The announcement this week that chipmaker Nvidia is among the latest crop of companies to join the Linux Foundation is a sign of the growing importance of open source to the business sector -- and a reversal for a firm that, traditionally, hasn't been counted among the stalwarts of that community.
The GPU manufacturer may actually have contributed to the difficulties that Linux has had in breaking into the desktop market, says 451 Research senior analyst Jay Lyman.
"Nvidia comes to mind as one of the influential technology leaders that's really lagged in terms of supporting Linux," Lyman says, though he adds that, in the past, this disinterest in the platform was not uncommon.
Times change, however, and the analyst points out that Nvidia even has a vice president of Linux platform software now. "That's a testament to how far Linux and open-source software have come, not only in the eyes of big corporations ... but also in terms of their place in the market," he says. Of late, for a variety of reasons, "we see a realization of the need to participate [in] Linux, because it is increasingly a factor in the market," he adds, pointing out that the server, embedded and mobile (in the form of Android) markets have proven fertile.
According to Lyman, the competitive aspects of the move likely appealed to Nvidia as well. He notes that, particularly in the hardware sector, the Linux Foundation counts many of the top players in the world among its ranks. It's unlikely that Nvidia would be comfortable ceding this increasingly important field to its rivals.
The competitive rationale is highlighted, as well, by Gartner vice president and distinguished analyst Carl Claunch, who says that Nvidia's growing prominence in the high-performance computing sector has pushed the company toward a more enthusiastic embrace of open-source principles.
Claunch asserts that the Linux-heavy nature of the HPC environment makes a broader embrace of the technology essential to success.
"You can't get there by just grudgingly supporting drivers for the cards as-is, you have to work deeply with the community for the operating system to evolve, and you need an operating system to support those strategic efforts," he says.
Nor would the fruits of Nvidia's labor in the HPC sector necessarily be confined to the research lab.
Claunch says that Nvidia's move to thaw relations with the open-source community could accelerate the transition into new and different server models in the enterprise -- including very low-power processors that could enable far more servers to run within a given amount of physical space.
"[It means] choices for people who either have an enormous facility and are paying a staggering amount for the energy and space, or people who are in a room now and are up against a wall [in terms of available space]," he adds.
While both experts agree that the average business is unlikely to see immediate changes as a result of the chipmaker joining the Linux Foundation, the eventual effects could be far-reaching for many parts of the enterprise computing sector.