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Is Linux Ready for Use Throughout the Enterprise?

An overview of the Open Source Development Labs

Linux received a fair amount of attention in 2003. Perhaps a little bit more than its fair share. You can tell that a technology has made it into the mainstream when it's the cover story in major business magazines; or perhaps, more pointedly, when it's the subject of a high-profile intellectual property lawsuit. This increased attention has resulted in considerable Linux "mindshare" among vendors and users alike.

Thankfully, this positive mindshare has also created some positive action in the marketplace. Virtually all of the major system vendors, ISVs, and service companies have Linux strategies in place, as do an increasing number of end users big and small. All but the most conservative of organizations are executing against these strategies, and are finding the results very positive. The Penguin has been a symbol of promise and fundamental change in software development for a while. In this window of time, where all eyes are on Linux, the delivery on that promise is accelerating.

The broader business community is starting to take Linux far more seriously than it did just a couple of years ago. This means that there will be more consideration given to Linux solutions, more development energy devoted to Linux-based applications, and more attention to the overall Linux ecosystem by hardware vendors, ISVs, and system integrators. But with all of this new attention - sometimes by people and organizations with very little experience with the open source community and the way it works - comes a degree of uncertainty. And uncertainty is something corporate IT departments don't like. This is especially true when it comes to enterprise computing and business-critical applications.

Many organizations' first Linux experience is using it as a Web server platform. This deployment model has become quite mature thanks to a vibrant and committed development community as well as progressive users who appreciate the performance and reliability. Going forward, IT management needs to be certain that security, scalability, and availability of Linux-based solutions are also on a par with proprietary systems. Linux is clearly moving from edge-of-the-network applications to the heart of the data center. It is also becoming a viable alternative corporate desktop for certain types of users. The recent availability of the new 2.6 kernel will only accelerate this movement. But with this growing installed base comes increasing responsibility for vendors, developers, and the end users themselves to "business harden" Linux. In the coming year Linux applications will be under heavier stress. Performance, or lack thereof, will be highly visible.

Another consequence of this rapid growth is the increasing maturity and complexity of the Linux marketplace. The diverse Linux development community is now complemented by hundreds of small (and some not so small) Linux-solution vendors, thousands of user organizations, and millions of end users. What's needed is a place where developers, vendors, and end users can all come together to accelerate the use of Linux and build the overall Linux industry. Enter OSDL.

The Lab was founded as a nonprofit, mutual benefit corporation by a consortium of technology companies in August 2000 and is dedicated to accelerating the adoption of Linux in corporate computing. The Lab was created to give Linux developers access to data center-like equipment to test Linux kernel patches and other Linux-based open source code. We also provide technical (and moral) support to developers who need it. And while our charter has expanded somewhat over the last year, a key constituency remains the Linux development community. Over the past three years, OSDL has facilitated and coordinated more than 200 projects focused on enhancing Linux for enterprise computing deployment, ranging from virtual memory improvements to Apache. OSDL also employs a handful of kernel subsystem maintainers who are ongoing contributors to the development of the Linux kernel. As of last summer, Linus Torvalds and Andrew Morton both became associated with OSDL, giving the Lab a unique perspective on the overall Linux kernel development process: from individual contributor all the way up to the development and production kernel maintainers.

OSDL is becoming the recognized center of gravity for the Linux industry and a central body dedicated to accelerating the use of Linux for enterprise computing. As such, we incorporate all three of the key constituents in our membership and programs: developers, vendors, and users. Lab programs range from Linux development and testing to industry working groups. The goal is to work with our members and the Linux industry at large to identify inhibitors to the acceleration of Linux and work to establish open source projects to remove these inhibitors. Key OSDL programs and initiatives include:

  • A fully configured data center environment for Linux development and testing available for qualified projects around the world
  • Enterprise-class development tools and performance test suites for corporations, ISVs, and other Linux developers
  • Industry working group initiatives that define requirements that will harden Linux to meet reliability, availability, and performance requirements
  • Participation by end users in our Linux User Advisory Council
  • New industry initiatives like the recently announced Desktop Linux Working Group initiative focused on great use of Linux desktops throughout the enterprise
The Lab's test suite includes x86 and Itanium systems for single- or multi-processor systems up to 32-way. Lab resources are available to new or existing Linux projects that come from all sectors of the OSS community.

