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Maturity makes Linux less of a gamble for the enterprise

Maturity and movement on the 2.6 kernel is making Linux more palatable for enterprises.

More enterprises have been less reticent to gamble on Linux during the last 18 months. Once solely a perimeter infrastructure play, Linux is now finding its way onto mission-critical database transaction servers, high-performance computing clusters and even the desktop.

Not so coincidentally, Linux's surge in the enterprise has paralleled the poor economy. Enterprise decision makers have been willing to put aside their proprietary tendencies and embrace Linux's costs, reliability and stability.

"I think you'll see Linux start to take over some backend database management systems first, then as more ISVs (independent software vendors) move applications to Linux, you'll see Linux move more and more into data centers," said Bill Claybrook, research director Linux and open source for Boston-based analyst firm Aberdeen Group. "Linux scales more than enough now. It's a matter of users requiring ISVs to move more applications onto Linux."

The upcoming 2.6 Linux kernel, currently in beta, promises more enterprise features that will drive adoption deeper into the data center as well.

"Native Posix thread libraries (NPTL) are a big feature in 2.6," said Holger Dyroff, U.S. director of sales with Nuremberg, Germany-based distributor, SuSE Linux AG. "The performance enhancements are tremendous. There are significant changes in the way device drivers are handled, multipath I/O enhancements and carrier-grade Linux functionality as well. All of these features have been back-ported as well to the 2.4 kernel."

Linux and the open-source community are facing their first hurdle, just as the skies seem their sunniest. The SCO Group's $3 billion suit against IBM Corp. and its threats against Linux customers threaten to introduce more patent fights, once thought foreign to the open-source movements.

Daniel St. Gelais, a consultant with Quebec City, Canada's InfoTech, recently delivered a Linux-on-the-desktop presentation to the local government there, only to have it temporarily derailed by a fear of backlash from the SCO Group.

"They figured it was very serious and said that maybe this was a system they could go without," St. Gelais said. "The government was going to migrate to a new platform. They viewed Linux as the platform for the next decade."

Civic leaders in Quebec took notice of the SCO Group's threat to seek licensing fees from Linux users, and that forced them to reconsider their Linux movement.

"They didn't know how the issue was going to play out. They didn't want to put effort and time on something that was not going to go on," St. Gelais said.

Recently, however, things reversed course again for the Quebec government, St. Gelais said, once it saw that IBM and Red Hat Inc. were countersuing. "They are open and ready to be part of a pilot to use open-source software, especially Linux," said St. Gelais. "I advise anyone not to be afraid to make a Linux proposal to their decision makers."

Many high-profile enterprises, meanwhile, are grounded in Linux. Online travel agent Orbitz recently moved off of Sun's Unix OS, Solaris, to Red Hat Linux at a 10x cost reduction and a 2x performance boost, said chief Internet architect Leon Chism. Others like Lithonia Lighting, a $1.3 billion lighting manufacturer, and Dallas Airmotive, a Texas-based airplane engine manufacturer, each saved more than $500,000 doing Unix-to-Linux migrations.

Scalability was the turning point for both Lithonia and Dallas Airmotive. Lithonia, for example, started experiencing stability problems with its Oracle ERP manufacturing software running on Solaris. Director of technical services Phil Kilgore said his enterprise's move to Dell hardware running Red Hat Enterprise Advanced Server and an Oracle 9i database has yet to stress the system, even after extending the application to additional regional plants. "We doubled our users again, and we don't plan on adding [Oracle] RAC nodes," Kilgore said. "We're running four currently, and they are not stressed that much."

Meanwhile, Kilgore said he spent $250,000 on hardware for the production rack, and he estimates he would have spent three times that amount on a Unix environment.

"We got the stability we needed and by buying Intel servers, you can add on the fly. That's the beauty of clustering -- that, and the redundancy," he said.

FOR MORE INFORMATION: news exclusive: "Linux rescues Oracle implementation for lighting manufacturer" news exclusive: "Orbitz finds Linux a good travel companion"

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