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Dell coaxing penguin inside data center

Dell's enterprise Linux vision has a tinge of red to it. It's no secret Dell's open-source strategy is tightly woven around Red Hat Linux, a relationship that was forged in 1998 and continues today as both vendors hope to ingrain Linux deeply into enterprise data centers. Brent Schroeder, Dell's director of enterprise Linux engineering, recently talked to SearchEnterpriseLinux about the company's Linux strategy, its relationship with Red Hat, what continues to impede Linux in the enterprise and how Linux will challenge Unix for mission-critical business.

What misconceptions do enterprises continue to have about Linux that may be impeding its penetration into data centers?
I think perception is still a big one. Not everybody has bought into the fact that it's ready for the enterprise yet. Enterprises are not doing the due diligence that they should. Perception is a big roadblock.

There are roadblocks in more tangible areas like infrastructure, from the operating system to software. The operating system has come a long way, but there are still some performance enhancements that have to be addressed. We also need to work on managing storage -- logical volume manager, cluster file system management. There's a significant opportunity for improvement there. Where is Dell going with Linux in the enterprise?
Historically, Linux has been on the edge-device area and in the community area as far as real interest goes. With some improvements in the operating system and our continuing relationship with Red Hat, the opportunity is there to penetrate deeply into an enterprise IT operation. We are going to work with Linux on requests from customers for features and systems to fill out our Linux offering. We are also developing a program focused on adding to our Unix-to-Linux migration offerings from a product support standpoint. Could you provide some background on Dell's relationship with Red Hat?
The relationship goes back to 1998. We released our first server in 1999 with Red Hat Linux installed. The reason we chose Red Hat was based on customer demand. The majority of what our customers were asking for was in the Red Hat space. From a working-relationship standpoint, we are going to continue to partner with Red Hat to get customer requirements delivered in the most efficient manner. Much is made of the Windows vs. Linux rivalry, but as far as enterprise adoption, isn't this more of a Unix vs. Linux question?
Yes. The majority of what we are seeing is Unix vs. Linux compared to Windows vs. Linux. That's not a technology discussion, there's a different discussion happening there. With Unix to Linux migrations, enterprises get immediate savings in infrastructure costs that happen out of the box with an industry standard Linux server vs. a proprietary Unix system.

There's a human capital cost. In the Unix space, enterprises have got a tremendous staff expenses. With migrations to Linux, enterprises don't need to retrain staff because of the similarities in Unix and Linux.

That's definitely one of the major considerations that IT organizations have to take into account. The biggest costs are human costs. In these economic times, enterprises must utilize resources and if they don't have to retrain staff, that's a double win. It's not too often that both of those factors happen. Often, cost savings are offset by training costs. ISV [independent software vendor] support is still lacking?
Companies have been heavily focused toward homegrown applications or needed just a few core applications. Oracle and Veritas were the early leaders for Linux, but now we are seeing the rest of the ISVs come aboard. SAP has recently released Linux applications and now we're seeing more back office applications coming out and other ISVs rolling out Linux solutions. Is there a consistent theme to the issues customers bring to your attention?
There are two discussions happening there as well. For customers who are already using Linux in the enterprise, they want to see continued evolution and maturation of the environment. Enterprises want to see improvements as deployments get bigger and more storage is attached.

Managing a Linux environment is a key concern to enterprises as more two- and four-way servers that run mission-critical business applications become 10- and 20-way and scale out to clusters and more two terabytes of storage becomes tens and hundreds of terabytes of storage, managing that becomes a big concern.

From Dell's point of view, we are going to focus on management and work with EMC and Veritas on meeting those demands. Are enterprises still questioning the maturity of Linux?
From a general maturity standpoint, that is not a roadblock anymore. As far as replacing the majority of an enterprise IT infrastructure, many customers are using Linux in production and replacing Unix systems with Linux. What arguments can a CIO present to their superiors for bringing Linux into the enterprise?
There it becomes a business discussion, and it's extremely compelling and becomes a cost-of-ownership discussion. This is not about Linux being cool and CIOs saying 'Let's deploy it.' This is becoming a sound business decision. With budgets getting smaller and CIOs faced with the same number of projects, or more of them, they want to know how they can accomplish that.

CIOs have to shift their resources around and the obvious way to do that in these times is with a Linux migration.

We have built tools for our sales and services teams they can use when they are working with customers on Unix to Linux migrations. We have migration tools built after collecting a lot of information gathered from customers on operational costs. The tool assesses a customer's environment, applications and operating systems. We plug in a Linux solution and build a ROI [return on investment] story for the customer.

The tool demonstrates when the Linux investment breaks even and demonstrates downstream ROI. These tools help CIOs make their case for their final pitch to an enterprise decision maker.


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Share your thoughts on this story and other enterprise Linux issues inside the discussion forum How about for enterprises that are not yet using Linux?
The concerns we hear there deal with perception. In general, they want to know if Linux is ready. 'How do we know Linux is ready?' 'How do I manage the risk of jumping into a Linux migration?'

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