Show attendees see few limits for Linux

Linux: It's not just for servers anymore.

That was the message sent by users and other industry experts last week at the Enterprise Linux Forum Conference & Expo, where attendees swapped stories of Linux and open source usage in site-to-site VPNs, computer-telephony integration and Web services technology, among other areas.

Matthew Szulik, CEO of Red Hat Inc., kicked off the show with a keynote presentation about his company's move beyond Linux servers with a Red Hat Linux Workstation edition. The new product is targeted at software developers and users of high-performance desktop applications, such as number crunching or digital design and art.

Szulik also discussed Red Hat's upcoming support of Carrier Grade Linux, a version of the operating system being developed by the nonprofit Open Source Development Labs for use in telecom applications. Red Hat says it will include Carrier Grade Linux code in the next release of its Advanced Server product, due out in the first quarter of 2003.

Tony Karakashaian, a network administrator for chemical manufacturer Rochester Midland in New York, gave a talk on how he used a customized implementation of Linux and open source software to create a 15-site VPN, using recycled PCs and extra hardware.

Rochester Midland was looking to replace its frame relay network and Karakashaian was given the task of "coming up with the best, cheapest solution I could find," he said. Cisco's PIX firewall and VPN products were considered for the project, but Karakashaian says a network based on all Cisco gear would have run upwards of US$20,000.

Because Karakashaian had experience working with Linux in college, he proposed the idea of a VPN based on Linux machines to his boss, the vice president of technology. His boss gave Karakashaian the green light after telling him that he could replace the frame relay routers with Pentium II PCs running Linux (which has an IP router function native in its kernel) and a Linux-based software package called FreeS/WAN, which provides packet filtering and VPN tunnel encryption.

"When I said we had most of the hardware already to build the network and that the software would be free, [our vice president of technology] liked that," Karakashaian said.

Sitel Worldwide of Omaha, Neb., which outsources customer call centers for American Express, General Motors, The Home Depot and others, is another Linux convert.

Scott Clark, director of systems at Sitel of Omaha, Neb., said in a presentation that the company has deployed Dell servers running Red Hat Linux and Oracle database software at 20 call centers, providing local access to a custom-built CRM application that interacts with Nortel voice switches. The move to Linux has saved his company about $9,000 in hardware and software costs per system over the current IBM RS/6000 and AIX systems he used to use to run Oracle software.

"It's cheaper for us to have a couple standby Linux servers on hand instead of having replacement components for some of the [RS/6000] servers we used to run," he said.

Christian Gross, a software engineering consultant and author, talked about how Web services could be viewed as "the killer app" for open source. He outlined some free software packages, such as Apache Axis, as an alternative to Microsoft's .Net and Sun's Open Network Environment Web services platforms. But he also discussed how companies and software developers could take advantage of Web services along with a loophole in the GNU Public License (GPL).

GPL, which governs many open source software products such as Linux, allows the free use, modification and resale of code written under the license, provided that anyone changing the code for a commercial application make the changes public. Gross said that if companies are selling a Web service and not software, they could use open source software to build their products without having to make their development work available to potential competitors.

While this tactic might go against the spirit of open source, it could spur the use of Web services among corporate users, Gross said.

"Will this cause some people to hoard software they've developed using open source? Probably," Gross said. "But more likely, a gray area will be created, where some give back to the [open source] community, and some don't."

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