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LinuxWorld Conference & Expo

IT giants, .orgs, and users united by Linux

Nothing unites people more than a common cause. In the Linux world the "cause" is ensuring the freedom to pick and choose how we do business (with regards to IT) and the ability to work together to make something better than the individual parts. So it was fitting that at LinuxWorld in New York companies like Computer Associates and IBM were patting each other on the back and talking about how their collective vision was moving forward with better, more robust solutions for the enterprise - largely due to their collaborative efforts.

As usual, the LinuxWorld Conference & Expo was well attended by IT giants who were out in force speaking about how Linux is being adopted and implemented in organizations worldwide, from the Beijing Olympics to embedded in cellphones and other consumer electronics devices. Community members from projects like KDE (www.kde.org), Asterisk (www.asterisk.org), and the members of the Desktop Linux Consortium (www.desktoplinuxconsortium.org) all wooed attendees with new and exciting updates to their technologies. The overriding theme was that collaboration is driving progress both in business and within the open source community.

We at LWM had the opportunity to ask the keynote speakers some questions about Linux and how it's going to affect IT infrastructure. As expected, everyone was excited about the prospect of Linux as an important, if not dominating, force in the enterprise. Several of the keynote speakers and their staffs answered our questions on what we thought would most interest you, as did Wim Coekaerts of Oracle. It's not surprising that many of them credited others for their organization's progress.

What Linux technology do you think has the greatest opportunity to transform the enterprise?
Jack Messman, Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer, Novell:

"I think the agnosticism of Linux provides the greatest opportunity for enterprises. Linux runs on all kinds of hardware, it supports all kinds of software, it runs on embedded systems, mobile devices, servers, clients, and more. Because nobody owns Linux, everybody's happy to work with it. This creates a great opportunity to get to one of the holy grails of computing - true interoperability. This is where devices, applications, information, and users can connect and transact seamlessly. Linux is the foundation for enabling true systems management, not just managing different pieces of the system with different tools. That's a huge need in the enterprise market."

Sam Greenblatt, Senior Vice President and Chief Architect, Linux Technology Group, Computer Associates International:
"Linux clustering and Linux virtual services are two things that are going to do the most for furthering the enterprise. We can already boot Linux within Linux and soon we will be able to boot other OSs via an open source virtual machine. That is in the future out past the 2.6 kernel, similar to VMWare (www.vmware.com)."

Ross Mauri, General Manager, e-Business on demand, IBM Systems Group:
"There are a couple of things, but the collective technologies in the 2.6 kernel are going to continue to improve performance and scalability for grid computing. They are probably the most predominant. One of the things that excites me is to see companies like Locus Pharmaceuticals who are able to afford supercomputing because of Linux. They have their own Linux supercomputer, but they don't have to invest (capital) in infrastructure to handle peak computing needs. When they are earning profits they can purchase additional resources on-demand without having a 'boat anchor' IT infrastructure (large capital expenditures) that weighs them down when times are leaner. Open standards allow them to connect to resources offsite to handle increased needs."

Wim Coekaerts, Director of Linux Engineering, Oracle
"That's sort of a loaded question because I don't think there's any one feature that necessarily stands out. Scalability across a larger number of CPUs, ability to address large amounts of memory, and having a well-balanced disk IO system are all very important, as is reliability. Linux has already proven to be very solid - enterprise-ready."

Other than your own company, which company do you feel is doing the most to further Linux in the enterprise and in what way?
Jack Messman:
"Novell is a platform-agnostic company, and we play with a huge swath of partners, both in the Linux arena and in our traditional business. It's hard for me to name one company I think is contributing the most. As a group, I'd have to credit the hardware vendors - IBM, HP, and Dell. They're embracing Linux full force, and that's been a big boon to the market. These are names enterprises trust."

Sam Greenblatt: "Actually, there isn't just one I can name; there's a collaborative effort between HP, IBM, Novell, Intel, and CA that I feel is doing the most by collectively backing Linux. I feel that no company will ever own Linux because of this early collaboration in its development."

Ross Mauri: "Actually, I think the collective work of companies participating in the OSDL are making the most impact. Stuart Cohen, OSDL executive director, is adding business professionals to the "techies." OSDL is making Linux on the desktop, among other initiatives, look more promising."

Wim Coekaerts: "Beyond Oracle, the hardware vendors - IBM, Intel, and HP - are helping to extend Linux in the enterprise, in part by ensuring that their products are well suited to run Linux, particularly on big servers. Each of these companies expends a lot of effort testing kernels on their systems, making hardware available to Linux kernel developers and partners for development and testing, and developing kernels to make their hardware work. This includes everything from device drivers (SCSI cards, chipsets, etc.) to processor support (ppc64, Itanium2, etc.). Clearly, the focus seems to be on enhancing Linux on their own platforms; however, their development efforts are useful for the Linux community at large.

