ORLANDO, Fla.—There are few trade shows over the years that have been quite as anti-Linux and open source as the Gartner Symposium/ITxpo.
If youre a technology journalist, like yours truly, that comes as no great surprise. Historically, Gartner, of all of the big IT research firms, has always been the one that thought most kindly of Microsoft and its friends.
Gartner also, generally speaking, addresses the IT questions of the enterprise. And for this audience, slow, steady and sure are a whole lot more important than fast, flashy and fantastic.
Things have changed. Oh, the titles of the Linux/open-source sessions may sound the same: “Enterprise Linux: Will Adolescence Yield to Maturity?” and “Does Open Source Deserve a Place in Your IT Portfolio?” But the content, ah, thats another matter.
For example, if you went to the enterprise Linux session with yours truly, youd find that the analyst, Gartner vice president and distinguished analyst George Weiss, doesnt think theres really any question at all about Linux becoming mature. Indeed, it already has in some ways, and by 2010, it will equal any other operating system still in business.
Heck, Weiss even came right out and displayed a chart showing that Linux today—not in 2010—is already better than Windows servers in enterprise-critical areas such as horizontal scaling (aka clustering), security and entry cost.
And by 2006, Weiss predicts that Linux “will meet the performance requirements of 80 percent to 90 percent of single OLTP [online transaction processing] application requirements.” And its competition for this gold standard of data-center computing wont be Windows; its Unix.
As for open source in general, Gartner analyst Mark Driver had this to say: “Youd be stupid not to use open source as part of your application management strategy.”
Hes got that right.
Driver also pointed out, though, that companies dont need an open-source group. Rather, they need to start considering open source in their existing application management groups: operating systems, desktop, infrastructure, what have you. In short, businesses need to think about open source in every IT area.
After all, as Driver pointed out, your company is probably already using open source. If you run any kind of Unix, chances are almost 100 percent that youve got a copy of GNU C developer tools on your machines. Apache is the most popular Web server on the planet. Any mail that goes out on the Internet is almost certain to go through a Sendmail server on its way to its destination and so on.
The point that the Gartner analysts were making, over and over again, is not that Linux and open-source programs are coming, that theyll be important some day. Rather, theyre in businesses today, and the enterprise—your company—needs to plan on how it will use them today. Now.
This is ancient news to me, and probably to you, too. But whats interesting to me is that Gartner has gotten it. Its analysts cant seem to stop themselves from showing some doubt about it in their titles, but if you look beyond that, Gartner now “gets” open source.
Oh, they do have some doubts about open sources potential IP (intellectual property) woes. Gartners sovereign remedy for these concerns is to demand that vendors give customers indemnity.
Frankly, IP is a concern, but I think Gartner is missing the boat here. IP issues, as Ive observed recently, are everyones problem. We talk—Lord, how weve talked—about SCO versus IBM, but what about Sun versus Kodak? Microsoft versus TVI? Microsoft versus Eolas? The list goes on and on of proprietary software mired in IP problems.
But thats a minor issue. If your company really is concerned and cant get whatever assurances it needs from its vendor, Black Duck Software and OSRM (Open Source Risk Management) are more than happy to provide the help you need.
Whats more important, though, is that Gartners corporate clients now understand that open-source programs are just as real and just as practical for business as any software from Oracle or Microsoft. Ive talked to a lot of people—CIOs, CTOs, data center managers—and they all agree that Linux and open source are part of their IT plans.
Oh, they may not be ready to make a bonfire of their Windows CDs in the parking lot. Indeed, many of them see open-source programs best use in using them as a switch to beat Microsoft and other proprietary vendors into making cost-saving concessions.
That said, senior corporate IT staffers also understand that the question is no longer whether open source or Linux is good enough. These days, its, “What open-source program should we consider for this or the other IT need?”
Linux and open source have come a long, long way in enterprise business acceptance. Being at this show has made me aware, as never before, of just how mainstream both have become.