Linux looking to conquer apps, data center, edge

Linux has clearly arrived and now is the time for other projects to build on the operating system's success

Having secured mainstream acceptance, the Linux community now stands poised to take on its next challenge: complementing the operating system with the applications, data center technologies and edge devices desired by corporate customers.

The evidence of what is to come was on display last week at the annual LinuxWorld conference, where 11,000 attendees gathered to check out advances around such technologies as virtualization, management, security and mobile devices all primed to deliver on the open source promise and build on the Linux momentum.

The message was that Linux has clearly arrived and now is the time for other projects to build on the operating system's success.

But it is not all roses: Linux has yet to crack the desktop in any significant way, the server install base lags 15 million behind Windows, Sun is biting at the Linux kernel, and there is still plenty of distrust as Microsoft jockeys for its position in the inevitable integration taking place between Windows and Linux at the infrastructure and middleware layers of corporate networks.

But credibility and trust around open source and Linux-based software and appliances may be at an all-time high, and independent software vendors (ISV) and corporate users are excited by the possibilities.

"Even three years ago, Linux was not even near the data center and today it is under mission-critical applications and we are just on the front end of that adoption," says Matt Asay, vice president of business development for Alfresco, which develops open source enterprise content management software. "There is still the perception that if you want heavy duty you go Solaris or other Unix variants, but I think that is changing to Linux, and to Windows."

Other open source technologies are finding footholds in hot markets, namely virtualization for the data center and mobile devices.

IDC forecasts that Linux will capture 36 percent of the virtual machine market by 2010.

Open source packages are emerging as alternatives to VMware and Microsoft's forthcoming virtualization add-on for Windows Server 2008. The evidence can be seen in virtualization platforms such as Xen and the Kernel Based Virtual Machine (KVM), the first virtualization technology to be part of the mainline Linux kernel (V2.6.20).

Vendors are taking those tools and building commercial implementations including Novell and Red Hat with Xen, and XenSource offers commercial versions that support both Linux and Windows.

"Virtualization is a big one for us," says Rodd Heaton, computer system analyst for L3 Communications. The company has increased its Linux server installations by 10 percent to 15 percent over the past couple of years in converting from Novell's NetWare to SUSE Enterprise Linux. "Our test environment is almost all virtual and now we are looking at our production environment."

Amazon is using Xen and Linux as part of its Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2), a Web service that let users add and subtract computing resources in real time. With EC2, users configure security and network access; start, terminate and monitor any number of their virtual applications; and pay by the hour and bandwidth consumed.

"In the new model, you pull resources into the moment when you need them and you release them when you no longer need them," said Werner Vogels, CTO of Amazon Web services during his opening keynote speech.

Another area where Linux has been making a splash is on the edge with mobile devices. Motorola last week announced its new MotoMagx Linux-based platform and said within the next few years that 60 percent of its handset portfolio will be based on the platform.

The company already has 9 million Linux-based handsets in use, mostly in Asia.

In addition, Motorola last year help launch the LiMo Foundation, which will create a common Linux-based mobile device platform. The belief is that a consistent platform will attract developers who can write applications once and run them on many devices. The group hopes to have its first version out by year-end.

Last week, the foundation added Java-based developers Aplix, Celunite, LG Electronics, device software optimization firm Wind River and McAfee to its list of core members: NTT Docomo, Panasonic Mobile Communications, Samsung Electronics and Vodafone.

With MotoMagx out and the LiMO platform in the works, Motorola is focusing on three application development environments -- Java, a Web browser UI based on the Safari rendering engine and native Linux APIs -- so developers can build applications such as Web services, location-based-services, 3D multiplayer gaming and mobilized corporate data.

Motorola also has the open source Eclipse Tools for mobile Linux project it began last year at the Eclipse Foundation to foster development on mobile Linux platforms.

"Software is gong to matter in the mobile space, and developers need to have some consistency across platforms," said Christy Wyatt, vice president of ecosystem and market development for Motorola's mobile business. "We came to the conclusion that Linux was our alternative. We can scale it; we can innovate at any level."

The push toward making application development easier is also a main theme for Linux in general.

"The No. 1 thing that we need on Linux is applications," said Ron Hovsepian, Novell's CEO during his Day 3 keynote talk at LinuxWorld. "If you look at Windows, their application availability is far and away their biggest advantage," he said. "ISVs go to Microsoft and they know there is one platform." He said Linux needs that and called on the open source vendor community to support a vendor-neutral effort to standardize ISV certifications.

"ISVs would be able to certify an application and seamlessly port it across Linux distributions," he said.

Hovsepian was short on details, but there are other similar projects underway, including the Linux Standard Base, which Novell supports, and the Open Solutions Alliance, which promotes development of common APIs.

Hovsepian also said Linux needs to focus on virtualization, management, security and power management. "These are critical components as to where and how the next generation of data centers evolve," he said.

While these new areas of focus are being explored those closest to the heart of the matter - the Linux kernel - are not stopping to pat themselves on the back.

"It looks like we have a battle on two fronts now, one with Microsoft and one with Sun," said James Bottomley, a Linux kernel developer and vice president and CTO of SteelEye Technology. The Sun tiff in part has revolved around its OpenSolaris initiative and how it might license its ZFS file system. Linux kernel stewards, including Linus Torvalds himself, believe Sun wants to take from the Linux community and not give back via open source licensing.

"Sun wants to have an innovation model that mirrors Linux and not give away the keys [by open sourcing]. I find that is an impossible goal," Bottomley said.

Despite the back and forth, the belief is that Linux's place as a corporate platform has been seized and that if the next steps can be executed with the same level of competence then the potential is unlimited.

"The interesting thing across all these areas of growth is that you have this unifying Linux underneath," said Jim Zemlin, executive director of the Linux Foundation.

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