RealTime IT News

Penguin Leaders Scale Up, Spread Out

SAN FRANCISCO -- Red Hat CEO Matthew Szulik summed up the feeling of most enterprise Linux vendors this week when asked to describe the current state of the sector.

"I scoff at the idea that the software is dead," Szulik said during his keynote to LinuxWorld attendees here.

"One year from now, when we look back and note that we are looking at a different venue for Linux. We are seeing different forms of security. We are seeing 32-node and 64-node clustering. We are now starting to see a Linux operating system that can run on nine different architectures and manage thousands of machines."

Szulik's sentiments ring true for the Raleigh, N.C.-based Linux vendor and a random sampling of its rivals. The enterprise Linux space is not dealing with the same issues: the 2.6 kernel is coming, and integration is imminent; acquisitions -- or rumors of acquisitions -- barely register; even the fear of lawsuits from SCO Group seems to have subsided.

So the current challenge facing the enterprise Linux vendors like Red Hat, IBM, HP, and Novell is twofold, according to Szulik. The first part is taking a larger slice of pie away from proprietary Unix and Windows systems. The other is a trend toward different forms of specialization.

"Two-and-a-half-years ago, we were not talking about a subscription relationship. Now we talk about software as a service and the value of the technology as a subscription," Szulik said. "I am encouraged by reusable objects and components. We are working with the Eclipse project on development tools. We are moving closer and closer up the stack."

IBM, HP and Novell have also experienced transition years. Novell today announced the release of SUSE Linux Enterprise Server (SLES) version 9, which is the first collaboration from the Provo, Utah-based network business since it acquired SUSE seven months ago. HP announced its first Linux notebook, additional Linux Reference Architectures, its first multi-OS Superdome server and a new 6,500-person Linux services team. IBM trumped them all with the release of a copy of its Java-based Cloudscape relational database application to the Apache Software Foundation (ASF). Big Blue also said it has scored yet another major Linux deployment with the U.S. Department of Defense.

Still, customers are somewhat wary of their Linux choices. Michael Dortch, principal business analyst with Robert Frances Group, suggests the issue for the world market and the marker for IT executives is, "Can I trust my business to these vendors?"

"The healthy middle ground here is to ensure all Linux and open source deployments are as pure and uninhibited as possible, so that system administrators can rip and replace units from vendors that don't cooperate," Dortch told internetnews.com. "What that does is empower IT execs to be more assertive with their vendors for additional services and preferential pricing. It used to be that you had to spend large amounts to get discounts. Now, you just threaten to pull out their systems and replace them with something like JBoss, which is free."

Dortch also pointed out that more and more mid- to large-scale businesses are looking at ways of tying together their open source projects with proprietary systems.

"I'm predicting a lot of cross-pollination in the next 12 to 18 months, because customers want vendors that know how to answer the phone when there is a problem," he said.

Still others are finding that they can become their own systems integrators. Case in point it online travel site Orbitz, which employs six core system managers to run 1,000 servers of Red Hat Linux in two primary data centers. Company CTO Chris Hjelm said he convinced his superiors to jump to Linux after his personal experience with it while working at FedEx.

"They all turned to me and started asking me questions about it," Hjelm said. "Now that we have gone through the transition phase, the issues are availability challenges and working on our database architecture."

Hjelm said his staff is also successful because of their standardized environment. He said Orbitz is primarily a Compaq/HP environment where his staff runs off a common image when working across multiple servers. Because of the standardization, Hjelm said his company can stay very close to a two-year upgrade cycle.

"We have developers that like to deploy upgrades as much as possible. We're talking between 30 to 50 thousand lines of code," he said.

Whichever way Linux vendors approach their customers, they still have a long road ahead before outnumbering Unix and Windows. Analyst firm IDC estimates that Linux-powered servers comprise 28.3 percent of all server sales so far this year. The worldwide desktop market is even smaller, hovering between 2 percent and 5 percent, according to statistics from research company Gartner. New statistics on Linux usage in the enterprise are due out this week.