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It's Check-Out Time For All Proprietary Unix.

Linus is laughing all the way to the bank.

Linus Torvalds is, of course, the poster boy of the open-source movement, but Jimmy Durante could serve, as well. While I was wandering through LinuxWorld Expo at Javits Center last month, his famous phrase came repeatedly to mind: "Everybody's getting' inta the act!" And no wonder. The tidal wave of creativity unleashed by open-source software is creating profit opportunities at every level and in every channel of the computing industry. When a solution is based on a free operating system and largely commodity hardware, the sale is a pure value-add proposition: any proprietary lock-in can come only from the knowledge and expertise of the VAR, systems integrator, or ISV. The result is frenzied competition among vendors to supply integrators with the platforms--software and hardware--upon which to build their solutions.

So, it was no surprise to see the likes of IBM, Silicon Graphics, Hewlett Packard, Sun, and other major players banging the Linux drum in New York. What follows is a brief overview of some of the news and offerings at the show, in no particular order, illustrating the myriad of opportunities that await VARs and other integrators who hop on board the open-source bandwagon.

Ask Not For Whom The Bell Tolls

It tolls for proprietary Unix, which is being chased steadily up the ladder into the rarified areas of enterprise computing, which demand 24x7 reliability, fault-tolerance, and other capabilities where Linux and BSD are still weak. Given the performance and stability of Open-Source Unix (OSU) on commodity Intel hardware, there's little or no justification for proprietary Unix at the low end of the computing market. All of the proprietary Unix vendors have seen the handwriting on the wall and were touting their open-source strategies at the show.

IBM has taken a leadership role in this effort, while simultaneously hedging their bets with Project Monterey, a joint effort with SCO and Intel to develop an enterprise-strength Unix standard for the IA-64 processor. The company has already made all of the components of its E-business offering available on Linux, including the DB2 database, the WebSphere application server (based on the Apache web server engine, Lotus Domino, MQSeries messaging, Tivoli system management tools, and several development tools). IBM's NetFinity servers are already certified for the Caldera, Red Hat, SuSE, and TurboLinux distributions and the company has announced its intention to make all of its platforms, including the S/390 mainframe, "Linux friendly."

At the show, IBM and Caldera Systems announced a free developer's kit aimed at application development for small business, along with no-charge support for registered developers and marketing incentives for ISVs. (This is very much in line with Caldera's emphasis on business-oriented Linux--their retail distribution is admittedly more a form of advertising than anything else.) Along with DB2, WebSphere, and Domino, the kit includes the IBM Developer Kit for Linux, Java Technology Edition, and IBM VisualAge for Java for Linux. The kit is supported on both Caldera OpenLinux and Red Hat Linux and will be expanded to include other distributions.

Silicon Graphics, which has seen its Unix market share steadily erode, made a big Linux splash at the show. Ironically, since the company has virtually no presence in low-end Unix anymore, it is, perhaps, better situated to exploit the OSU phenomenon than any other proprietary Unix vendor, not having to worry about cannibalizing its own products. The company rolled out a new Linux server platform, the SGI 1200, an Internet server based on that platform, the SGI Advanced Clustering Environment, and global Linux services, along with a host of supporting programs. SGI also announced the availability of IBM's DB2 database on the SGI 1200 and 1400 Linux-based servers.

The SGI 1200 is a 2U form factor rack mount server that comes preinstalled with Red Hat Linux 6.1 and SGI-specific enhancements (open-source). It features one or two Intel Pentium III processors, up to 2GB SDRAM memory and up to four Ultra2 SCSI disks. Designed specifically for ISPs, Application Service Providers (ASPs), and co-location facilities, the SGI Internet Server is based on the SGI 1200 and includes Internet-specific management, monitoring, and security tools with integrated basic services for Web serving and messaging. The SGI Advanced Cluster Environ-ment (ACE) is touted as an economical solution for compute-intensive environments; the company points to existing implementations such as the 132-processor SGI 1400L cluster at the Ohio Supercomputer Center.

