Open source joins the mainstream

LinuxWorld Conference attendees are judging open source software by the same criteria they judge proprietary software, opening up more opportunities

As more than 11,000 attendees converge on San Francisco for the LinuxWorld Conference & Expo, beginning Monday, one industry analyst says customers are evaluating open source software the same way they evaluate proprietary software: It has to be priced right and work right.

Enterprises are judging open source on its up-front cost, total cost of ownership, reliability, and features, just as they would a commercial product, said Matt Lawton, an analyst with IDC. Criteria unique to open source, such as issues of potential liability for patent infringement and the level of technical support, are way down the list of worries.

"Software is software, and things like functionality and reliability are the most important attributes regardless of whether the software is open source or not," Lawton said. "But having said that, to the extent that open source can save end-users money, they are all ears."

If open source is increasingly being considered on par with proprietary software, that opens up more opportunities for it in the business and enterprise market for use in servers, desktop computers, and mobile devices.

Worldwide revenue for open source software, which reached $1.8 billion in 2006, is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 26 percent, reaching $5.8 billion by 2011, IDC research shows.

Attendance at LinuxWorld, scheduled for Monday through Thursday, is expected to be higher than last year's 10,000 because LinuxWorld is running concurrently with the first-ever Next-Generation Data Center (NGDC) conference devoted to energy efficiency and use of virtualization. Both conferences are produced by IDG World Expo, which, like IDG News Service (and InfoWorld), is owned by International Data Group.

Virtualization is also becoming more widely accepted and deployed in enterprises. Virtualization is software that divides one server into multiple logical servers, enabling IT professionals to run multiple software applications on one machine, increasing utilization rates. A few years ago, companies used virtualization primarily in software test and development environments, but as they become more confident, companies are using virtualization in production environments, said Andreas Antonopoulos of Nemertes Research. Virtualization can be an energy saver because if server utilization increases to 70 or 80 percent from the average 1 to 20 percent, fewer power-hungry servers will be needed.

Antonopoulos calls virtualization the "sardine can" strategy. The idea is to cram as many software applications into one server as possible like squeezing the tiny fish into a can. "That strategy has allowed IT departments to use more software applications ... for the same amount of capital budgets," he said.

But datacenter operators may be reaching a point of diminishing returns using virtualization for server consolidation, Antonopoulos said. Companies that have used virtualization for consolidation for some time may have already reduced the number of servers to as few as they need. For them, other business drivers for virtualization include easier software development, disaster recovery, business agility, and operational efficiency.

LinuxWorld/NGDC will feature keynote addresses from several tech executives: Ann Livermore, executive vice president of Hewlett-Packard; Diane Green, president of VMware; Kevin Kettler, CTO of Dell; and others.

Oracle is expected to reveal more information about the result of its strategy of undercutting Red Hat on the cost of support for Red Hat Enterprise Linux. Oracle identified a number of companies a few months ago that it claimed switched to Oracle from Red Hat for support, but Red Hat disputed those claims.

Also expect more information on the Microsoft deal with Novell and a few other Linux distributors, in which Microsoft is working to improve the interoperability of Linux with Windows. Microsoft also caused a stir in the open source community when it warned in June that Linux violates 235 Microsoft patents; however, many in the open source community dismissed Microsoft's claim as mere sabre-rattling.

This is also the first LinuxWorld since the adoption of the revised General Public License for use of open source software, otherwise known as GPL v3.