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Novell CTO on hot Linux apps and closing gaps

Not long ago, finding enterprise applications for Linux was a needle-in-a-haystack situation. Now the app gap is getting smaller, says Novell CTO Alan Nugent. Find out which apps are hot and which are still lost in the haystack.

The age of Linux maturity has begun, and the days of waiting for enterprise applications will soon be over, says Alan Nugent, chief technology officer and senior vice president, Novell Inc. of Waltham, Mass. He covers the enterprise Linux application territory, from what's missing to what's hot, in this interview.

Do you think that it's becoming a given that enterprise software products must support Linux?

I think that Linux adoption will be accelerated once we get those thousands of apps that are in that small-to-medium-sized business portfolio.

Alan Nugent: We are on the cusp of an explosion of proprietary application vendors committing, like CA has done, to moving their entire product portfolios that once ran only on a proprietary operating system to Linux.

Some corporate IT pros say they have a hard time finding the applications that they need for Linux. Do you think this is still valid, or do they just need to do more research?

Nugent: I think it is still valid in some areas. If I am at a Fortune 500 insurance company, I can't find a great claims management system that runs on Linux just yet. But, if I am in the electrical CAD business or mechanical CAD business, I can. So, it depends on the market.

A year ago, that question would have been valid for a much broader segment of the market. They really couldn't find applications that would run on Linux; but it is getting better every day. Companies can now begin to use Linux much more broadly than for Web servers or firewalls. We work with dozens and dozens of companies which have either completed ports or are in the process of doing ports to Linux. Many of them are household names.

Linux has reached the maturity point where companies are now asking, 'When can I get my favorite application on Linux? When can I begin to think about moving my entire infrastructure to Linux?' There were fewer of those kinds of questions being asked a year ago.

What do you think are some of the biggest gaps today in applications for Linux?

Nugent: Most of the big vendors are porting to Linux, and that covers the applications used by large companies, which were probably using Unix before. A lot of the big stuff has either been announced or will be available shortly.

Now, in the SMB (small-medium business) market, there is a gap and the greatest potential for Linux applications. Most likely, the SMBs are running on [Microsoft} Windows boxes, probably older Windows boxes. They are faced with some kind of upgrade, anyway.

So, the time is ripe for SMB business applications on Linux. I think that Linux adoption will be accelerated once we get those thousands of apps that are in that small-to-medium-sized business portfolio.

After moving their databases to Linux, some IT directors have told me that they want to expand beyond that, particularly in the area of network infrastructure. However, they find it hard to get away from Microsoft's "tightly integrated products." Their words, not mine. Are you hearing the same thing?

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We are working with a number of companies that are doing precisely that. Through our consulting teams, we have put together a set of reasonable practices that are targeted at helping customers migrate, say, their collaboration services, their core networking services, and the list goes on and on. That is a big part of what our consulting organization has been working on for the past year, either in partnership with businesses or channel partners.

We learned a lot of lessons whne migrating our own internal systems into Linux. We found, ourselves, that there are good economic reasons to do that and have our own recipe for exactly how you get there.

What will the next hot application area for enterprise Linux be, in your opinion?

Nugent: It varies with the sector, but transaction processing is a hot area for Linux. In financial services, in particular, where they lead the way with database technologies, there's interest in moving hard core transaction processing apps to Linux. Many of them have homegrown technologies that they developed on Solaris or AIX or something else. Those people are in the process of doing a lot of the ports themselves. They are choosing Linux for the obvious reasons, better performance on much less expensive hardware. Also, Linux allows them to think about how they can re-architect their computing infrastructure to be more grid-like, to introduce blades, to get dynamic reconfiguration in the computing resources depending on the kind of loads that they see, or even to run human resources and ERP.

What's ahead for adoption of Linux business desktops?

Nugent:The other big migration potential that we are seeing is the desktop. The initial market that is hot for desktop adoption is the fixed-function desktop, or the human-attached kiosk, as used in call centers. In this area, there are a lot of applications served up via terminal services or in a browser, and the user does email, writes notes, and so on. These users don't need an expensive chunk of proprietary software in order to do their day-to-day work.

What about open source applications and integrated software packages? Are you seeing more businesses adding them to their evaluation list?

Nugent: I presume that you mean over and above the stuff that you find in the distribution. There are a number of good open source initiatives out there that we consider being up the stack, working in groupware and supply chain. There aren't any that I have seen that are ready for prime time just yet. I don't know of any that are to the point that any one could say, 'I can eliminate my Manugistics installation and go with this open source solution. [Manugistics is a Rockville, Md.-based supply chain management software vendor.]

What has Novell been doing to build out the Linux application stack?

Nugent:We provide a collection of services that enable companies to build enterprise-wide identity frameworks on which to implement large resource management solutions.

Novell provides everything up to the point of the business application. Then, we let other software providers add their technology on top. Our job is to make it easy for people who want to run on our platform across the desktop and across the servers.

We have many customers who have a variety of applications, including those developed internally and purchased, probably running on a number of different platforms. We have the technologies to pull those applications together and make the infrastructure seamless from an identity perspective and from an application services.

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