Linux event shows move to mainstream

Fifteen years after the introduction of the Linux kernel, open source offering finds acceptance.

Conference agenda indicative of a maturing Linux.

Fifteen years after the introduction of the Linux kernel, next week's LinuxWorld conference will focus not on whether to use open source software - the market has answered that question - but on how to deploy, secure and manage the technology as part of a business IT operation.

Virtualization, grid computing and service-oriented architecture, for example, are key areas for conference sessions and keynote addresses. Managing open source in heterogeneous environments will be an important issue, as will desktop Linux and mobile Linux, the latter an area that has been gaining steam.

Show organizer IDG World Expo, a sister company of Network World, says it expects about 11,000 people to attend the conference at the Moscone Center in San Francisco next Monday through Thursday - about the same number that showed up last year. Some 175 exhibitors are expected, though there is one notable absence: Red Hat.

Red Hat has decided that "other methods of communication and engagement, including seminars, Red Hat Summit and other focused events" are more beneficial in reaching customers and the Linux community, according to a Red Hat spokeswoman.

One new twist for the conference is LinuxWorld's first Healthcare Day, an event sponsored by the Open Source Development Lab (OSDL) that aims to tap into a growing interest in open source among IT executives at healthcare organizations. And an invitation-only CIO Summit connecting CIOs with peers who have deployed open source successfully reflects the movement of Linux away from its geek roots and into the realm of business-focused IT executives.

"Our first version of Linux came in about four or five years ago and came in under the radar, in the guise of being a test box," says Curtis Edge, CIO at Boston newspaper The Christian Science Monitor, which is revamping its Web sites with open source software.

"Not having Linux was limiting the products we could buy," he says. "It's important now to have the discussion that asks what's good and bad about [open source], not just talk about it being great. I have no issue with weighing a proprietary application and an open source application. You want to give open source a fair shake."

Edge will join Guru Vasudeva, associate vice president and chief architect at Nationwide, and Michael Gallagher, global manager of enterprise architecture at ABN Amro, on the CIO Summit panel on Tuesday. Vasudeva also will deliver a keynote address Wednesday, detailing his company's use of virtualization and Linux to create a simpler data center environment that is expected to result in more than $15 million in savings during the next three years.

"The concept of user collaboration and community is gaining more interest," says Stuart Cohen, CEO of OSDL.

"Open source companies will continue to focus on gaps in the stack where they can dominate," he says. "What was once the domain of Oracle and SAP is now up for grabs from SugarCRM and JasperSoft."

David Cafaro, a systems analyst for the Advanced Research Computing group at Georgetown University, will lead a panel on open source and security. Cafaro, who supports the university's Linux and open source systems used in computational research, also is active in developing Linux security technologies such as Security Enhanced (SE) Linux - a set of National Security Agency-developed modifications to the Linux kernel that enhance system security.

"It's always a matter of finding a compromise between a system that is unusable but secure, and a system that is usable but only for so long, until someone breaks it," Cafaro says.

In the past, tools such as SE Linux were hard to use, but new software tools from companies such as Tresys, as well as similar products such as Novell's AppArmor are making it easier to secure an open source infrastructure, Cafaro says.

Besides keeping open source systems safe, another issue on the minds of users is making Linux play well with others.

"There's no question interoperability has improved" among open source and proprietary server and desktop operating systems, says Jonathan Reed, Linux support and development specialist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he supports thousands of faculty, staff and students on Linux, Windows, Mac and Unix platforms. He cites improvements in existing tools, such as Samba, which provides Windows client support for Linux servers. New tools, such as the Evolution Exchange Connector, which lets Linux desktops run on Microsoft Exchange servers, is another example.

Red Hat's decision to sit out the show comes after conference organizers shuttered the East Coast LinuxWorld that has been held in Boston the past two years, deciding instead to focus on its West Coast events and launch a new LinuxWorld OpenSolutions Summit in New York next February.

The OpenSolutions Summit came in response to industry requests for a more focused event concentrating on vertical markets, conference organizers say. That demand for more focus isn't surprising, with open source now touching all aspects of IT, analysts say.

"LinuxWorld has become increasingly uninteresting," says Gordon Haff, an analyst with Illuminata. "It's following a typical path for these types of shows. What's happening in this particular case is LinuxWorld has grown to encompass all of open source and everything that touches open source, which is to say just about everything in IT at this point. So it's kind of become about everything and nothing. And unfocused shows don't survive indefinitely."

"Smaller, more focused shows start rising up and are more interesting to people than big shows," Haff says.

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