Linux deepening its Canadian foothold

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

During a Web briefing Wednesday, 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 (ISV) support and undercooked marketing strategies, Shiau noted the technology has established a respectable foothold within the enterprise.

Linux providers have largely learned from early Linux strategies which tried to answer the value proposition question, Shiau said. But Linux software is still limited and there isn’t any “killer app,” he added.

Earlier strategies included a distribution- or software-based model, which “flavoured,” or enhanced the basic open source kernel with additions such as compilers and configuration tools. This strategy was based on the assumption that low cost would drive value. The second strategy was centred around hardware, which Linux providers combined Linux-based servers with software, in the hope that the extra profit margins around hardware and support.

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. What is happening now is there is a fundamental change – it is no longer necessary to make money off the Linux OS itself, Shiau noted. Enterprises now have the backing of the major IT vendors – such as IBM Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co., and Sun Microsystems Inc. – that offer the hardware, software and support (service, certification, training) to make it work. Vendors should continue to push 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.

“The prerequisite for success in within the context of being a standard solution,” he said, adding that early adopters have been quite willing to expand Linux from a “utility server to an enterprise deployment platform role.”

Linux OS provider Red Hat Inc. has been playing a large role in Linux marketplace success, Shiau noted, and will function as the “Linux bellwether.” The Raleigh, N.C., open-source company has been aggressively attacking the enterprise applications space, and recently released both a content management system and a portal server. Red Hat’s health and success will be a valid indicator of Linux success, Shiau said.

“Linux plays to IT sensibilities,” Shiau explained, adding although it isn’t ready for Unix in the high-end server space, it is quite ready to function at the low-end.

Canada currently runs counter to worldwide Linux trends, Shiau noted. The global figures point to growing Linux adoption largely in private sector verticals such as software development and telecommunications, and Canada is witnessing the fastest Linux adoption in the government and public sector.

Ottawa-based Internet and Linux consultant Russell McOrmond noted that the Canadian government and public sector hasn’t totally committed to Linux, it is making steady gains towards adoption. McOrmond, a member of software lobby group GOSLING (Getting Open Source Logic Into Governments) noted that much like some of their private sector cousins the higher level people are understanding the value of Linux, although there’s still “this level of middle management who believe generally that risk aversion means stick with the incumbent vendor.”

According to Jamie Moore, president for Quinte Computer Systems Ltd., a solutions provider based in Belleville, Ont., particularly within the SMB space, 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 build out hassles, Shiau noted.

Moore agreed.

The biggest inhibitor to Linux right now, Moore said, is overcoming the integration aspect so organizations can communicate freely within the Microsoft environment.

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