TECH TALK: Linux World: Linux in the Enterprise

2002 is being seen as a breakout year for Linux. As we consider the presence and potential of Linux in the enterprise, we will need to look at both the size and geographical location of enterprises. Enterprises are of many kinds – small, medium, large, and in developed markets (US, Japan, Western Europe) and in emerging markets (India, China, Eastern Europe, Latin America, Africa).

In large companies in the developed markets, Unix servers typically dominate the higher-end applications market, while Windows NT is present at the lower-end for email, collaboration, and Web-based applications. Driven largely by IBM, Linux on a mainframe is being positioned as a replacement for the large number of servers that an enterprise is. Writes Byron Acohido in USA Today:

IBM’s “mainframe-lite”, as some are calling it, priced at USD 400,000, is half the cost of a traditional mainframe. It allows the machine to be split into several hundred virtual Linux clusters.It’s replacing dozens of servers running Windows NT software. This trend is expected to gain steam as corporates try to pare server farms than ran amok in the 1990s, experts say. This happened as server costs dropped and companies built out sprawling computer networks to share files, manage print jobs, exchange email and host web pages. But the sprawl has reached the point where server farms have become costly to manage, difficult to keep secure and expandable only by adding ever more servers.Consolidation could potentially reduce the number of servers in a company by a factor of 10 to 20, according to IDC analyst Matt Eastwood.

Typically, in large enterprises, Linux has made a backdoor entry already in certain departments. These activities are now coming into the open and growing.

Apache is already one of the most popular hosting platforms for web servers. Linux is also being used for file, print and mail serving. But the desktop has remained a distant market.

Red Hat, one of the leading Linux companies with USD 80 million in revenues, has focused its enterprise efforts on Unix-to-Linux migration. Says Red Hat Chairman Bob Young:

[Enterprises] need reliability. They don’t need cost. So they [do not go] from whatever they were on to a Sun Unix machine, to an IBM AIX machine, they [can go] to a Linux machine because they could build a more reliable system.

The beauty of open source software is that when you run into a bug you can get it fixed. You get source code and you get a license that allows you to modify it. It’s like buying a car with a hood that you can open, as opposed to the traditional model in the software industry where the hood is locked shut. If you can open the hood it means you can fix your car, but it also means you have access to 10,000 car repair shops across the [country]. Whereas if the hood’s locked shut, and if your vendor denies that it’s a bug, which is known to happen, you’re completely stuck.

Linux is not going to revolutionise the IT infrastructure in the big enterprises. But, it is making inroads and can no longer be ignored – as an alternative to Windows NT and Unix. The usage though has been almost entirely on the back-end, the server side. The desktop game belongs to Microsoft and that is unlikely to change in the near future in the large companies in the developed markets.

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.