NEW YORK--Ever since its humble beginnings, Linux supporters and detractors alike have been preoccupied with the open-source operating systems readiness for the enterprise.
Those same users no longer have to wait: Linux is here and here to stay. The latest proof is Red Hat Inc.s Advanced Server, unveiled here this week, which officials are calling the companys first product designed specifically for mission-critical enterprise computing.
Not that Red Hat--nor many other Linux distributions, for that matter--wasnt already being used in corporate computing. But Advanced Server takes Red Hat Linux deeper into the enterprise than ever before, company officials and users said.
New features borrowed from a development build of the forthcoming 2.5 kernel, such as asynchronous I/O, optimized SCSI and process scheduling, have been added to Red Hat 7.2 to create Advanced Server, enabling it to scale up to eight processors from its previous max of four.
These new capabilities are important to customers and partners like Oracle Corp., which is in the process of migrating all of its internal application servers to Red Hat Advanced Server and which can now sell Oracle databases on Linux with more confidence to IT.
"We are very confident in Linux," Doug Kennedy, vice president of Global Platform Partnerships for Oracle, said at Red Hats Advanced Server rollout at the Hudson Hotel. "We are running part of our business on it."
Linux selling points
Reliability and scalability have always been strong traits of Linux, but customers and potential customers are unanimous in one other selling point: the low total cost of ownership and overall value of running Linux in the enterprise.
Lehman Brothers Inc., which lost its data center at 3 World Financial Center on Sept. 11, is now rebuilding a new one in lower Manhattan. The company is taking the opportunity to bring in Linux as part of its storage management solution there, according to Bridget OConnor, senior vice president of Global Head Architecture and Engineering Technology. The company so far is pleased with the efficiencies Linux brings to the table, she said.
"We are most impressed with the price/performance we are getting in the process of evaluation," she said.
"We are very seriously evaluating Linux for our Web development infrastructure, due to the low upfront capital costs," said a representative from the pharmaceutical company Merck & Co. Inc., who requested anonymity.
Others said that its relative low cost allows Linux to be brought into a situation that requires flexibility. "Red Hat certainly is not free, but its really about choice," said Rick Carey, chief technology architect at Merrill Lynch & Co Inc. "The question is, how much can I reoptimize if Im stuck in a proprietary solution? Then my risk is higher and the harder it is to grow my business."
As customer support for Linux grows, so does the support companies like Red Hat are getting from independent software vendors, such as Veritas Software, Oracle and Intel Corp., who were all at the event to support Red Hats announcement.
Red Hats success is also spurring new growth for the Raleigh, N.C.-based company, which this week is moving much of its enterprise and Advanced Server development work into a new facility in Westford, Mass. "Theres two reasons for Massachusetts: a good supply of commercial Unix developers and open-source developers," said Paul Cormier, executive vice president of engineering for Red Hat.
What does the future hold? According to Stacey Quandt, senior industry analyst at Giga Information Group, in Santa Clara, Calif., Red Hat has a few more hurdles to clear, such as working out any potential incompatibilities with the production build of the 2.5 kernel, which isnt due out until late 2003 at the earliest.
But she predicts Linux will be the dominant Unix OS in the enterprise within three years. "Red Hat is ahead of its competition, and you can see that with the ISV investment," she said. "The next requirement is to get benchmarks from companies like Oracle. That will take three to four months. We are recommending to our customers to wait for that."
Red Hat CEO Matthew Szulik, citing historical figures Orville and Wilbur Wright and Mahatma Gandhi in his remarks, said the release of Advanced Server is a watershed event not only for Red Hat but also for all the Linux community.
"That event [the flight at Kitty Hawk, N.C.] was not covered by the media, and they couldnt get attention for five years," said Szulik, alluding to Linuxs early anonymity. "Now open-source software matters. It allows software developers to make software faster and better and at a better price."
And if customers and technology partners continue to line up behind Linux, the sky may indeed be the limit.