Linux a cheaper choice

As the need for collaboration in the enterprise grows, many corporations are looking to Linux, BSD and others as a means of quick sharing that goes right to the source.

Brian Behlendorf, CTO and vice-president of engineering at Brisbane, Calif.-based CollabNet Inc., said the idea that companies can be sharing code and sharing information between internal employees or externally with partners or customers is gaining momentum.

“An example I like to give is that it used to be that inventory was considered an asset. Then about 10 to 15 years ago, some inventory became a liability.

“The same kind of thing is happening to source code. If it’s not being used by partners or the business then it’s not good inventory.”

Behlendorf noted that in the last two years there has been a lot of cost-cutting and downsizing and open source “allows people to cut corporate costs without cutting people.”

He said open source definitely takes people to run it, but corporations can shift and train staff on a less expensive system, rather than lay them off. “And that’s a much more attractive resolution.”

Drew Spencer, CTO for Lindon, Utah-based Caldera, agreed there is a lot more enterprise collaboration in the market.

“We have seen businesses looking at how they interoperate with other businesses, and they are seeing open source as more useful. Now with Web services – how do they electronically tie corporations together, their supply chains – there is going to be a need for these businesses to work together.”

Carl Constantine, president of the Victoria Linux Users Group (VLUG) said often companies don’t realize the collaborative benefits of open source until after an initial implementation.

“They make the initial move as it saves them a lot of money in licence fees. As they see how well their servers perform compared to Windows and Novell, they make some other changes and slowly integrate things.”

Taking it slowly is key, according to Charlie Garry, senior program director at META Group. Garry said that companies looking to Linux and other open-source applications should dip their toes in the water and adopt it in non-critical areas first.

“Get some experience before you go and adopt this full blown just because it’s cheap. There’s an old saying that you get what you pay for. It remains to be seen whether open source fits that axiom. Companies should explore. There are opportunities in every corporation to make use of Linux, you just have to be smart about it.”

Garry also warned of potential security problems with open source.

“You have this shadow group of developers all over the world. Who’s checking on that? Who’s keeping it all together? Who’s making sure there are no back doors?” he asked.

However, Constantine pointed out that it is up to corporations to maintain some security. He suggested peer review of the code and actively applying updates as they occur. “People should take other measures such as properly configured firewalls, Web servers and mail servers – (this) goes a long way.

“Most of the security problems that arise are due to misconfigured servers not a flaw in the OS,” he said.

Constantine said open source developers are spending a lot of time on desktop applications.

Constantine added that integration with Windows is something a lot of people are working on. He noted there are already products on the market, such as CodeWeavers Xover plug-in, which allows Linux Web browsers to use Windows browser plug-ins and VMWare, which is a virtual machine program that allows you to run Windows under Linux.

Evan Leibovitch, chairman of the Linux Professional Institute board in Brampton, Ont., noted that Wine is a project focusing on implementation for Linux of Windows.

Leibovitch said having Windows run on Linux is important to have the open source accepted more thoroughly into the enterprise.

“It’s a question of compatibility,” he said.

Behlendorf agreed that improving the Linux desktop will be important to finding an enterprise-wide application.

Behlendorf said the beauty of open source is that if someone is fed up or not excited about the development project they are working on, they can just stop – and someone else will come along and get excited about it and carry on.

He didn’t see a lot of Linux wireless applications for the future though, although Leibovitch said there are wireless appliances probably already running Linux.

The 802.11b standard has paved the way for Linux on the laptop, Constantine said.