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Putting a Tie on Linux

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SANTA CLARA, Calif. — If business is going to get serious about Linux, it will have to understand where it can and cannot fit into the software stack.

Such is the message behind this year’s Enterprise Linux Forum Conference & Expo 2003 here. The three-day gathering sponsored by Jupitermedia , parent company of this Web site, sets out to give IT and business professionals with an understanding of all the issues and benefits related to the application of Linux and Linux-based datacenter solutions in the enterprise. Linux advocates from IBM and Oracle were on hand to highlight their successes with the operating system.

According to IDC, Linux is the fastest growing platform; expected to grow 174 percent to US$5.9 billion by 2006, but the conference is taking on new meaning this time around considering how emotionally charged the open source community has become. The operating system is being debated for its large-scale capabilities such as Grid computing , its cost effectiveness and most importantly these days… its legal ramifications.

Recently, legal maneuvering on the part of SCO Group has sent shockwaves through the open source marketplace. Where the software once was thought of as a way out of proprietary strangleholds, questions of copyright ownership of the core code prompted a lawsuit against IBM. Analysts are now advising companies to check with their legal departments prior to installing systems.

Dan Kusnetzky, vice president of System Software Research at Framingham, Mass.-based IDC, whose keynote Thursday “The Evolution of the Virtual Environment, Where Does Linux Fit?” said the legal issue will cause some shakeups but the long-term impacts are sketchy at best.

“I know of one Linux supplier that has signed up a major automobile manufacturer to install the operating system in nearly every one of its systems,” said Kusnetzky. “Now the automaker is keeping that project under wraps.”

Kusnetzky says that in no way indicates that the Linux penguin is an albatross or harbinger of legal doom. Outside of the United States, the issue seems to have much less of an impact.

“The other thing to remember is that the company they chose to target [IBM] is a company that has been through the legal process before and is known for its ability to work with the court system to hold litigation for years and years,” said Kusnetzky. “I’m not convinced that the SCO group will be around in a decade.”

Intellectual property lawyers William Zucker and Scott Nathan are expected to sort out the issues raised by SCO Friday during their presentation and open forum discussion including the current status of the copyright movement within the traditional intellectual property community and developments in copyright and other areas of intellectual property law that may affect the use and pursuit of the open source model.

IBM vice president of Grid Computing Strategy Daniel Powers was adamant about his company’s position.

“This is not just an attack on us. This is an attack on the whole industry. But we intend to fight it vigorously,” Powers told

But Powers did say that Linux is still one of IBM’s four strongest pillars of growth. The company is also relying on Web services , Grid computing and Autonomic Computing as high growth areas.

“We see Linux taking on more high scale computing environments with the migration to 4-way and 8-way servers. Linux will be very valuable in areas such as handling transactional workloads and database systems,” he said.

One area that the Armonk, N.Y.-based company is putting Linux to work is in Grid computing and its relationship to IBM’s $10 million e-Business “on Demand” initiative.

“On demand is a state of business,” said Powers pointing to companies like Mobile Oil, Charles Schwab and even the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), which has installed a new e-mail system running Linux

But using Linux in the stack is not a short-term solution. Research from IDC suggests that while open source will save companies on many of the traditional licensing fees, pound for pound Linux is more expensive to run than Windows based primarily on employee costs.

“Low-cost software may be the biggest cost because of the staff,” said Kusnetzky. “We’re seeing a 50 to 70 percent of the cost is related to staff either in training or retraining. That will change after five years. The other obstacle is that Linux does not have all of the applications that are out there available. For example, if you want to run MySQL, the choice is either Windows or Windows.”

Currently, IDC’s sales statistics rate Red Hat as the number one Linux distributor with German-owned SuSE Linux a close second. After that, the research group says the rest of the field depends on the country you are looking at.

“Europe is different than Asia and SCO, for example, is a minor player and will take a smaller share because of their legal maneuverings,” Kusnetzky said.

Oracle has taken a similar approach in using Linux as a platform for change. The Redwood Shores, Calif.-based software giant is firmly rooted in the open source community for its “Unbreakable Linux” campaign.

The Oracle9i Database, for example, was developed specially to support the Linux environment and it has proven to be popular with the Linux community.

Oracle is taking over most of the conference Friday. The company is sponsoring an ISV Day complete with Oracle vice president of Linux Program Office Dave Dargo who will talk about a more “utility-class” model of computing.

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