Show to spotlight new roles for Linux

This week's LinuxWorld will focus on the maturity of the operating system, with high availability, workload management and large multiprocessor system news taking center stage.

Vendors such as Sun and HP and users such as Continental Airlines will detail what can be done with the open source platform beyond supporting the traditional infrastructure and file and print workloads.

Not that there won't be news around the core operating system. Red Hat is expected to unveil Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4.0, which is built on the 2.6 kernel and is aimed squarely at the corporate data center.

Red Hat is months behind Novell/SuSE, which launched its 2.6-based SuSE Linux Enterprise Server 9 in August at LinuxWorld, but it is adding features of particular interest to enterprise customers. National Security Agency-backed Security-Enhanced Linux code will be integrated into the kernel, which will let users put applications in virtual containers and set policies and privilege rights for access to underlying Linux code and other applications.

While the show will feature many vendors talking about virtualization, high availability and workload management for scale-out Linux deployments - where multiple servers are pooled together to act as one resource - there also will be talk about putting Linux on big symmetric multiprocessor systems, a capability now available in the 2.6 kernel.

HP will discuss its BigTux project, which is aimed at supporting commercial Linux distributions such as Red Hat and SuSE on its 64-processor Integrity Superdome servers. Fujitsu also has talked about a Linux mainframe, which it expects to introduce this year.

Red Hat, Novell and Sun also are expected to unveil updates to their Linux desktop products. Talk is also expected to center around patents, licensing and intellectual property issues, and on Solaris 10, which Sun is releasing to the open source community in the next few months.

But analysts say the overall thrust of the event will be on how Linux can be used as a foundation for business processes from messaging to databases to enterprise applications.

"There are an awful lot of announcements or product discussions around things like messaging and identity management or high availability for application and database services," says Gary Hein, vice president and research director at Burton Group. "It's turning the corner from just being about the core of Linux, the core of the kernel, the core of the operating system. We're past that.

"The whole theme of the conference seems to be about moving up the stack toward solving a wider range of enterprise business problems, rather than just about being an inexpensive operating system," he says.

It's a reflection of how Linux is evolving. Instead of questioning the viability of Linux, IT shops are wondering where Linux can go next.

Show organizer IDG World Expo, a sister company of Network World, says it expects 180 companies - 30 more than last year - to exhibit at the event, which is being held in Boston for the first time. About 7,000 people are expected to attend.

"We'll see more suits and less ponytails," predicts Dan Kusnetzky, a vice president at IDC. "More and more we're seeing the show as a way to display how Linux is a part of the enterprise and less and less as something that only a researcher or a scientist or an academician would be interested in."

Continental Airlines recently deployed Linux for the first time in a production environment. Using one of HP's Linux Reference Architectures, which includes Linux, MySQL database and JBoss application server, Continental moved a ticketing process that once was done manually onto HP blades and ProLiant servers.

The system went live in September. Continental uses HP ServiceGuard for Linux, a high-availability technology developed for its Unix servers, to ensure the system, which handles thousands of transactions per day, stays up and running.

"We've been developing a little bit and playing around [with Linux] here and there," says Michael McDonald, director of technology for Continental in Houston. "We considered Windows, and we considered Unix, and we considered Linux. And the easiest path to get from what we were on to where we wanted to go happened to be Linux."

McDonald, who will appear on stage with Martin Fink, vice president of Linux for HP, when he gives his keynote address Tuesday, says Continental is in the process of building other systems that will run on Linux.

Deutsche Bahn, the National German Railway system based in Frankfurt, also sees Linux as ready for important duty in the data center. It recently completed the migration of 55,000 Lotus Notes users to SuSE Linux running on an IBM eServer zSeries 990 mainframe. The railway already moved its train timetabling application from an HP Non-Stop platform to a cluster of Intel-based servers running Linux and has plans to eventually move more applications to Linux.

Detlef Exner, director of IT production for DB Systems, IT provider for Deutsche Bahn, says the decision to standardize on Linux stemmed from cost savings.

"If you compare apples to apples, compare operation costs, then Linux is cheaper than all other platforms," he says. "There really was no technical decision that had to be made."

Exner wouldn't be specific about how much the company expects to save, but says that with Linux he can reduce administrative time considerably. And by running critical applications on Linux, Deutsche Bahn can bring in the best, most cost-effective technology, rather than end up trapped by one vendor's proprietary offering.

"The mistake in the Unix environment was that HP-UX, Solaris and AIX are so different that you can't migrate very easily from one platform to the other," Exner says. "We at Deutsche Bahn want to be independent."

Exner says he gets the high service level and high availability he needs from Linux by running it on the mainframe. Showgoers will hear about technology to improve the reliability of Linux on other platforms.

Emic Networks will demonstrate the latest version of its Application Clustering technology, designed to give open source applications such as MySQL the boost they need to handle critical business applications. Other start-ups will talk about virtualization and workload management.

Aurema, which has partnered with a number of major systems vendors to add workload management on other platforms, is bringing its technology to Linux. The company will announce that Novell is integrating Aurema ARMTech into its SuSE Linux Enterprise Server 8 and Enterprise Server 9 distributions.

"So a SuSE customer will be able to install and acquire Aurema's workload management technology and run it right along SuSE in a supported environment and get all the benefits they have historically gotten out of their Unix systems or mainframe systems," says Mark Wright, Aurema president and CEO.

Analysts say it's not surprising to see start-ups focus on virtualization, high availability and workload management when it comes to Linux, because the open source operating system is a good fit for virtualized environments.

"A virtualized environment has interesting attributes so that people can select hardware and operating system platforms that will do the work for the cheapest possible price, and that tends to urge people toward high volume and low-cost systems. It also has a tendency to lead people to think about open source software like Linux," IDC's Kusnetzky says.

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