VA Linux Tries Build-to-Order Model

SAN MATEO (08/14/2000) - Promising to deliver customized Web servers with just the right amount of Linux code to perform any given task, Sunnyvale, Calif.-based VA Linux Systems Inc. this week announced the company will embark on a BTOS (build-to-order software) model for its Linux operating system.

Comparing the new business model to Dell Computer Corp.'s highly successful build-to-order hardware model, John Hall, vice president of VA Linux, said that starting Monday customers will be able to visit the company's Web site and select from more than 700 custom Linux server configurations, such as file or application serving.

"Ninety percent of VA Linux customers have spent up to 90 minutes per server reconfiguring the operating system for the specific task that server will run," Hall said.

BTOS customers will also be able to upload network specifications to the VA Linux site and order servers that are ready to plug right into their network.

Hall said that as competitors such as Durham, N.C.-based Red Hat Inc. continue to ship full Linux system images, either directly or via equipment manufacturers, end-users will keep having to "strip down" the operating system to the base requirements of the unit's task.

"Our [BTOS model] will change the way Red Hat does business, will force a change in the way Microsoft does business, and ultimately we believe this will be the way that all software is eventually sold," Hall said.

A Red Hat official responded by saying it does in fact tailor its Linux operating system to the needs of its customers through partner programs with equipment manufacturers.

Hall's comparison of the BTOS model to Dell's build-to-order process also drew sharp criticism from the Round Rock, Texas-based computer maker.

Subo Guha, director of product marketing at Dell, said the company does indeed offer customers Linux configurations via its DellPlus service and that Dell's PowerApp appliance servers provide task-specific functionality like that offered by the VA Linux BTOS. But rather than creating a slew of Web-based configurations for customers to pick from, Dell customers simply have to ask for what they want, Guha said.

Ric O'Connell, vice president of engineering for San Francisco-based Internet advertising company, likes the BTOS model for the amount of time it saves his company. "The value is being able to not only have built-to-order hardware, but now also built-to-order software."

But David Boyes, CIO of Dimension Enterprises, a Herndon, Va.-based infrastructure design company, warns that "if you deliver a configured system, the assumption is the vendor is willing to guarantee the configuration, and collecting enough information from a customer to do that in a realistic way is difficult. You could be liable for a defect in the configuration, and I don't think there is a vendor in the world that wants that."

IBM bolsters Linux strategy

IBM's Linux strategy takes another Big Blue step forward when the company unveils plans this week to deliver several key enterprise-level capabilities that allow the open-source operating system to scale and run more robustly on its Netfinity line of PC-based servers.

At next week's LinuxWorld show in San Jose, Calif., IBM will extend the core elements of its X Architecture to its Netfinity servers operating under Linux.

Those elements include its Netfinity Director systems management software, memory chip kill technology, PCI hot swap capabilities, Light Path Diagnostics clustering, and "software rejuvenation" technology.

"This is a pretty big step forward given that X Architecture represents IBM's server crown jewels," said Sandy Carter, director of solutions marketing at Netfinity, in Raleigh, N.C.

IBM's X Architecture is the company's design blueprint for building enterprise capabilities that ascribe to industry standards.

Armonk, N.Y.-based IBM will also show off an as yet unnamed Web-based tool, expected in October, to help measure the bottom line benefits of implementing pieces of X Architecture compared to competing products.

The version of Netfinity Director for Linux, expected later this year or early next year, has been high on the wish lists of IBM's Linux users. It allows corporate shops to remotely manage and deploy entire server configurations.

Allowing Linux to exploit IBM's chip kill technology is a first for the open-source operating system, IBM officials said. The capability allows users to recover from 8-bit memory failures or even an entire chip set failing.

Another capability rare in Linux environments is the company's software rejuvenation technology, which alerts administrators to potential failures in aging software.

IBM has also shaped its Netfinity Advanced Service Processor for Linux. The chip allows administrators to manage and manipulate Netfinity servers remotely using only a phone line.

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