SAN MATEO (01/28/2000) - VA Linux Systems has distinguished itself from other Linux providers by offering complete systems and systems integration. But now, in an increasingly crowded Linux marketplace, VA Linux faces the challenge of competing with the likes of IBM and Compaq Computer. Larry Augustin, president and CEO of VA Linux, talked with InfoWorld's editor in chief, Michael Vizard, and executive producer/new media, Katherine Bull, about VA Linux's strategy, its competitors, and how Augustin plans to differentiate the company.
InfoWorld: What is VA Linux's mission as compared to other vendors in the Linux distribution space?
Augustin: If you look at the Linux space, there are people out there like Red Hat [Software] that are primarily in the software distribution business. For example, Red Hat makes most of its money by selling CDs through a retail channel. Our business model is based around selling full systems and solutions for the customer. We work primarily with customers like dot-coms. So, we're working with a fewer number of customers, but very much in-depth technically -- offering them both systems and support and services.
InfoWorld: Do you provide your own version of Linux, or do you use somebody else's product as part of that effort?
Augustin: We use other companies' distributions as part of it. We'll build things based on SuSe, based on Red Hat, based on Debian. What we do for these customers is create a customized solution. For example, a Red Hat CD; they have some software packages that they distribute. We will tune and optimize [that package] for the customer's application. So the end result is that we start with something like a Red Hat and build a customized solution for the customer.
InfoWorld: Why would I go with VA Linux vs. system vendors, like Compaq or IBM or Dell, who are all selling Intel-based systems running with Linux?
Augustin: One reason is that we can provide you with customized service and support. We have a great deal of expertise in Linux, and in particular in vertical markets like the Web business. If you're an ASP (application service provider), we've got a tremendous amount of expertise in building out Web site infrastructure. We can provide that kind of full service around the systems and software and have a great deal of expertise. It's not just a case of taking a Linux CD and installing it on a PC.
InfoWorld: What are ISP customers evaluating as an alternative to Linux?
Augustin: We see some [Sun] Solaris, and we see some [Windows] NT, but we're not evangelizing Linux vs. NT. The customers coming to us want to move from NT to Linux.
InfoWorld: Besides ISPs and ASPs, are corporate IT people coming to you?
Augustin: I think there's still a little bit more of an evangelism job. These people tend to wait a little longer. They need to see a technology proven for a longer period of time before they move there.
InfoWorld: What do you think is going to need to happen for corporate IT folks to become more accepting of Linux?
Augustin: I think part of it is just that they need to be comfortable for a longer period of time than start-up dot-coms. They need to see a certain amount of credibility. I think they want to see a little more experience happening around their ERP (enterprise resource planning) and CRM (customer relationship management) applications.
InfoWorld: On the eve of the Windows 2000 launch, what do you think the relationship between Windows 2000 and Linux is going to be going forward?
Augustin: We don't think it's going to have a big impact in this space. And that's because Linux has already won the Web/Internet server operating system market.
InfoWorld: You're working with Intel on a 64-bit implementation. What is the goal of that project, and how far along is it?
Augustin: Our goal is that on the day that Intel announces IA-64, the Titanium, on the day that's available, we're there on the same day with Linux platforms, running Linux that are available with that hardware. So it will be the first time that a new processor has been introduced, and -- at the same time the processor is introduced -- Linux is available for it.
InfoWorld: The Linux market is getting crowded. What's going to make people take notice of VA Linux in all this noise?
Augustin: Well, I think we have the expertise to deliver Linux solutions to customers in a way that nobody else [can]. I don't think anybody else has our expertise around the Linux system. And that's from the hardware all the way up to the application layer; particularly in those markets, like the Internet infrastructure one, that we're targeting.