Hewlett-Packard also supports Linux and offers it on its NetServer line of Intel-based servers. At the show, the company announced the upcoming availability of its OpenMail 6.0 messaging and collaboration solution on Linux (now in beta); a 50-user version will be available via free download. OpenMail is unique as the only Unix-based messaging server that supports the rich functionality of Microsoft Outlook, including full wide-area calendar/schedule access. Hewlett-Packard also announced expanded support for Linux, regardless of the distribution, showed hardware-accelerated 3D graphics on Linux workstations, and detailed its plans to release to open source its large model-rendering toolkit.

As the only proprietary Unix vendor that does not have Windows NT/2000 to fall back on, Sun is in an interesting -- and precarious -- position. Linux on Intel takes away both hardware and software sales from Sun and the first survey in the Open Source Unix Research Initiative shows that, next to Intel, Sun SPARC is the most likely platform to host Linux -- not surprising, since it is the dominant proprietary Unix platform. At the show, Sun announced a kind of arms-length embrace of Linux through an OEM deal with Trademark Computer Products, which will be using Sun's SPARC platforms for its e-clipse line of Linux servers, which will be sold through Sun's channel.

On the other hand, Sun has been very aggressive in supporting developers on Linux. Caldera announced that it will ship Sun's Java 2 Platform, Standard Edition (J2SE) and Java HotSpot Virtual Machine later this year, enabling developers to leverage the growing pool of Java applications and modules available. The runtime engine is freely distributable with applications. Sun noted that its free Forte for Java, Community Edition development software (the entry-level version of the full product) has surpassed 100,000 downloads. This is an extensible tool that provides user interface, edit, compile, and debug functionality and an open Application Programming Interface (API) that allows developers to create plug-in modules. It includes a Java software and HTML editor, multi-threaded debugger, object browser, and HTTP server.

Finally, SCO, which is the proprietary Unix vendor most at risk in the open-source revolution, was touting its Tarantella technology, which enables businesses to deploy Unix, Linux, mainframe, and Windows NT applications in a thin-client mode without modifying the applications or their server environment. Our OSU survey showed hints of a Linux-powered revival of the network computing model; if SCO plays its cards right, Tarantella could prove to be its meal ticket for the new millennium.

Open-Source Mahouts

While the old-line Unix vendors struggle to stay ahead of the open-source elephant, newer vendors have chosen to ride it. A case in point is Cobalt Networks, whose line of Linux-based Internet server appliances is finding favor with a wide range of VARs and integrators. Many of Cobalt's products may fairly be described as Linux "plug-and-play" devices and the company is forging alliances with various ISVs to promote one-stop solutions for common networking problems.

For instance, at LinuxWorld Expo, Cobalt was trumpeting alliances with two ISVs, Progressive Systems, Inc. and Chili!Soft with solutions for, respectively, security and cross-platform web development. Progressive Systems announced a firewall appliance, based on its ICSA-certified Phoenix Adaptive Firewall and the Cobalt Qube2, designed as an out-of-the box security solution for small businesses, workgroups, and branch offices. This joins a more configurable version of the Phoenix firewall on the Cobalt RaQ 2 server, an up-scale solution designed to enable service providers and resellers to deliver security products and managed services to their customers. Progressive also offers a line of Virtual Private Network (VPN) products that can run on the Cobalt servers.

Chili!Soft offers its unique Chili!Soft ASP technology, which allows Microsoft Active Server Pages to be hosted on non-Microsoft web servers, including, of course, Linux. The company announced a strategic OEM relationship with Cobalt to make Chili!Soft ASP available on the Cobalt RAQ3 server appliance. With Chili!Soft ASP, developers can develop interactive web sites using any of a number of popular development environments, including Microsoft Visual InterDev and FrontPage, Macromedia Drumbeat, NetObjects ScriptBuilder, and Allaire HomeSite and connect to a variety of databases, including Oracle, Informix, Sybase, IBM, and MySQL. Interestingly, the company touts ASP as being fundamentally more secure than Java Server Pages, the Sun-sponsored alternative to the Microsoft technology, stating that it cannot spawn rogue processes as JSP.

