Biggest surprise: Lots of hardware
I wasn't expecting to see so much hardware on the Expo floor. Yes, LinuxWorld was a heavy metal show this year. Many booths were stuffed with big servers running Linux. Most of them were based on AMD 64-bit Opteron dual-core chips. Having just built a home server based on an Athlon 64 chip, I can attest that these things scream.
There was lots of storage hardware, all supporting Linux, of course; but many of them also used Linux internally as a NAS (network-attached storage) or SAN (storage area network) operating system. Generally, the benchmarks revealed showed excellent price/performance in these products.
A hardware company that really stood out was BlackDog. It showed a complete Linux server the size of a deck of playing cards. Plugged into a PC via a USB connection, it could use the PC as a display -- instant mini-laptop!
The BlackDog machine shows up on the local network, enabling any other network device to see it -- instant server! I found it quite intriguing. It is powered via the USB connection and carries a biometric reader on its side. It wasn't quite clear how you'd use it, but I think it will provide a platform for many experimental applications.
No surprise: A cornucopia of enterprise-ready software
Well, Linux is software, so the presence of software wasn't a shock; but the number of sturdy enterprise-level applications on display was a pleasant surprise. Here's a rundown on some of my personal favorites.
Astaro has essentially bundled -- you might say civilized -- a number of separate open source security products into a seamless security offering. Their bundle includes firewall, VPN, intrusion protection, anti-spam and anti-virus, along with a management console. I was really impressed with the offering, which is very competitively priced, to the point where I would definitely consider purchasing the product for my own company. The product is also offered as an appliance, making it very appropriate for IT-challenged companies.
I was also impressed by Coraid, maker of ATA-over-Ethernet (AoE) hardware. The AoE protocol allows Ethernet-connected hard drives. What's so great about that? It offers the ability to build SANs without the cost and complexity of fibre channel or iSCSI. Essentially, this allows machines to write data via a low-level Ethernet protocol using a machine's standard NIC card. To me, this offers the potential to allow SMBs to get access to SAN functionality previously unaffordable to them.
Now you're asking: Why is Coraid's hardware in the software section of the article? Well, Coraid has released the AoE protocol as an open standard for anyone to use. Furthermore, support for AoE is in the 2.6 kernel, meaning you can begin using it today. In a world of exploding digital storage, this solution seems like a real winner.
Another software trend at the show was open source-based commercial offerings. For example, EnterpriseDB has commercialized a PostgreSQL variant that offers support for Oracle interfaces and functionality -- in other words, a transparent open source migration platform. EnterpriseDB has 55 engineers working on their product, which, even if a number of them are located offshore, is a significant investment.
At the other end of the spectrum, I met a guy who is starting a company to use PostgreSQL as a logfile analytical repository. It's just him and his business cards at this point. Time will tell how these two will work out, but their efforts illustrate a great strength of open source, the extensibility offered by source access.
One thing I wasn't so crazy about was the number of software companies that claimed open source credentials because they've ported their products to Linux. What's the big deal about that?
I would have been really impressed if I had seen more vertical software companies announcing Linux support. For many IT users, availability of these kinds of apps gates their ability to move to Linux. Unfortunately, most of the companies at LinuxWorld voicing Linux support were the usual suspects. With respect to verticals, I can only hope for the future.
Smallest surprise: Dockers to nose-ring Ratio tilts decisively toward Dockers
The crowd at LinuxWorld looked liked mainstream corporate IT workers, in comparison to previous LinuxWorlds, where nose rings and "interesting" hair dominated. A large proportion of the attendees dressed like corporate IT workers. From what I heard, most went to the show to get practical open source information. The conservatively-dressed folks in the commercial vendor booths provided just that.
It seems clear that LinuxWorld has reached a tipping point. In the future, it will focus more on business applications, with traditional IT interests coming to the fore, and enthusiasm for pure open source receding.
Biggest disappointment: The .org ghetto
The .org pavilion was banished to an upstairs mezzanine. This caused many attendees to miss it. I felt that it sent a message that the .orgs are unimportant. I think the .org pavilion should have been in the middle of the main show floor; but the producers put a large kiosk of PCs there instead.
Even with the new dominance of the Dockers crowd, the non-commercial .orgs are critical to LinuxWorld. Linux and open source depend on the strength and commitment of the community, and banishing them to another area was a huge mistake. Without the community, and open source licenses, which synergistically co-exist with the community), LinuxWorld is just a re-warmed UnixWorld. Who wants to attend that?
Strangest sighting: Male booth dolly
I was buying coffee on the first morning of the show, before the exhibit floor opened, and I saw a fellow wearing a shirt with a familiar IT vendor logo. Let's call the company XYZ. I asked him what he did for XYZ Company. He replied that he was actually an actor, hired to stand in the booth and introduce the promotional video.
The actor looked like a middle-tier product marketing manager: average height, wire frame glasses, reserved manner…a real faux-techie.
I knew that vendors hired attractive women to staff their booths, hoping to attract the mostly-male attendees of technical conferences, but I had no idea that the subterfuge extended to the other half of the species. Live and learn!
About the author: Bernard Golden is CEO of Navica, a consulting firm offering open source strategy, implementation and training services. A resident expert for SearchEnterpriseLinux.com, Golden is a well-known authority on open source, particularly regarding enterprise adoption and use of open source. Also, he is the author of Succeeding with Open Source, well as the forthcoming book Open Source Best Practices.