Linux moves up the ranks

From tech-geek to boardroom chic, one Canadian expert says Linux is rising through the ranks.

Proof of that shift is found in a series of Linux-based announcements that came out of Linuxworld last month. Among them, declarations that IBM will join other long-time Linux boosters like Dell and Sun in launching its first Linux-only mainframe computer and Hewlett-Packard’s unveiling of new Linux servers.

Larry Karnis, president of Brampton-based Application Enhancements Inc. and a member of the Canadian Information Processing Society (CIPS), said IBM is really vocalizing something that they have been experimenting with for years.

That being said, it certainly doesn’t hurt Linux to be seen with Big Blue.

“It adds credibility to Linux and moves them up the corporate hierarchy into the boardroom,” Karnis said. “If you looked at them on the spectrum a couple of years ago, they were only in the realm of the techno-weenie category. What IBM is saying is that it wants to move Linux to the boardroom so that the company board can look at this as a strategic IT investment.”

IBM announced its two new dedicated Linux servers, which include a first-of-its-kind Linux-only mainframe that requires no traditional mainframe operating system experience. The IBM eServer zSeries offering for Linux consolidates anywhere from 20 to hundreds of Sun and Intel servers.

According to Karnis, a main benefit of Linux is its “rip and replace” philosophy.

“In Linux-land, if you don’t like something, you can rip and replace it, and what that gives you is freedom,” Karnis said, adding that it’s exactly that ability that Microsoft takes away from its customers by tightly tying the functionality of components together.

“If you decide you don’t like Word, you can’t take it out and replace it with Word Perfect. Rip and replace gives you the freedom to pick the best tools,” he said. “Everything has a cause and effect and I can appreciate that the Microsoft folks want to extract true value from their products. But if it is a commodity level service, why would we pay enterprise level prices?”

Dave Williams, business unit executive for Linux sales and marketing in Canada for IBM, said that IBM’s support of Linux was more than just a business opportunity – it was something customers were asking for.

“The reaction in Canada parallels the reaction in the States and we are closely aligned on IT trends,” Williams said. “The customers have embraced it … it’s timely and price performance is something we see coming up time and time again.”

Williams said the Linux community has viewed IBM’s presence with Linux as positive because of IBM’s place in enterprise and the marketplace.

“It has only helped the Linux movement as far as them getting a stronger foot in the enterprise,” he said.

But even with large-scale announcements, Canadian enterprise owners may take a little longer to adopt Linux, Karnis said.

“Canadian business tends to be more conservative when it comes to IT,” he said. “A typical Canadian will just watch for a while to see how things work, because we see computing as an investment and won’t buy into it for the sake of cool technology.”

Lorne Weiner, marketing manager of enterprise server solutions at HP, said HP’s announcements at Linuxworld were based around four areas; enhanced services to the Linux community, a pay-per-use program, some carrier-grade servers running Linux and a software development kit. All these announcements are in response to customers who are exploring more – and different – options.

“Economies are important. Add to that the portability of Linux as a development platform and you have a pretty strong message for servers,” he said, speaking from his Missisauga, Ont. office.

The California-based company unveiled new hardware and support for the Linux operating system, aimed at moving telecommunication industry customers from Unix to the open source alternative.

“Linux comes from a totally different philosophy, a philosophy of truly free software and they resist the idea of intellectual property that is copyrighted. In fact, they use the term copy-left, which indicates that when you use Linux, you are compelled by the copy-left agreement to actually publish any improvements for the good of the world,” he said.

The cc2300 server includes two 1.26GHz Pentium III processors, 6GB of RAM, two PCI slots and the option of an AC or DC power supply. Both use Intel’s 32-bit chips and run version 7.1 of Red Hat Inc.’s Linux distribution.

Although pricing for the servers was not announced, HP said it has extended its utility pricing plan to customers who run its Linux products. The pay-per-use pricing plan was previously available only for its Unix servers. On the services front, HP announced its outsourcing and consulting services for Linux customers. It will also offer a standard migration service to move customers from various operating system platforms to Linux. The date of availability has not yet been released.