Obviously, Red Hat and SUSE are also critical to Linux adoption, focusing on Linux distributions for servers/enterprise-class systems. Both companies work to deliver new functionality required to run faster, scale better, address more memory, etc."

What is your view on the Linux desktop as a viable platform for business use? Is it ready now? If not, what needs to happen for it to be a valid enterprise solution?
Jack Messman:
"I believe we'll see Linux on the desktop begin to gain real traction in 2004. Right now, it's in the early-adopter phase, but there is a lot of traction in foreign governments and some toe-dipping at the enterprise level. Linux desktops need to become substantially more usable and consistent, and they need many more end-user applications, as well as solid technical support. OSDL is revving up work in this area. It can be an area of major cost savings for enterprises."

Sam Greenblatt: "The number-one inhibitor for Linux on the desktop is applications. There is a need for a Linux competitor to Outlook for instance. Ximian Evolution (www.ximian.com) is good but it's still not there. Also, a VPN solution that would be helpful; once again, Freeswan (www.freeswan.org) is an option but it's not quite good enough for enterprise security. However, in the entertainment industry Linux is the preferred desktop; Dreamworks for one uses Linux on their workstations."

Ross Mauri: "I think it's coming. OSDL is making an impact under Stuart Cohen, who is adding business professionals to technical staffers. This is adding drive to desktop Linux."

Wim Coekaerts: "Obviously, Linux on the desktop is ready for technical groups and organizations, software/hardware development workstations, and tech support personnel and consultants, but not yet for the average user. All the required bits are there, but a more polished user interface is missing. There's still is a bit too much command line involved, so to speak."

The critical components needed to push Linux to the desktop, such as OpenOffice and Mozilla, are already here. Over the past year, both have shown great progress and are at a point where they are very stable and functional. You really can just run Linux as a desktop and deal with materials/documents coming from Windows users. In order to speed adoption, we need a few of the big vendors to endorse Linux on the desktop, in much the same way they endorsed Linux in the enterprise."

How do you think adoption of Linux in Israel, China, and Germany is going to influence decisions in the government and enterprise domestically?
Jack Messman:
"I think the U.S. government and private sector will adopt Linux at their own pace, although successful deployment of Linux overseas by the public sector and enterprises certainly will help illustrate that Linux is very much ready for prime time. For both enterprises and the government, there has to be a compelling reason for using Linux - whether that's cost, reliability, security, or flexibility. Novell clearly believes these compelling reasons exist. But large organizations won't just rip and replace because Linux is open source. The Linux industry needs to improve its ability to tell the story around the cost and technical benefits of Linux, and its resulting business value."

Sam Greenblatt: "Where Linux wins is cost. There's an old Hebrew saying that goes, 'That which appears to be cheap, is not cheap.' Linux will be adopted in government as we meet their needs the best, not because it's just inexpensive to install. That's where we win."

Ross Mauri: "All governments are looking at open source because they have needs that have to be met. Actually, I think that the government in the U.S. will adopt Linux, but not due to the efforts of other countries. The reason that they will adopt Linux is because we are now compliant with the standards that are being requested in government RFPs (Request for Proposal). Linux will be adopted domestically because it best addresses the needs of the government, not because someone else proves it can work."

Wim Coekaerts: "Increased adoption of Linux in the international community puts Linux more and more in the spotlight. Most of the big announcements regarding Linux in the government sector have focused on deploying clients/desktops. On the server side, Linux is already one of the major players, so the news now about major 'switches' is mostly around desktops.

"Due to the press coverage about moves to Linux, people are increasingly receptive to it as an alternative solution, and thus more are considering it as a choice. It's pretty obvious that the distributors (Red Hat and Novell/SUSE) are working hard on a business desktop/workstation that focuses on that specific need."

We had the opportunity to speak with some other high-profile attendees about why they were at LinuxWorld and what things excite them with regards to Linux.

Rhonda Hocker, BEA CIO, led the panel discussion for the LinuxWorld Financial Summit. She noted that every server project they install in-house uses Linux on Intel. The costs versus their previous commercial operating systems implementations are much lower with Linux. Also, she disclosed that they still have commercial implementations in their data centers, but as these machines are decommissioned they will be replaced with much more affordable and dependable Linux systems.

Juergen Geck, SUSE CTO, said that SUSE wants to help the small and medium business adopt Linux. According to Geck, they will service the enterprise but they understand the opportunity for Linux to help the little guy as well. They worked from the bottom up, and his vision is that by putting the pieces in place for the small business and growing into the larger implementations they can service anyone interested in Linux, whether it be the small mom-and-pop shop or the large enterprise.

Bruce Perens, Linux luminary, gave a Linux state of the union for the second straight year and commented that 2004 would be the year of the Linux desktop, noting that "80% of the world has what they need for the (Linux) desktop." He also noted that advances need to be made before mobile users have the support for their hardware, but that it's in the works.

