Four Industry Giants Back New Lab for Linux R&D

In a multimillion-dollar deal that backers hope will help bring Linux firmly into the world of enterprise computing, four industry-leading companies announced Wednesday that they and other companies are creating the first independent, nonprofit development laboratory for Linux.

The Open Source Development Lab, to be based near Portland, Ore., is being built through the collaboration of Hewlett-Packard, Intel, IBM and NEC. It is expected to open by the end of the year.

"The Open Source Development Lab will help fulfill a need that individual Linux and open-source developers often have access to high-end enterprise hardware," said Brian Behlendorf, chief technical officer of CollabNet, in a statement.

Also sponsoring the new lab are Caldera Systems Inc., Dell Computer Corp., LinuxCare Inc., LynuxWorks, Red Hat Inc., Silicon Graphics Inc., SuSE Linux AG, TurboLinux Inc. and VA Linux Systems Inc.

The idea of the lab, according to the backers, isn't to create new projects. Instead, the focus will be on accelerating existing or new projects being developed by the open-source community.

"This will be the first of many labs we hope to open," said an IBM spokeswoman. Each of the four partner companies is providing seed money for the project, as well as the needed personnel to move it forward, she said.

A mix of servers and equipment will be in the lab to give developers the chance to produce applications for a wide range of environments, she said. The equipment will be accessible on-site or over the Internet for their use, she added, with personnel standing by for assistance.

But in a world where Linux development has largely been done by individuals in the field, collaborating with one another in a sort of computer open-source underworld, how will the Linux development community respond to a group of big guns getting involved?

"They have the buy-in from most of the bigwigs in open-source," said Bill Claybrook, an analyst at Aberdeen Group Inc. in Boston. "The idea is that some of those folks from the open-source community will be on the board" of the new lab, helping shape its direction and future.

Claybrook called the lab a good idea that could eventually help Linux, which is seen by many as a low-end operating system, support larger tasks such as enterprise computing and mission-critical applications.

"At the rate things are going, I think it's possible," he said.

For IBM, NEC, HP and Intel, the motivation for helping to push the development of Linux is clear, he said.

"It is to their advantage to see Linux move up the food chain," he said. "Some of these companies are kind of fed up dealing with Microsoft [as the major operating system provider] all the time and being bullied."

For the four companies, Linux has plenty of promise and lots of open-source development already going on by others, saving the companies millions of dollars in development costs, he said. In addition, IBM and the others see the continued development of Linux as a way to rejuvenate their hardware sales.

With the backing of the industry-funded lab, that development work will only get more intense, Claybrook said.

"With these companies involved, it's going to go somewhere," he said.

Dan Kusnetzky, an analyst at International Data Corp. in Framingham, Mass., agreed, saying that the only way Linux will be ported to large-scale hardware will be through the creation of such a lab, where independent developers will have hands-on access to leading-edge machines.

"It makes perfectly good sense for the companies who want this to happen to make the lab available," Kusnetzky said. "If they want the software development, they have to make it possible."

Still, he said, the creation of such a lab isn't going to transform Linux into a successful enterprise operating system overnight.

"It potentially is a good thing, but all by itself it is not enough to change the equation," he said.

Much will depend on the availability of large-scale equipment in the facility, with a wide range of processors and platforms for developers to use.

"Those kinds of questions," he said, "haven't been answered yet."

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