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Dell Feels Linux Customer Demand

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In rolling out low-cost, Oracle-based server clusters on Wednesday, Dell CEO Michael Dell mentioned Linux and Windows as “standards” in almost the same breath. At the same press conference in New York City, though, members of a Dell customer panel indicated that momentum for Linux could be starting to outweigh attachment to Windows and other OS among Dell’s customer base.

Dell’s servers only use “standards-based systems,” contended Michael Dell, who pointed to Linux and Windows as Dell’s two supported operating environments. Dell, however, also described Linux as the “fastest-growing” environment.

As benefits of standardization, the CEO cited cost savings, “reduction in complexity,” and easier ability to port applications between OS.

In a clear reference to Sun Solaris and other Unix systems, Dell maintained that his company’s Linux- and Windows-based cluster servers will “edge out proprietary niche” systems.

Also during the press conference at the lavish Hotel Pierre, Dell announced expanded relationships with Oracle, a long-term partner of Sun’s, and with storage vendor EMC.

Another speaker at the press conference, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, was even more bullish about Linux. “Linux and Dell will be the dominant architecture in the enterprise,” he remarked, slamming larger Unix-based systems as proprietary “bottlenecks.”

Linux now dominates 80 percent of the Web server market with Apache, according to Ellison. “Our friends at Microsoft would love to dominate that market.”

For his part, Dell was careful to include Microsoft within the rubric of his own company’s strategic partnerships. “We’re still partners with Microsoft,” he replied, in answer to a question from one reporter.

Dell’s newly announced, Intel-based servers run a choice of Linux or Microsoft Windows 2000.During a Q&A with a smaller group of journalists later on Wednesday, Dell acknowledged that his company has also taken a look at processors from Intel competitor AMD.

Dell also drew heat from another reporter, who charged that EMC, another Dell partner, is a “proprietary” company that has resisted standardization efforts in the storage industry.

When asked to elaborate on Ellison’s predictions about Linux, Dell retrenched a bit. “We don’t have any desire to make bold pronouncements–any bolder than (those) we’ve made,” Dell maintained.

Despite Dell’s efforts to measure his words, some analysts thought Dell might be taking the chance of upsetting the apple cart in some of its existing relationships – its long-term ties to Microsoft, in particular.

“Dell’s really gone out on a limb. This is very ‘non-Dell,'” said Andy Butler, VP & research group director for GartnerGroup’s UK division. Butler also speculated that Dell might be running the risk of losing Microsoft perqs, such as early access to development code.

During the main press conference at the Hotel Pierre, Dell strongly implied that his company’s support for Linux and Windows is based on customer demand. Oracle’s clout, though, seems like a factor, as well.

Dell servers running Oracle are “number one in the cluster market,” according to Dell. “Customers have embraced that kind of experience.”

Two of the five users on the customer panel – representing Nasdaq, Wyndham Hotels, and Domino Pizza/UK–said they are using Microsoft Windows 2000. The others–from IMAX Corporation and Menasha Corporation–running Linux on Dell servers.

The Linux users extolled Linux for its performance as well as for lowered costs of ownership

All three Microsoft customers, though, said they’ll also be looking into Linux. Ed Randich, CIO for Nasdaq, said he wants to explore the use of Linux on edge servers.

In an interview with LinuxPlanet, Marc Halpern, IS director for Domino’s Pizza/UK, conceded feeling somewhat held back from Linux by upgrade contracts with Microsoft. Halpern added, though, that he still has some worries over the security, manageability, and long-term costs of Linux.

“Linux has more even security holes than Windows,” according to Halpern. Initially, Linux cost of ownership is lower, he agreed. “I’m not sure, though, as to the ongoing availability of trained Linux administrators. I also have serious concerns over the availability and quality of Linux management tools.”

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