Linux ready for full-frontal IT assault

Linux and the open-source community has quietly slipped into corporate IT through back doors and half-open windows over the years and has established a meaningful presence on low-end servers.

Now the consensus suggests 2003 will see this community take a battering ram to the front door and shove proprietary environments, including Windows, off a few high-end, mission-critical platforms.

The battering ram in question will be 64-bit hardware platforms powered largely by Intel's Itanium and compatible processors, in concert with the arrival of clustering software from a number of major players.

Key to this exercise will be the delivery of several different versions of Linux based on the upcoming 2.6 Linux kernel, which has been improved to scale better, handle large amounts of memory and throughput, and contain some fail-over clustering capabilities.

"Where I see a lot of change and inroads for open-source computing in 2003, especially for Linux, will be in the 64-bit server areas. Intel and AMD will battle for the future of that area, although right now most of the 64-bit technology out there is Sun's," said Holger Dryoff, general manager of SuSE Linux in Oakland, Calif.

Dryoff and other Linux distributors see rich opportunities in 2003 for 64-bit clustered Linux environments because of the technologies' collective price performance, particularly in markets such as oil exploration, scientific research, and a variety of simulation markets where supercomputers are needed.

"Linux is just eating up whole markets in terms of clusters, and that should not be slowing down next year. For markets like petroleum, pharmaceuticals, and the life sciences, IA-64 or PowerPC64 boxes will be natural choices," said Dan Frye, director of IBM's Linux Technology Center in Beaverton, Ore.

Although most analysts agree that Linux will continue to move up the clustered server ladder in corporate accounts, they caution that much of that progress will be made by 32-bit servers at the low end and midrange. They see the 64-bit Linux-based invasion on higher-end platforms getting only a toehold during the next year.

"For Linux to make progress in the high-availability, fail-over clustering market -- where Unix and Windows are now in favor -- assumes that Itanium will ship in greater numbers in 2003 than it has so far. We have seen some uptick this last quarter, but we have not seen Itanium take off in large numbers yet," said Jean Bozman, vice president of research at IDC's worldwide server group in Mountain View, Calif.

As part of its top 10 predictions for 2003, IDC forecasts that Linux-based 64-bit computing will be implemented slowly and that 32-bit will rob the most market share from Unix. IDC forecasts that in 2003 Linux-based servers will generate $2.9 billion in server customer revenue, as compared with $1.6 billion in 2002.

Tools and plug-in products for development environments such as Eclipse are also expected to develop rapidly during 2003. "We are already seeing a lot of Eclipse projects out there, where they are doing some pretty interesting stuff," said Don Ferguson, an IBM fellow and chief architect of the WebSphere Platform in Somers, N.Y. Ferguson said he also expects to see more technologies in 2003 that make it easier for open-source tools to work better together, which would accelerate the delivery of open-source applications.

One market segment that Linux observers are on the fence about for 2003 is the embedded-device sector. "Embedded Linux has not been a game changer because people stopped making bats, balls, and gloves. But if the industry is ready to start innovating again, I think you will find Linux at or near the top of that list," said Michael Tiemann, CTO of Red Hat in Raleigh, N.C.

-- Ed Scannell

Copyright © 2003 IDG Communications, Inc.

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