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Linux-based clusters spreading to commercial ventures

The Linux cluster community received a proverbial "shot in the arm" last week as Linux Networx, a Linux-based cluster manufacturing company, was given a $40 million investment of Series B funding.

The idea of a Linux-based cluster is not a new one if you're a scientist or an engineer, but it has been somewhat alien and inapplicable to commercial outfits outside the fold.

These are segments where Linux has done well over the past few years and so this investment reflects a growing confidence [in the technology].
Tony Iams
vice president and senior analystD.H. Brown Associates Inc.

However, over the past year clustering technology has slowly made inroads into the commercial space, albeit on the fringe. Interest has picked up slightly as more companies begin to see the advantages of a Linux operating system in the clustering environment.

Linux Networx Inc., a Bluffdale, Utah-based provider of Linux computing clusters since 1997, said last week that it has received an injection of $40 million from a series of investment firms. The company hopes the investment (and interest) will be its ticket to bringing Linux clusters to the mainstream.

Oak Investment Partners, with offices in California, Minnesota and Connecticut, led the round of funding, which represents one the largest investments in Linux-based cluster technology in recent years.

Linux Networx president Dean Hutchings said the investment reflects a growing clustering market, with Linux as the obvious operating system of choice.

In computers, clustering is the use of multiple computers -- typically PCs, Unix- or Linux-based workstations, multiple storage devices and redundant interconnections -- to form what appears to users as a single highly-available system.

"[Linux] is an easy port from Unix. There are lots of applications programmed in it, and open source allows for changes to the kernel that are necessary in order to deliver a successful working environment," Hutchings said.

Tony Iams, vice president and senior analyst at Port Chester, N.Y.-based D.H. Brown Associates Inc. said Linux Networx provides "high performance" clusters that are primarily used in scientific and engineering communities. Only recently has this type of computing caught on the commercial space, he said.

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"These are segments where Linux has done well over the past few years and so this investment reflects a growing confidence [in the technology]," Iams said.

While Linux-based clusters will continue to thrive in specialized spaces, Iams explained that a shift into commercial applications is beginning to happen, especially in financial services environments.

Iams said proof of this success is evident in that computing clusters have made the Top 500 list, which is compiled to rank the world's fastest supercomputers.

Framingham, Mass.-based research firm International Data Corp. recently reported that 25% of all worldwide high performance computing shipments in 2003 were clusters, and that number continues to grow.

The extra money, Iams explained, will do well to drive Linux cluster technology and allow it to gain even more credibility -- at least for Linux Networx.

"They have a product that works … and Linux is being viewed as the future of where people will deploy these types of applications," he said.

Hutchings said the investment will allow Linux Networx to expand its reach outside of North America, in addition to strengthening its clustering products.

"Demand is great in target markets all over the world," he said. "Whether in the automotive sector, life sciences, genome research … all across the board there has been large demand."

The investment will allow Linux Networx to expand its reach specifically into markets in South America, Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia Pacific.

Additionally, Ed Glassmeyer, founding general partner of Oak Investment Partners, will join Linux Networx's board of directors.

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