LINUX BOOSTS UNIX

October 27, 2000

FEATURES & COMMENTARY

San Diego, CALIF. — Charles Babcock reports that Microsoft’s high-end server operating system, Windows 2000 Datacenter Server, is pushing on Unix from one side and the upstart open source code OS, Linux, is pushing on Unix from the other. But if the big Unix vendors are worried, they aren’t saying so.

On the contrary, they say the future has never looked better for commercial Unix systems, as they take on the role of the workhorse in powering e-commerce and industrial-strength application servers on Web sites.

In their eyes, the Windows 2000 adoption rate thus far has been slow although Datacenter was released only a month ago. And far from being threatened by Linux, they see it as a teammate pulling in the same direction. Linux, after all, is the version of Unix created for the Intel architecture. It’s got “the same DNA that goes into Solaris,” says Herb Hinstorff, Linux program office manager at Sun Microsystems.

“If Linux weren’t around, the world would be a very different place than it is for Unix today,” Hinstorff says.

The comment is a reflection of what the Unix vendors feel is a remarkable turnaround in their fortunes over the last 18 months. Having lived for years in fear of the growing power and scalability of Microsoft Windows, they now sense that they have in Linux a little champion on their side, one with charisma and a popular following. Unix vendors aren’t used to feeling that way. “Linux has done a lot to bring a whole new wave of excitement to Unix,” Hinstorff says.

“Linux is cheap as hell and runs on Intel [generic] white boxes. It’s the volume Unix,” says Ross Mauri, vice president of development for the server group at IBM. But more than that, Linux is attracting the attention of the best computer science students in colleges and universities. Whether it’s on the curriculum or not, they’re graduating with Linux skills, which means they are more inclined to go to work in Unix shops than Windows, Mauri adds.

Linux’s charisma potential was cited in a report by Survey.com, after the online market research company conducted interviews with 1,979 information systems managers from November 1999 to February 2000. Linux and OpenBSD, the open source code version of Unix developed at the University of California at Berkeley, are “gaining network infrastructure applications at the expense of Windows NT/2000 in smaller companies,” including the important category of dot-com start-ups, the report says.

The Unix community, hunkered down in its big system enclaves, hasn’t seen Windows rolled back by Unix on any front since Windows 3.0 came on the scene in the mid-1980s and swept desktops. Now Linux appears to be doing better than holding its own against Windows on key servers inside emerging online companies.

“Linux is established at the Internet access layer of companies the Web server, firewalls and caching servers,” says Mark Hudson, senior director of Unix marketing at Hewlett-Packard. It’s also proving to be a popular development environment. For that reason, HP, IBM and Sun are taking pains to make sure Linux-generated applications are easy to run on their proprietary Unix systems.

By generating “affinities” between its Unix and Linux, IBM hopes to gain competitive advantages with customers that are having trouble hiring all the technical skills they need. A pSeries-based shop IBM recently renamed its Unix server family “pSeries” can take advantage “of the natural growing abundance of Linux skills” coming out of colleges and universities, Mauri says.

Early on, Unix vendors feared that they had another competitor, not an ally, in Linux. But Rich Sands, Sun’s competitive analyst on OSes, says he, for one, has gotten over viewing it that way. The action for Unix today is not to land on every server in the enterprise, but to land on the core servers that make up the heart of its business operations. In effect, Unix is encroaching on the territory that was once the domain of the IBM mainframe.

International Data Corp.’s figures indicate the same thing, says Dan Kusnetzky, OS analyst at the firm. Windows leads the market in numbers of units shipped in 1999, but Unix dominated the market with slightly more than 50 percent of server revenue, he says.

Another company that has put money behind its perception of the Linux/Unix connection is Linux distributor Caldera Systems, which purchased the Unix server division of the Santa Cruz Operation in August for $7 million. Caldera made the move, says Chief Executive Ransom Love, because “Linux does not scale to the high-end needs of the data center. Unix operating systems do.”

With the SCO versions of Unix, Caldera will have a product line that covers “specialized servers,” such as the Web servers and firewalls where Linux is already entrenched, as well as a data center OS. The two “complement each other,” Love notes. That’s tame language to Mauri. They don’t just complement each other the union formed by Linux and Unix “is a marriage made in heaven,” he says.

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