After the LinuxWorld Expo I had no doubt that the Linux future was bright. Linux will be successful because it offers more choices in the market and a model that allows for easy collaboration between the world's largest companies and developers scattered in geographically and socially diverse parts of the world. Ideally, the participants in this expo will have as willing and interested an audience in future "mainstream" shows where their work, expertise, and views are ultimately going to have the biggest impact.

Open Source Development Labs www.osdl.org
One recurring theme that we heard is that Open Source Development Labs will play an important role in enterprise Linux's future. Open Source Development Labs (OSDL) is the professional home of Linus Torvalds, the creator of Linux. OSDL is dedicated to accelerating the growth and adoption of Linux in the enterprise. Founded in 2000 and supported by a global consortium of IT industry leaders, OSDL is a nonprofit organization that makes state-of-the-art computing and test facilities in the United States and Japan available to developers around the world. OSDL's founding members are IBM, HP, CA, Intel, and NEC. A complete list of OSDL member organizations can be found at www.osdl.org/about_osdl/members.

Keynote Report: "Linux Is Simply Good Business" "Novell is a billion-dollar company that's wagering its future on open source," said Novell CEO Jack Messman, opening the conference with his first-ever keynote address at a LinuxWorld show.

His clear message: it's not only possible but profitable to build a business around open source.

The title of his keynote, "Open Source Meets Traditional Software Development," could almost have been the title of a book about the last year at Novell, a year in which the Utah-based company bought first Ximian then SUSE and thrust itself into the forefront of open source after 20 years in the proprietary enterprise software business.

If the packed keynote hall was any indication, there were a great many people hoping to hear how Novell had squared the circle, how it had gone about the transition of its business model, its modus operandi, everything.

"Open source changes how innovation gets done," Messman assured his audience (preaching to the choir somewhat). "It revolutionizes speed to market, and creates unparalleled choice for customers," he added.

"2004 will, I believe, be the year that marks the arrival of Linux into the core of the enterprise," he continued.

According to Messman, Novell's 20 years of being an enterprise software vendor gives it a head start on other vendors who have centered on proprietary software until now.

"This talk should really have been called 'How to Change Minds,'" he said. "Open source changes everything. Customers gain control by being able to see code. Vendors lose the control that they were used to."

Of course it hasn't been as simple as all that in 2003. "There are forces out there doing their best to muddy the waters," Messman said, in a clear reference to The SCO Group.

He then went through many of the arguments surrounding moving to Linux. ("As an enterprise software vendor launching into Linux," he noted, "Novell hears every question again and again.")

CIOs find the idea that the community owns the code pretty daunting, Messman explained. Different pieces of the software stack are owned by different vendors. What they want is support: one call, "one throat to choke."

Messman moved on to the SCO issue. "Another Utah-based company," as he called SCO, "has raised IP issues. As a CIO you always have to worry about the risks. Customers have been buying proprietary software for years, and have always received indemnification. We need to offer solutions that offer customers peace of mind."

Then he took a sideswipe at another competitor, this time a certain company outside of Utah, in Washington.

"An unnamed proprietary monopolist says 'Who do you trust - us or a hacker in China?' But it's not that black and white. The Linux community needs to do a better job providing management and security tools so that customers can have peace of mind."

"By addressing the various issues around support and liability," Messman contended, "we can help customers put OS right at the core of the business. The TCO savings for Linux vs Windows is 50% - you can simply do more, for less."

"As we move open source to the enterprise we want to make clear these issues around security, cost, support, and reliability," Messman said. "I believe 2004 we will see great strides on this front."

From a vendor perspective, Messman continued, changes are even more fundamental. "How do you make money out of open source? It is a development model - but it is also becoming a business model. People will pay for the convenience of 'free' software. Companies like Novell have invested millions of dollars in proprietary code which it is now contributing to the community - such as its UDDI server."

He underlined that profit and open source can coexist. "Vendors can build a business model because enterprises don't like frequent change in their operating environment. A vendor that can manage change and create stability in a rapidly changing environment, that can create order and stability and 24x7 support, will thrive."

"Global enterprises need that quality support on a global, 'follow the sun' basis," he added. "Round the clock."

Moving to the proprietary versus open source issue, Messman said "It's critical to get beyond religious wars.

"We don't see a contradiction between supplying a free Linux distribution and supplying value-add services on Linux that we charge for," Messman asserted.

"Linux," he added, "is simply good business."

More Stories By Mark R. Hinkle

Mark Hinkle is the Senior Director, Open Soure Solutions at Citrix. He also is along-time open source expert and advocate. He is a co-founder of both the Open Source Management Consortium and the Desktop Linux Consortium. He has served as Editor-in-Chief for both LinuxWorld Magazine and Enterprise Open Source Magazine. Hinkle is also the author of the book, "Windows to Linux Business Desktop Migration" (Thomson, 2006). His blog on open source, technology, and new media can be found at http://www.socializedsoftware.com.

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