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Linux taking aim at data center

Jan 20, 20037 mins
Enterprise ApplicationsLinuxOpen Source

The improving scalability of Linux, the low cost and increasingly high power of Intel hardware, and the license-free nature of open source software could add up to big savings for large corporations looking to bolster their data centers.

NEW YORK – The improving scalability of Linux, the low cost and increasingly high power of Intel hardware, and the license-free nature of open source software could add up to big savings for large corporations looking to bolster their data centers.

Showgoers at this week’s LinuxWorld Expo will find 150 vendors – including Computer Associates, Dell, HP, IBM and Sun – ready to stoke their interest in mission-critical Linux products. Roughly 17,000 attendees – about the same number as last year’s show – are expected to descend upon Jacob K. Javits Center, according to show organizer IDG World Expo, a sister company of Network World.

Merrill Lynch has taken the plunge. The Wall Street firm uses Linux on Intel servers and IBM mainframes for Web and file servers as well as compute-intensive applications for analyzing financial markets. Robert Lefkowitz, director of the technology architecture group, says the lower cost of ownership for Linux on Intel hardware is one of the reasons Linux has gained a foothold in the company’s data center.

“If you have an environment that has a lot of Unix, then switching to Linux makes sense,” Lefkowitz says.

“What we like about [Linux] is the idea that there’s a free market in software,” he says, where customers are not tied to a particular vendor’s architecture, support and pricing. “And when you have a free market, it tends to drive down costs.”

At the show IBM will announce several server and enterprise software products, including a new eight-processor pSeries server – based on its PowerPC architecture – running native Linux, as well as a new rack-mountable eServer x345 box running Linux on Intel Xeon processors as fast as 2.8 GHz – the highest-speed Linux server IBM offers.

 Microsoft sizes up the penguinWhile Microsoft’s past attitude about Linux could be described as aloof or indifferent, the company has been more watchful of Linux as an enterprise competitor.

IBM will also announce a 40-node Linux server cluster that will run a DB2 database. The idea is to lower the cost and improve the uptime of large databases running on Linux IBM says.

In addition, IBM will introduce its Tivoli System Automation software for monitoring and managing individual Linux servers and clusters, as well as Linux client support for its browser-based Lotus iNotes groupware software.

Dell plans to announce a new configuration for its High Performance Computing Cluster (HPCC) Program with an offering of up to 132 PowerEdge 1655MC blade servers running Red Hat Linux in a single rack. The company also will showcase a 128-node cluster of PowerEdge 2650 servers running Red Hat and using high-speed interconnect technology from Myricom for supercomputing applications.

Other new Linux products expected at the show:

  • Ximian will release Version 1.2 of Red Carpet Enterprise, an automatic Linux server patch and security updating system. The new version offers faster connectivity to the service through proxy firewalls and an improved roll-back function for undoing patches or software added to Linux systems through Red Carpet Enterprise.

  • MetaLinx will have a version of its iSystem Enterprise system management software that the company says can “virtualize” management of Linux servers by controlling multiple Linux boxes as a single system. This could allow a smaller staff to control a large network of Linux nodes.

  • To manage Linux instances running on a mainframe, Candle will introduce its Omegamon XE product for setting up, configuring and partitioning Linux servers on IBM’s zServer and S/390 platforms.

Big businesses that have dabbled with Linux at the edge of the corporate network are looking to expand usage of the open source operating system. Some net executives say they’ll be at LinuxWorld to see whether Linux is ready for data-center prime time.

Lefkowitz says Merrill Lynch will continue to search for ways to expand the use of Linux in its data center – two areas he is considering are migration of a Unix-based database server to Linux, and middleware applications.

One Midwest company got its toe in the water with Linux a few years ago when it decided to set up 10 Linux boxes as firewalls for one of its online trading data centers. Now the company is considering going further with the technology.

“Linux is not yet in our data center, but it has a serious role,” says a company administrator. Linux firewalls protect IBM RS6000 servers running AIX and DB2, which execute back-end electronic trades. He says the Linux boxes replaced more costly firewall servers such as RS6000 and Sun boxes, and appliances from Cisco.

“All companies that are feeling the hurt from the recession have to find cheaper and better ways to operate,” the official says. Using Linux as a firewall and VPN “is something that helps us do that.”

AT&T uses mostly Unix servers to process its accounts and do analytical forecasting, but Linux is banging on the data-center door, according to Brian Cashman, systems administrator at AT&T.

“We have Linux running currently on a small scale, mostly in small departmental uses and some of our administration staff use it personally, but we’re looking to integrate it further into our larger systems,” Cashman says.

“Linux seems more affordable to us,” than the Sun and SGI Unix systems that AT&T currently has, he says. “The fact that you’re running it on a much cheaper and easier-to-maintain platform is attractive. The Intel platform doesn’t tie us into a costly service and maintenance contract.”

Over the past several years Linux has made steady gains on the edge of corporate networks. But the use of the technology has been limited largely to roles such as Web, e-mail file and print serving. Advances in the Linux kernel, such as increased symmetric multiprocessing support, have made it comparable to Unix and Windows platforms for running applications in large data centers, industry observers say.

A recent Goldman Sachs report on Linux in corporate data centers, titled “Fear the Penguin,” says that “although the majority of corporations still appear to view Linux as a nascent technology that is not yet enterprise-ready . . . our survey suggests that Linux-on-Intel is beginning to gain a foothold in the data center.”

The report also says Linux will be a bigger threat to Unix than Windows, as companies look to replace proprietary Unix/RISC architectures with Linux and Intel boxes, which generally are less expensive. It says Linux will not take over corporate data centers from Unix and Windows servers, but could pose a serious challenge, especially to Microsoft’s recent data-center push.

“[Linux] will hamper the movement of Windows into the enterprise data center, an area Microsoft has only recently begun to target for growth,” the report says.

In another recent report, Giga Information Group analyst Stacey Quandt writes that there is interest in Linux as a corporate data-center server, particularly as a database-management systems (DBMS) platform.

“Linux has crossed the technology adoption chasm in the context of Web server [Apache], application server, and file and print services deployment,” Quandt wrote in the report, adding that major DBMS vendors, such as IBM, Oracle, Sybase and Teradata, have had stable Linux products for several years.

“IT professionals and their business clients should carefully consider the variety of DBMS solutions on Linux and map this to the certification and support of a Linux distribution provider,” she writes.