Mandriva targrets corporations with Linux

Mandriva, now the third-largest Linux distributor behind Red Hat and Novell, is pushing to move from its consumer and small-business market niches into the realm of enterprise IT.

Service fees from corporate customers accounted for 30 percent of Mandriva's US$5.5 million in revenue for the fiscal year that ended Oct. 31, up from 10 percent in the prior year. In September, NEC Computers International, a Netherlands-based unit of NEC, said it would bundle Mandriva Linux on the PCs and servers it sells in Europe.

And Mandriva CEO Francois Bancilhon said this month that the company will release Version 4.0 of its Corporate Server software by mid-2006, about 18 months after predecessor Mandrakesoft shipped the initial 3.0 release. He declined to comment about the upgrade's new features.

Paris-based Mandriva was formed earlier this year through the mergers of Mandrakesoft and two other Linux vendors: Brazil-based Conectiva and Lycoris.

Secure upgrade

Dan McDonald, network infrastructure manager at Austin Energy, the electric utility owned by the city of Austin, primarily runs an older Mandrakesoft version of Linux on 20 servers. But he said he's about to upgrade to Mandriva 2006, an update that was released in October and is aimed at home users and small and midsize companies.

The Linux-based servers at Austin Energy run applications such as Exchange 2003 for e-mail, network management and security, as well as the utility's mission-critical supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) software.

The SCADA servers are blocked off from the Internet for security reasons, which made Red Hat Linux unsuitable, according to McDonald, who also tested that operating system.

"My Red Hat boxes were always running home to mama, always pinging the Red Hat Web site to download patches and updates," he said.

But despite favorable reviews from McDonald and some other corporate users, Mandriva will have a tough time challenging Red Hat and Novell in the Linux server market, said Gordon Haff, an analyst at Illuminata.

"For supported Linux enterprise distributions in North America, Red Hat -- with a smattering of Novell -- is the only game in town," Haff said. "It's really hard to see what would suddenly cause [Mandriva] to become a success in North America."

Mandriva claims to have 6 million to 8 million users worldwide, with about 20,000 of them paying for support and maintenance. The company's Corporate Server software supports both 32- and 64-bit hardware and starts at US$369 per server. Users of that product include French oil company Total, France Telecom, the city of Milwaukee, NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey, Bancilhon said.

Mandriva's other large customers include London-based HSBC Holdings, which has 1,100 servers running Conectiva's version of Linux, and the public schools in Sao Paulo, Brazil, which have installed 19,000 Conectiva-based desktops and servers.

But most of Mandriva's corporate customers in North America are small or midsize companies, such as Indianapolis-based Global Transport Logistics, which runs an older Enterprise Server version of Mandrake Linux on five servers.

"Most haven't been rebooted in three to four years," said Brent Meshier, the company's network operations manager.

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