FEATURES & COMMENTARY
New York, N.Y. — Nicole Volpe reports that computer makers International Business Machines Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Co. said that they teamed up with chipmaker Intel Corp. to form an independent lab for Linux developers to expand the alternative operating system for heavy business tasks.
The consortium, which also included NEC Corp., plans to provide equipment and funding to the lab over the next several years.
“We’re each putting in millions per year over the next several years,” said Will Swope, vice president of Intel’s architecture solutions enabling group.
Giga Group analyst Stacey Quandt said the effort was a bid to rev up Linux to compete with Sun Microsystem Inc.’s Solaris operating system, which now dominates the datacenters that house the technology behind Web-based business operations.
“This is a way to address some of the higher functionality and feature sets of Solaris,” she said. “This is an open source or a collaborative way for these companies to advance Linux and get it into the datacenter.”
Sun, the largest maker of computers that run Web pages, known as servers, has not made Linux part of its strategy.
Linux, which was developed by a Finnish programmer, is free and freely distributed and developed by programmers around the world. It is currently not up to carrying out industrial strength business tasks, but companies such as IBM have committed to developing it for business use.
“The company that stands to lose the most from these efforts is Sun,” said Quandt. “Their goal is to get Linux into the datacenter within 2 years.
Some of the efforts are to bring Linux to scale beyond the 8-way, or 8 processor architecture it can currently run on to more powerful machines.
Other efforts include improving Linux’s ability to manage workloads, said Ross Maury, vice president of Unix software at IBM.
“We think Linux is an important phenomenon of the Internet,” he said. “It is the fastest growing system in the world today.”
The lab, currently under formation, will provide open source developers with a centralized enterprise development environment for sharing ideas and innovations.
“The Open Source Development Lab will help fulfill a need that individual Linux and open source developers often have – access to high-end enterprise hardware,” said Brian Behlendorf, Chief Technical Officer of open source Web site Collab.net. The lab will be based near Portland, Ore. and it is expected to open at the end of the year.
Despite its informal, noncommercial roots, Linux has found a place alongside Microsoft’s Windows in the server product lines of all major computer sellers. HP, IBM, Dell, Intel and others have even elevated Linux to the status of Windows. Computing companies, initially cautious about Linux, are scrambling to benefit from its momentum.
“Linux is moving into the enterprise,” WR Hambrecht analyst Prakesh Patel said, referring to the realm of large corporations with big databases, heavy computing loads and conservative system administrators.
But, as companies are discovering, improving Linux isn’t a simple matter of paying programmers to get the work done and then releasing the software to the Linux community.
For example, both IBM and SGI have released software that would give Linux a journaling file system, a technology that makes a computer recover from a crash more quickly and more gracefully. It’s not clear whether the journaling file systems – IBM’s JFS or SGI’s XFS – will prevail over other efforts such as ReiserFS, which is backed by Linux seller SuSE, or an upgrade of the current Linux file system called ext3.
Even successful assimilation of corporate software into Linux can be tough. IBM irked Linux programmer Linas Vespas when the company released a version of Linux for its S/390 mainframes, a project Vespas was working on independently.
“Unfortunately, IBM secrecy caused a fair amount of duplicated work,” Alan Cox, one of Linux’s top programmers, remarked in January regarding the situation.
This time, the companies are working to encourage development in a more neutral environment. The lab will be run by an independent director and controlled by a board that will include corporate representatives as well as Linux luminaries. The new Linux laboratory will be accessible to people on the premises and over the Internet, Swope said.
The lab will feature several high-end servers from the participating companies, including servers with dozens of processors from IBM, said Ross Mauri, vice president of Unix software for IBM. There will also be computers running on chips from Intel, IBM, Compaq and others.
The move is a technological necessity for computing companies these days, Patel said. “They really need to figure ways to partner or capture this opportunity, or they’ll be left behind,” he said.
The partnership also includes the four major commercial sellers of Linux – Red Hat, SuSE, TurboLinux and Caldera Systems – as well as computer maker VA Linux Systems, Linux services company Linuxcare and embedded Linux company LynuxWorks.