Linux Influx in Asia a Year Away, Analyst Says

Linux vendors are bolstering their market presence in Asia-Pacific and analysts continue to predict widespread adoption for the open-source OS (operating system) around the region, especially in China.

"I think U.S. Linux companies, (such as) Turbolinux Inc. and RedFlag, are still trying to get themselves into the Asia-Pacific market," said Avneesh Saxena, research manager for systems and servers at International Data Corp. (IDC). "(Linux vendors) have been setting up their distribution channels and their offices (in Asia) in the last six months."

According to Saxena, as global Linux vendors, such as Turbolinux, have already established a brand name in the international Linux community, their local-language Linux products would be accepted in Greater China, and bring them increases in market share.

But although Linux is gaining popularity in the region, it hasn't reached the same levels of market recognition as Microsoft Corp. Windows has, Saxena noted. "Linux itself hasn't really taken off in a very big way at this moment," he said. Saxena expects widespread adoption to take more than a year and said there are several key challenges to be overcome.

Referring to Turbolinux, which has recently announced investments in Greater China, Saxena said it would be difficult for the company to have a bigger pull on the market than local Linux vendors, because, essentially, "Linux is the same from all vendors."

"Unless they are able to offer some special solutions or some special packages with the OS, there's nothing unique about it," Saxena said. "The value add is the solutions which run on top of that. So, if (Linux vendors) are able to package that with a lot of attractive solutions, then yes, (market adoption) will gain speed."

The growth of Linux is also dependent on the support of hardware vendors, according to Saxena. "Recently, we've started seeing (hardware vendors) talk about their strategy and Linux. IBM is one such example."

IBM recently announced that it would spend US$200 million to build seven Linux development centers throughout the Asia-Pacific region in the next four years, company officials said. "Currently, about 8 percent to 10 percent of IBM's servers ship with Linux globally," said Connie Meu, IBM sales, marketing and channels manager for Personal Services. "That number could increase to as much as 20 percent in the longer term," she added.

To help Linux spread across the market, IBM will also provide support for their existing clients wishing to move from Windows and Novell Inc. NetWare to Linux, officials said.

"What we're seeing is that (demand) is definitely growing, especially at the lower end - lightweight applications, and applications where people don't feel that they should be spending on (Windows) NT or Novell software," Saxena said.

Linux use in China is also gradually increasing. With China's entry into the World Trade Organization looming, there is pressure for the country to increase its computing efficiency and to buy more servers, analysts said. "Linux would be attractive to them because they are starting new, (and) they don't have any experience," Saxena said. "I mean, what's to lure them towards (Windows) NT?"

The growth of Linux should be healthy around Greater China due to the large number of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) it contains, Saxena said. "SMEs would see value (in Linux), in term of price, (if) nothing else," he added. "A lot of these SMEs are graduating from desktops they have been using as servers, to real servers."

According to Saxena, the uptake of Linux by large corporations is still limited. "Most are testing Linux," he said. Big business, however, is cautious about moving Linux from trial testing into service, as Saxena said, "if (you) don't have the availability and your server goes down, you could lose much more than credibility - you lose a lot of money too."

Users are also taking a cautious stand when venturing into Linux territory because it is still relatively new, Saxena said. "Talking to users, they are experimenting more and waiting for other success stories to come out, and then, I think, adoption really would speed up," he said, pointing out banks and telecommunications companies as two examples of enterprises still in the wait-and-watch mode, deciding whether or not to trust Linux.

Clustering technology, Saxena noted, will help establish Linux in the market, since it will allow for higher scalability.

"Right now (Linux) goes up to four CPUs (but) the latest version coming out in December, Version 2.4, will go up to eight CPUs," he said. "This is the reason why clustering is very attractive. Since (Linux) can't scale, they can put into boxes four CPUs each and cluster, and get super performance out of Linux."

The development of Linux has had its share of setbacks, with Linux vendors such as LinuxCare and Turbolinux cutting staff. "(Linux vendors) highly relied on dot-coms and the Internet world, and the shakeout there (has) affected them as well," Saxena said.

Past hype, when some touted Linux as the software that would overtake Windows NT and storm onto the world's servers, has to be overcome, according to Saxena.

"That's something people realize that's not going to happen. There's going to be opportunities different from NT to start with," he said. "Gradually, as it's more trusted, as it's more credible, then people will start adopting it the way they've taken NT."

Linux training is another area which needs to be developed in Asia, if Linux adoption is going to stick. "For people who have been using Unix, it wouldn't be very much of a problem, but for new users there would be a question of training," Saxena said.

The most common complaint, according to Saxena, is that training is either not available or expensive, which inhibits the adoption of Linux. Sometimes the savings from the open source platform can be cancelled out by the cost in training, he added.

"Vendors and software people have to do something to educate or to try (to package training) into the sale of (Linux)," Saxena said. "Linux training would be important factor in deciding where users are going to accept Linux or not."

Linux adoption in Greater China currently constitutes between 5 percent and 7 percent of the overall market, according to IDC, compared to 11 percent worldwide. These figures only include Linux bundled with servers, and exclude Linux software bought from retail stores, according to Saxena, who pointed out that there is also a huge market for Linux downloaded from Linux Web sites.

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