Linux moving up in the world

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 being made at Linuxworld in San Francisco this week. Among them, announcements that IBM Corp. will join other long-time Linux boosters like Dell Computer Corp. and Sun Microsystems Inc. in launching its first Linux-only mainframe computer, and Hewlett-Packard’s unveiling of new Linux servers.

Larry Karnis, president of Brampton, Ont.-based Application Enhancements Inc. said IBM is putting into action something that it has been experimenting with for years.

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

“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’s two new-dedicated Linux servers include a Linux-only mainframe that requires no traditional mainframe operating system experience, according to the company. The IBM eServer zSeries offering for Linux consolidates 20 to hundreds of Sun and Intel servers. IBM also announced plans to deliver a Linux server specifically for small and medium-sized businesses. The IBM eServer iSeries offering for Linux consolidates up to 15 standalone Linux and Windows servers onto a single physical server and supports the SuSE and Turbolinux distributions of Linux. It also includes an installation wizard for rapid deployment.

Karnis said that’s good news for Canada’s small businesses because of a Linux philosophy he calls “rip and replace.”

“In Linux-land, if you don’t like something, you can rip and replace it and what that gives you is freedom,” he said. “One of the things that makes Linux attractive is that if I’m a little start-up company, I can start on a free database and when I hit its limits, I can move up and I can make that decision on a purely cost-benefit basis as opposed to it being the only database available on my platform.”

According to Karnis, it’s that ability that Microsoft Corp. takes away from its customers by tightly tying together the functionality of its software components.

“If you decide you don’t like Word, you can’t take it out and replace it with WordPerfect,” 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?”

Linux was something customers were asking for, said Dave Williams, business unit executive for Linux sales and marketing at Markham, Ont.-based IBM Canada Co.

“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 that the Linux community views IBM’s work with Linux as positive because of IBM’s place in the enterprise and marketplace. “It has only helped the Linux movement as far as them getting a stronger foot in the enterprise,” he said.

But even with such large-scale announcements, Canadian enterprise managers may be slow to investigate 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.”

HP had its own set of announcements lined up at Linuxworld on Monday. The Palo Alto, Calif.-based company unveiled new hardware and support for Linux, aimed at migrating telecommunication industry customers away from Unix. HP will announce two Linux-based “carrier-grade” servers aimed at telecommunication customers for managing wireless networks or hosting networks that converge voice and data.

Hewlett-Packard Canada Co. in Mississauga, Ont., is at Application Enhancement in Brampton, Ont., is at IBM Canada, in Markham, Ont., is at

– With files from IDG News Service.