Our development tools include an automated Scalable Test Platform (STP) for Linux that provides a repeatable set of tests to verify how well patches and enhancements perform in enterprise computing environments, as well as DBT-1, DBT-2, and DBT-3 test suites. We also provide a Patch Lifecycle Manager (PLM) to verify that patches compile on the Linux kernel prior to STP testing. The Lab also hosts a kernel bug tracker database for the Linux kernel development community.

Broader industry work includes the hosting and coordination of working groups focused on various Linux deployment models. Today OSDL coordinates three such groups focused on the data center, telecommunications applications, and desktop deployment. The goal of each working group is to help specify the functional requirements needed for Linux to meet the demands of users in various deployment models. Information about OSDL working groups and other initiatives is available on our Web site, www.osdl.org.

Is Linux ready for use throughout the enterprise? Is it right for my organization? For some the answer is "yes." For others the answer is "not quite." But virtually everyone is looking at how and where to deploy it. At OSDL we are committed to helping developers, vendors, and customers come together to answer these questions. As you can imagine, we have our work cut out for us. And if you consider yourself part of the Linux revolution, you do too. Maybe we can help each other.

More Stories By Stuart Cohen

Stuart F. Cohen - Chief Executive Officer. Stuart Cohen is a seasoned technology industry executive who consistently focuses on sustainable, profitable growth and market leadership. With over 22 years of international sales and marketing experience, Stuart most recently served as vice president and corporate officer at RadiSys Corporation where his responsibilities included strategic partnership development with other industry leaders including IBM, HP and Dell.

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Most Recent Comments
Apreche 03/14/04 03:37:30 PM EST

Linux at this point isn't any harder than Windows, if you get a geek to set it up for you. What we need is a distro called grandma linux. The WM will be just a bunch of huge icons on a single desktop. One will say E-mail one will say Web Browser, one will say Word Processor, Instant Messenger, etc. Which applications these things actually launch will be decided at install time, which grandma wont do. Stability, compatibility and ease of use will be priority one. There will be also one more big button, Add more Big Buttons. It will run a custom app that will be super grpahical and pretty providing a list of installable apps.
This is also great for the corporate desktop, because you can give the secretary just the few apps she's allowed and nothing more.

Sarojin 03/14/04 03:34:33 PM EST

> New industry initiatives like the recently announced
> Desktop Linux Working Group initiative focused on great
> use of Linux desktops throughout the enterprise

I've been using Wintel for over 15 years and have just recently installed Mandrake 9 on an older P2 450. Here are a couple of points I think are worth mentioning (ubergeeks can exclude themselves from the classifications below):

1. Linux is ready for *some* desktops only, namely ones where users won't be constantly tweaking and installing new software and hardware. You want a computer for grandma to browse the web, send email and view a few grandkid photos? Linux is great! You want to roll out corporate desktops where employees don't really need to be able to download and install the latest version of KaZaA? Linux is a godsend (provided the business software you need is supported).

2. Linux is *not* ready for the average user desktop. The average user wants to do everything grandma wants to do, but they also want to be able to install or upgrade software and hardware *easily*. In addition, they want a fully functional GUI, with no *necessity* of dropping to a CLI for everyday tasks. They want to be able to go to a third party software/driver website, follow the 'click here for Linux version' hyperlink, download the file, then double-click to install it.

Needless to say, as long as Linux distributions and desktop managers continue to proliferate, the average user's requirements will never be met. I say this as a *fact* not a *prescription*, so spare me the Linux-strength-in-diversity comments. I just think you can't have your cake (freedom/diversity) and eat it too (Linux on average desktop).

BobBuck 03/14/04 03:30:47 PM EST

It's going to be hard to put a GNU/Linux computer in front of a average guy and have him do whatever he wants with it. But the same is true for Windows. The average guy can't keep a Windows system going for more than a few months without major performance/stablility issues. The real reason that people think Windows is easier is that it's familiar and the 3rd party user space applications are often more slick.

Question 03/14/04 03:26:00 PM EST

How does each new build of the kernel get validated for release? What types and levels of testing are done (e.g. integration, HW compatibility, etc.)? Can anyone explain?

Malcontent 03/14/04 03:24:52 PM EST

Note to people who make charts for CIOs: You must make liberal use of RED and YELLOW in your diagrams. If your charts do not contain red or yellow your products probably suck real bad. Also make sure all lines are large and bold it's hard to see dotted lines on your palm pilot when you are out on the golf course.

JaredofEuropa 03/14/04 03:23:18 PM EST

If you want to convince managers about Linux, I have one word for you: Powerpoint!

Managers understand 2 things. Short lists of bullet points, and diagrams. Anything over 2 pages is too much info for them.