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.

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