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Altiris on Linux management: The gaps, the gaffes, the map

Linux has proliferated in many enterprises by stealth, entering by the back door and spreading from the edge to the core of IT environments. One day IT managers wake up to find that they've migrated piece by piece to a new enterprise platform and have no enterprise management system to handle it. After seeing that situation many times, Altiris Inc. decided to act. In 2003, the Lindon, Utah-based IT management systems vendor has been aggressive in developing Linux-only solutions in the server deployment space, according to marketing and product strategy vice president Poul Nielsen. In this interview, Nielsen and Michael Wilkinson, Altiris' senior product manager for infrastructure, discuss why there are gaps in Linux management offerings, the common mistakes organizations make when migrating to Linux, and more.

How do you see the current operating system wars playing out?

Nielsen: The greatest benefit comes when you have choice, right? We don't see the market going to just one platform anytime soon. We believe that the market will continue to be heterogeneous. Also, Linux brings an interesting dynamic to the market, filling a need for a low-cost enterprise alternative. We think that Linux will only help the market going forward, because its open-source nature will allow innovations to occur.

Why did Altiris step up its development of solutions for Linux?

Nielsen: What has propelled Altiris is helping businesses reduce the cost and increase the efficiency of the move to a platform. Our strength has historically been in the deployment, migration and then ongoing management of environments. We also tie that into an asset management solution for companies that have a broad set of platforms. As businesses move to Linux, we can help them do deployments in a very timely and less costly fashion. We're broadening our support for Linux and creating a native solution for Linux. I want to be very clear about that, that we're managing Linux from Linux.

Are there gaps in Linux management product offerings and capabilities today?

Nielsen: There are gaps, and there's mismatch. There have been [software vendors] who've had strong value propositions in Unix and wanted to move all those capabilities to the Linux platform. The problem was that the [vendor's] pricing model didn't match very well with Linux. They're used to more of a mainframe or Unix pricing model, rather than a low-cost pricing model for Linux. So the traditional companies who are used to charging tens of thousands of dollars for management solutions for a box are now faced with the idea of maybe charging hundreds of dollars. That's a mismatch, and it's held up development for Linux and created some gaps.

Some of the startups, like PowerCockpit, had the right type of pricing model but had trouble bringing the product out in time and [getting] enough momentum to be successful. Also, they lacked the solution that would work in a heterogeneous environment. Altiris, on the other hand, now offers solutions for Windows and Linux that are native and priced right. So, IT managers don't have to add, say, a $10,000 management solution to a platform that's only costing $1,000.

What mistakes have you seen IT shops making when migrating to Linux?

Nielsen: We've seen pretty careful, well-planned out transitions from Unix to Linux. We haven't seen very many missteps in that space. Where we see people struggle more is moving from [the] Windows side, where they're moving from [Windows] 95 to Windows XP or migrating to Linux and trying to get applications to migrate.

Wilkinson: For a couple of years, there's been a huge proliferation of Linux systems coming through the back door. So, the biggest issue, frankly, is that IT departments will look at Linux as a low-cost alternative and plug them in and forget about the ongoing management issues and costs. All of sudden, [IT shops] find the Linux systems are widely distributed around the enterprise. The deployment and ongoing management of those systems hasn't been handled in the way that, say, they handled enterprise Unix systems. The Linux systems have proliferated, and now someone has to maintain and manage those systems. Also, the patching on those systems is different because the Linux community comes out with their patches very differently than a major vendor -- like HP or Sun -- does. They've got a tiger by the tail.

FOR MORE INFORMATION: news exclusive: "Researcher -- Linux gaining on Unix" expert advice: "How can I integrate Linux into my existing management framework?" expert advice: "Planning effective system administration for Linux"

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