SAN FRANCISCO—The floor of a technology trade show is perhaps the worst place in the world for dispassionate evaluation of a market. This was especially true at this years LinuxWorld as developers (and most users) put aside the fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) about the future of the platform engendered by the .
Despite the cheerleading from executives, that FUD may ripple for a long while through the small and mid-size business market, giving Microsoft an edge. Linux advocates hope that significant investment in the space may prove an antidote.
For example, executives from Hewlett-Packard, IBM and Red Hat downplayed the FUD in their keynote addresses. Instead of a potential sinkhole, the churn engendered by SCO represents a simple road hazard. According to Irving Wladawsky-Berger, general manager of e-business on Demand at IBM: "Throughout history successful technologies are remembered, but few remember the inevitable bumps on the road on the way to success."
Some developers said the attendees seemed "more serious" and focused on solutions and performance than in years past. "Were three times as busy as last year," observed John Fuchs-Chesney, strategic relationship manager with Dolphin Interconnect Solutions, which highlighted its scalable coherent interface cards for clustered computing (a popular subject at the show).
Storage powerhouse Veritas Software announced Linux-clustering tools as well as various components that support the companys utility-computing model. According to Ranajit Nevatia, director of Linux strategy, the company considers Linux a "top-tier" operating system. Over the next year, Veritas will offer Linux versions of its Database Edition Advanced Cluster Server, Volume Replicator and SANPoint Foundation Suite; and it will also expand its support for SuSE Linux. (For more information, see the full press release.)
Nevatia said the value proposition for Linux and its customers may have changed over time—or may continue to change depending on the outcome of the licensing lawsuits. "The movement is on," he said. "The strength of Linux isnt that its free; [rather], customers like its flexibility and control. By continuing to commoditize the OS and hardware platform they can drive costs down—that will still happen."
My concern with the FUD over Linux is its effect on the large number of small and mid-size business (SMB) customers who havent bought into the Linux proposition. These market segments are very sensitive to value concerns and are swayed by branding and relationships. The perception of a problem is just as harmful as a "real" one.
"Here, Linux has the potential to change the way we do computing in the future, and suddenly theres this cloud over the industry," Philip Reese, director of network systems for Stanford University of Stanford, Calif. asserted. "This lawsuit could carry on for years. And it could taint things for years."
Examples of this negative-branding effect may be felt quickly in the growing market for network-attached storage and iSCSI systems as well as blade servers. Even now, analyst reports last month showed strong growth in the first quarter of 2003 for Windows Storage Server, formerly knows as Windows-powered NAS. These are products aimed squarely at SMB environments.
However, IBM appears unwilling to cede the segment over to Microsoft. The company this week at LinuxWorld unveiled a new incentive program for the channel aimed squarely at SMB customers. Called "Double Your Discount with Linux," the plan offers value-added resellers (VARs) and ISVs a 60 percent discount for sales of IBM Linux software to SMB customers. The program runs for almost a year, from August 18 through June 2004.
The program looks to shift vertical market developers away from Microsoft-centric services such as .Net, according to Scott Handy, director of Linux solutions marketing.
"Decisions arent made on technology anymore—its the economic model," Handy said. ISVs gain "competitive differentiation" from Linux, he added. "Once they make a business decision to support Linux, it brings the technological decision. A lot of customers [ISVs] want the same stack for both Linux and Windows."
"[The incentive] is pouring gasoline on the Linux fire for SMB," Handy said, describing the extra margin as an investment in Linux. He said ISVs could use the money to fund the porting of applications to Linux, and resellers could boost technical expertise or generate demand. "Nothing has been this aggressive in the channel."
Will cash prove to be the antidote to fear, uncertainty and doubt over Linux for the SMB customer? Let me know what you think.
David Morgenstern is a longtime reporter of the storage industry as well as a veteran of the dotcom boom in the storage-rich fields of professional content creation and digital video.
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