Linux deepening its Canadian foothold

The Linux hype machine has been around long enough to allow Canadian IT managers to kick the proverbial tires – and they like what they see, according to one industry observer.

During a Web briefing last month, Toronto-based IDC Canada Ltd. senior software analyst Warren Shiau painted a favourable picture of current Linux trends and its growing viability within IT. While Linux still struggles under limited availability, slow independent software vendor support and undercooked marketing strategies, Shiau noted the technology has established a respectable foothold within the enterprise.

Canada currently runs counter to worldwide Linux trends, Shiau noted. The global figures point to growing Linux adoption largely in the private sector, particularly in software development, technology services and telecommunications. But Canada is witnessing the fastest Linux adoption in the government, education and public sectors, Shiau added.

While the Canadian public sector hasn’t totally committed to Linux, according to Ottawa-based Internet and Linux consultant Russell McOrmond, it is making steady adoption gains.

McOrmond, a member of software lobby group GOSLING (Getting Open Source Logic Into Governments), noted that much like their private sector cousins, higher-level government people understand the value of Linux, although there’s still a “level of middle management who believe generally that risk aversion means (to) stick with the incumbent vendor.”

Linux providers have largely learned from earlier strategies including a distribution- or software-based model, which “flavoured” or enhanced the basic open source kernel with additions such as compilers and configuration tools (SuSE, TurboLinux). This strategy was based on the assumption that low cost would drive value. The second strategy was centred on hardware, where Linux providers combined Linux-based servers with software in the hope of increasing profit margins.

While both strategies ultimately failed, Linux still came out a winner.

“In IT terms, Linux was actually a success – it drove user growth and user satisfaction,” Shiau said. Now a fundamental change is occurring – it is no longer necessary to make money off the Linux OS itself, Shiau noted. Linux vendors instead have the backing of the major IT suppliers such as IBM Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co., and Sun Microsystems Inc., who offer the hardware, software and support (service, certification, training) to make it work. Vendors are likely to continue pushing Linux migration via continued enterprise-class support, training and certification programs.

Linux is in a unique position in the IT adoption lifecycle, according to Shiau.

Although it isn’t ready to replace Unix in the high-end server space, Shiau said it is quite ready to function at the low-end. “Linux plays to IT sensibilities in terms of infrastructure, Web workloads and workload-balancing,”

According to Jamie Moore, president for Quinte Computer Systems Ltd. in Belleville, Ont., the concept of Linux and open source is “huge.” The biggest appeal is that enterprises can try applications before making a purchase.

The challenges that face Linux, Shiau said, include Microsoft, which has been quietly pulling together its application business logic under the .Net umbrella and enforcing tighter integration between its Great Plains and Navision acquisitions. This will be especially appealing to the SMB space, which would avoid large integration buildout hassles, Shiau noted.

The biggest inhibitor to Linux right now, Moore said, is overcoming the integration issues so organizations can communicate freely between MS and Linux.

“Customers need to the see proof that this is happening,” Moore said.