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Big boys give Linux push toward enterprise

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SAN JOSE - Big announcements and large attendance signaled to the world that Linux may have come of age at the fourth LinuxWorld Conference & Expo last week.

The show, which saw 200 vendors and 20,000 attendees, featured high-profile announcements from big systems stalwarts IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Dell and Sun, and start-ups, such as Linux NetworX, all bent on making the Linux operating system as bulletproof as possible for the enterprise customer.

A little more than two years ago, Linux existed mainly as a research project, but according to market researchers at IDC in Framingham, Mass., Linux was the second-most popular server operating system last year, behind Windows NT, taking almost one-quarter of the market with 1.3 million distributions shipped.

"Linux is starting to evolve as a complete system," says Bill Gleason, a systems manager who uses Linux for Rampt.com, a Los Angeles search engine company. Gleason says he was at the show looking specifically for Linux clustering products. "It's nice to see the big [technology vendors] getting involved more with its development," he adds, citing recent Linux strategies announced by Dell, Intel, IBM and Compaq.

"The more those guys get into [Linux], adding their own proprietary clustering software to the operating system," the more stable it will become, he says.

Hewlett-Packard displayed a version of its MC/ ServiceGuard product for Linux at the show. Previously available for HP's Unix servers, MC/ServiceGuard can proactively monitor the operating system and hardware health of individual nodes in a Linux cluster. It can also be configured to trigger alerts to management staff before server crashes occur.

Linux NetworX announced what it claims is one of the first vertically mounted cluster of Linux servers. The Evolocity product mounts up to 25 Intel or Alpha-based Linux nodes together, improving airflow around the individual nodes and letting them run up to 10 degrees cooler, the company claims. The cluster is managed by the company's ClusterWorX software, which orchestrates the cluster nodes to act as a single server image on a network and includes failover support.

IBM announced a Linux cluster hardware/software package for high-availability Linux systems. IBM's Solution Series for Linux Clusters includes Netfinity servers running IBM's Linux Utility for Clusters, software that controls multiple servers as one logical node. The cluster package includes high-speed server interfaces from Myricom and Ethernet switches from Extreme Networks for connecting the cluster to a LAN. The package scales up to 64 nodes and supports Caldera, Red Hat, SuSE and TurboLinux distributions. The IBM clusters are available now and start at $115,000.

Also making Linux clustering announcements were Silicon Graphics, which announced its Iris FailSave failover clustering software for Linux; Mission Critical Linux, which debuted its Convolo Cluster, a two-node failover product for Linux on the IA64; and SuSE, which introduced SuSE Linux Professional Edition 7.0.

While Linux clustering products were abundant at the show, one attendee was not satisfied. "A lot of the vendors here claim to have clusters for Linux, but they're really just providing [server] failover," says Brandon Allgood, a systems administrator for the University of California at Santa Cruz. Allgood says he needs a Linux cluster that can act as one logical system, where applications and computation processes are distributed across the cluster nodes."

But Linux "geeks" and "suits" alike are apparently still crazy about the open source operating system.

LinuxWorld sold out its exhibitor space, even with the show floor area expanded by 60% from February's LinuxWorld in New York. Show planners say they will move the West Coast show to San Francisco next year to accommodate its growth.

Enterprise network professionals and Linux enthusiasts roamed the San Jose Convention Center floor in fairly equal numbers. Dan Sokol, chief technology officer for Best-of-China.com, a San Francisco e-commerce Web company, was at the show searching for a low-priced Linux thin-client product.

"Haven't found one yet," he says of the products he saw. School teacher Anita Malchiodi Albedi from Vallejo, Calif., was in search of Linux products for personal use and as a cost-saving alternative computer system for her school district.

Michael Dell, chairman and CEO of Dell Computer, lead the big vendors in supporting Linux with his keynote address. Dell noted some 10% of his company's servers ship with Linux support and praised Linux for being "a disruptive technology" that has shaken up the enterprise computing market.

Dell pledged to throw the weight of his $25 billion company behind the operating system and force hardware vendors to develop more Linux device drivers for internal and peripheral PC and server components. A problem for Linux in the past has been the lack of support from hardware makers.

Besides clustering technologies, many firms announced products and partnerships: ???? ?Veritas and Cobalt Networks announced a partnership in which Veritas will ship its Net Backup and Backup Exec server back-up and restore products with Cobalt's RaQ3 and RaQ4 server appliances.

Eazel and Helix Code unveiled new GNOME-based Linux desktops aimed at making Linux easier to use. Both companies' booths drew large crowds of curious and gawking attendees. The two firms also joined Sun, Compaq, IBM, Red Hat, TurboLinux and others in forming the GNOME Foundation, aimed at unifying the Unix and Linux desktops with the GNOME desktop. Sun and HP also said they will ship GNOME as the default desktop for their respective Solaris and HP-UX Unix operating systems next year. ???? Compaq announced it will soon ship Linux on its workstation, thin-client and iPaq desktop models. The company will also preload the latest version of Red Hat Linux, 7.0, on its ProLiant ML3300 and DL360 servers this year.

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