Open-source development lab in progress

The first independent Open Source Development Lab is in the final planning stages in Portland, Ore., and is on track to open by the end of the year.

Announced in August by a group of corporate backers including Hewlett-Packard Co., IBM, Intel Corp. and NEC Corp., the multimillion-dollar lab is envisioned as a place where Linux and other open-source developers from around the world can have free and easy access to some of the latest and fastest computer hardware for code testing and collaboration.

“We have been working on all the things we said we were,” said Dan Frye, program director for IBM’s Linux Technology Centers in Somers, N.Y. He said organizers are meeting weekly to find an independent site for the lab and to acquire the necessary hardware. Also being mapped out is the organizational structure of the nonprofit group that will operate the facility. “We’re making progress,” Frye said.

The idea of the lab began as a place where open-source developers could have a fully equipped facility to accelerate the progress of their projects. By allowing independent developers to move their ideas away from the often outdated or underpowered hardware used in the field and instead have access to the latest computers, the lab is envisioned as a means to give the still-developing Linux operating system the resources needed to make it a key part of enterprise computing, said Mike Balma, a spokesman for HP.

“The lab is to help Linux scale into larger enterprise and cluster environments,” Balma said.

To accomplish this, said Seth Walker, a spokesman for Intel, the lab is being assembled with enough modern, top-of-the-line hardware to make it a place where developers can dial in or visit to do their work.

“It will serve as a single virtual lab for developers around the world,” Walker said. “This is the entity that everyone in the industry is looking toward to help bring everybody together.”

A final site in Portland hasn’t been chosen but is to be announced by mid-December, he said. One site being eyed is the campus of Portland State University, where there is a strong academic base and easy accessibility to nearby technology companies, including IBM Corp. and Intel.

The four partner companies are providing personnel and millions of dollars in seed money to get the project started, although an exact amount hasn’t been disclosed. Also to be announced next month are the lab’s first director and the names of additional companies that have joined the effort, Walker he said.

“The important thing for us is [making sure] that we had space that was neutral – that wasn’t on any company’s campus,” Walker said. To be successful, supporters believe the lab must be totally independent of the companies that are providing the money and resources for the facility.

Also named as original sponsors of the lab are Caldera Systems Inc., Dell Computer Corp., LinuxCare Inc., LynuxWorks, Red Hat Inc., Silicon Graphics Inc., SuSE Linux AG, TurboLinux Inc. and VA Linux Systems Inc.

Once the lab is up and running, backers hope to see it replicated into similar facilities around the country to give hands-on access to a larger group of open-source developers, Frye said. That work won’t begin until the first lab is on its way to fulfilling its goals, he said.

So far, since the group made the lab announcement in August, many open-source developers have given positive feedback to organizers, Frye said, though some developers remain skeptical.

“The open-source community is a ‘show-me’ community,” Frye said. “This community doesn’t like vaporware in code, and they like real brick and mortar in their labs.”