Linux continuing to woo enterprise Internet customers

IT executives who have been eyeing Linux as an alternative operating system for enterprise servers are beginning to see more diverse options emerge from the open-source arena.

In recent weeks, commercial Linux vendors have unveiled easy-to-install desktop operating systems, rolled out an operating system tuned for server environments and engaged in mergers that should help add muscle to the Linux movement.

Early next year, Version 2.4 of the Linux kernel will be available and is expected to address some key enterprise needs. The kernel will include scalability enhancements to the file system and support for large memory stores and symmetrical multiprocessing, according to Linux creator Linus Torvalds.

The advancements don't meet all enterprise operating system requirements, but they provide more fuel for the Linux fire.

"It is still not clear Linux has the necessary features for the enterprise," says Tony Iams, an analyst for D.H. Brown Associates in Port Chester, New York. "We need to see how the kernel will advance."

The advancements are needed to break Linux away from the pigeonhole it has assumed in the enterprise -- single-function servers for the Web or e-mail -- and to answer questions about high performance.

But the commercial Linux community is not waiting for the 2.4 kernel.

"There was a certain amount of validation for Linux given the presence Linux had at Comdex," says Ransom Love, president and CEO of Caldera Systems. "It means the business community is looking at Linux as a serious alternative."

Caldera is trying to build on that with its OpenLinux eServer 2.3, a thin server that can be managed remotely. The idea is to manage groups of eServers, instead of individual devices, from a browser-based tool called Webmin.

Caldera plans to add hooks for such enterprise requirements as directory services, so eServers can be incorporated into e-commerce environments.

"We [the Linux community] have to start adding features to Linux that address the needs of ... the enterprise," says Donald Barnes, director of technical projects for Red Hat.

On the mergers and acquisitions front, Red Hat recently bought development tools company Cygnus Solutions for $US674 million in an effort to offer a broader set of products and support to enterprise customers.

Corel is also pumping up its Linux efforts with improvements to its desktop Corel Linux operating system. The company has greatly simplified the install process and put "fit and finish" to the operating system.

Early next year, Corel will ship its WordPerfect Office suite for Linux in an effort to fill the application gap on the platform.

"The biggest glaring hole for Linux is enterprise and desktop applications," says Dan Kusnetzky, an analyst with International Data Corp., a research firm in Framingham, Massachusetts. "For Linux applications it has been 'roll your own' -- that's good for developers but not good for the enterprise."

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