat . "The momentum is exemplified by the arrival of corporate customers who are saying 'we've deployed it.'"

IBM recently announced that nine new customers have jumped aboard the Linux bandwagon, including 7-Eleven and Air New Zealand -- both of whom will use Linux to run and protect their email systems. And, Hewlett-Packard said Linux helped L-3 Communications integrate a network of workstations into an airport security scanning system.

At the same time, the Linux spotlight is turning up in the more mission-critical areas of corporate computing. And in this area, Linux is making enormous strides in shoring up confidence in its ability to deliver applications and huge strings of data in addition to simply web pages.

"It's been successfully deployed in the enterprise. Linux is more than an OS used to run a web site," de Visser explained.

When Linux first arrived in the corporate setting a few years back, it was more of a novelty. While hobbyists turned to the open source OS for its security and performance capabilities, network administrators rarely used it for more serious areas such as database or applications management. Instead, Linux was relegated to the more menial tasks like e-mail or serving up Web pages.

But now Linux isn't merely powering up the Web server , it's also being used in mainframes to power up the application server. In the case of Air New Zealand, IBM has replaced some 150 Compaq servers with a single eServer zSeries mainframe that runs Linux and IBM's Websphere Application Server software. And BEA Systems , whose WebLogic Enterprise Platform runs neck-and-neck to IBM's Websphere as the market-leading app server, is also supporting Linux OS environments.

Guess Who's Coming to Exhibit?
To be sure, analysts admit that Linux still has a long way to go before it has even made a dent in the infrastructure market -- an area that has long been locked up by Unix and Windows. For example, BEA's WebLogic runs predominantly on Solaris, Sun Microsystems' proprietary Unix OS.

"Most of the mission-critical apps run on IBM mainframes, RISC-Unix platforms or Windows. If you look at the percentage that is running on Linux, it's still very small. Linux in the enterprise is still in its infancy," said Bill Claybrook, research director for Linux at Aberdeen Group.

Which is exactly why Red Hat's game plan isn't so much to compete head-to-head with the Windows server market as it is to go after the higher-end Unix systems.

"The UNIX platforms are being replaced by Linux," de Visser said.

So much so that long-time Unix backers like Sun Microsystems and Oracle have recently announced native support for Linux.

Ironically, both CEOs Scott McNealy and Larry Ellison, as well as Google Co-founder Sergey Brin, are keynote speakers at LinuxWorld San Francisco. Earlier this year, Oracle announced Linux support for its 9i while Sun has taken its involvement one step further by announcing its own OS distribution for its own line of servers.

In fact, Linux has gathered so much momentum that when attendees descend upon San Francisco for the biannual event on August 12-15, they will be greeted by the unusual presence of a familiar foe. Microsoft has even signed on as an exhibitor of LinuxWorld, as first reported by internet.com sister site, Linux Today. The software giant -- the antithesis of open source -- plans to demo some of its Windows XP embedded technology.

According to analysts like Claybrook, the reason it took so long for Linux to be deployed on a wide scale wasn't so much due to lack of confidence in its performance and stability but due to procedural hurdles (like customer certifications) that typically confront all new technologies. But now support from the entire IT community is beginning to hit critical mass.

"A lot of the delay was due to the fact that [IBM's] DB2 and Oracle needed to be ported to and certified on Linux. Of course, the ISV would prefer only to port to one platform. Until there's sufficient demand, very few people are going to be porting their applications but that's changing. The ISVs now see sufficient demand," Claybrook explained.

Entertaining the Client
And even though Sun's proprietary Linux distribution would compete head-to-head with Red Hat's enterprise products (de Visser of course downplayed Sun's involvement in the open source community), the Red Hat official conceded that it still demonstrates how Linux has come full circle. "It creates an ecosystem. The more partners you'll have...the more customers you'll have. The more customers...the more ISV and so on," he said.

Yet, despite the inroads that Linux has made in recent years, server-side deployment business still dwarfs the amount of business that Linux does on the client side of computing. And as such, Red Hat doesn't plan much hoopla at next week's show for its current Red Hat 7.3 nor its upcoming version 8.0 known as Limbo. The individual software packages are considered to be more of a retail product.

"We focus Unix customers. Our focus is not to convert Microsoft customers to Linux customers," de Visser said.

But, that might be the wisest approach given the tremendous growth potential on the client side. While the overall Linux market (as measured by revenue) contracted last year, the number of unit shipments on the client side still grew faster than the server side, according to a recent IDC study.

"There is still a huge market for the client side," forecasted Al Gillen, research director of system software at IDC.

And the most obvious hurdle with that tactic is Microsoft's monopoly. But at an increasingly cost competitive time, Microsoft's new licensing program just might have opened the door for competitors.

"There will be a desktop side of Linux that will be growing when you can get Linux and productivity software for less than what Microsoft offers," Claybrook said.