TurboLinux and VA Linux Systems are two other elephant riders who appear to be doing very well, judging from the size of their booths in New York. TurboLinux launched an impressive clustering technology, enFuzion, that transforms an existing network of Linux, Unix, and Microsoft Windows servers into a supercomputer. enFuzion supports clusters with hundreds of nodes, works with existing applications (a significant difference from the Beowulf clustering technology), and features automatic rescheduling of failed jobs, load balancing, and resource sharing.

VA Linux Systems announced the public beta release of VACM 2.0, the VA Cluster Manager, an open-source technology co-developed with SGI that enables remote management of large numbers of Linux servers based on Intel motherboards that comply with the Intelligent Platform Management Inter-face Specification (IPMI). VACM can monitor temperature and power levels, memory errors, fan status, chassis intrusion, and many other critical areas. Administrators can even reset individual systems remotely or reconfigure a system's BIOS over the network. An API interface for writing VACM-aware applications is available.

Some vendors face no threat from Linux and BSD--merely an additional market. For instance, Maxspeed Corporation has long offered a line of terminals, thin clients, and multiport serial cards for the multi-user market. At LinuxWorld Expo, Maxspeed cashed in on the Linux craze by introducing the +One Station, a clever $149 device that connects an additional user to a Linux-based PC. Up to four +One Stations can be connected to a single PC using the controller card, giving each user access to what appears to be their own dedicated PC, yet they can share software, Internet access, databases, and peripherals. The +One Station looks like an interesting solution for SOHO and small business offices, especially for VARs offering specialized software applications.

Databases To Go

Database technology is fundamental to much of business computing and our first OSU survey predicts that Linux/BSD's server share will grow by over 300% in the next two years. One company that is counting on this growth is Centura Software Corporation, which offers the open-source db.linux database for embedded applications. The company describes db.linux as the first open-source embeddable database solution for Internet appliance data management. Featuring over 150 functions in the C-API library, db.linux allows very fine-grained control over database operations. It uses a pointer-based, navigational network data model, which, in contrast to relational systems, yields highly predictable access times--a necessity for handhelds and other information appliances.

Like many commercial companies hoping to exploit the open-source movement, Centura offers proprietary technologies that enhance the functionality of db.linux. For instance, the company's eSNAPP Appliance Connectivity Server manages connections between information appliances and corporate databases, providing data routing, notification services, and handling business logic. For security, Centura offers an add-on to db.linux, based on technology developed for its SQLBase SafeGarde product, that encrypts the data in the database, so that even if it is hacked, the data cannot be read.

Another aspect of the movement to information appliances is the growing Application Service Provider (ASP) market, which delivers access to applications through a browser. An ASP may be an outsourced service provider or an internal resource, but the result is the same: centralized management of critical business resources. It's basically network computing under another name and it's booming. Survey.com will launch a study of this market in the summer, but we're already seeing indications that Linux will play a role in ASP developments not only as a server platform, but also by offering a stable, low-cost, easily managed desktop platform for the browser.

One company that is betting heavily on the Linux server-side role in the ASP market is Lutris Technologies, a professional services company that is the sponsor of the Enhydra open-source Java/XML application server. Enhydra is a pure Java server that supports standards such as WAT, ISAPI, CGI, and SSL and features an interactive XML compiler to simplify the development process. Applications developed using Enhydra's tools can access information from any JDBC-compliant database, including Oracle, Sybase, Informix, MS SQL Server, IBM DB2, and MySQL. An Application Wizard simplifies development by automatically generating an example application to which new functions can easily be added.
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Title Annotation:Industry Trend or Event; LinuxWorld Expo
Author:Trowbridge, Dave
Publication:Computer Technology Review
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2000
Words:2150
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