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Is Tux Enterprise Ready?

Though widely accepted as a technology and deployed in enterprise departments, Linux is yet to mature as a serious enterprise ready platform.

The user and developer communities hail Linux as an excellent operating system. Enterprises are slowly waking up to its usefulness as a networking and mission critical applications. According to Sandeep Menon, ESG Linux, sales manager, IBM, Bangalore, the primary advantages of Linux are lower total cost of ownership, ruggedness, reliability, flexibility, interoperability; and horizontal scalability.

Today, almost all major hardware vendors, barring Sun Microsystems (a staunch Unix—read Solaris—follower) have clearly chalked out their plans for Linux. HP, SGI, IBM and Compaq are now bringing out machines with Linux pre-installed on them. Despite NTs popularity, these biggies are carefully nurturing this technology and continuing to make investments in developing applications for this OS.

Says Avinash Fotedar, director, marketing and channels, SGI India, Delhi, "We believe it is the platform that will unify the world of Unix mainly because it is Unix-like. We also believe that all the latest versions of Unix are likely to converge. That does not mean that Unix will die. The OS market is huge, and in each segment there is so much development happening that it will be very difficult to wipe out a particular technology. The feeling today at SGI and I do not believe it to be any different at IBM including Sun, which is strictly a Unix company, is that we see Linux as the operating system of tomorrow."

Most of these vendors have now started doing their bit for the Linux community. SGI, one of the major supporters of Linux has even donated some technical concepts and patches to the developer community. Explains Fotedar, "What we have done is collected the jewels of IRIS such as journal file systems, digital media libraries, and given it to the open source community. The developers at all levels will have access to this technology and will adapt it to Linux and incorporate newer versions of various distributions that are coming out. In fact SGI has recently stepped up its efforts to create a Linux graphics environment that will be able to support a wide range of applications."

Moreover, both IBM and SGI are working together to optimize IBM's DB2 Universal Database for Linux on both IA 32 and IA 64 systems. Even HP's lab is busy experimenting on the easy portability of Linux on the IA 64 architecture. HP also has defined its Linux strategy and is bringing out hardware, software and peripheral solutions that are Linux compatible. Most of these vendors have donated and collaborated with Linux distribution companies such as Red Hat, SuSe, Caldera, etc.

As the platform is growing in stature, so are the takers for the application development platform. Today, Oracle boasts of selling 500,000 copies of Oracle 8i on Linux. Even in India the company has seen a steady growth in its Linux based products. Says Gaurav Varma, Oracle9i marketing manager, Oracle India, New Delhi, "We have been seeing a steady growth in our database server products and also in the application server space. For the developer community, Linux is a very powerful platform for developing applications. At Oracle we are constantly working with them to close the gaps that are there in Linux applications."

In fact, SGI is also working with some Indian developers to create digital graphic solutions on Linux for SGI systems.

However, Raj Mathur, an independent consultant and CEO of Kandalaya, a Linux support company, is skeptical about the initiatives taken by these vendors. He feels that vendors prefer to sell their own version of Unix or Windows NT rather than Linux, thus slowing down its growth. As a matter of fact, Oracle clearly mentions that it treats Linux as any other platform and does not take any additional efforts to push to this technology, as it is a technology independent company.

But that does not mean that the Indian market is seeing no growth in this area. Linux is growing at a rapid pace, primarily because it is free and more robust, as user friendly as NT, and requires minimal hardware resources. Mainly because it is free and more robust, the growth in India for Linux has replicated that of the global trend. An IDC survey puts Linux at second place with 24% after Windows NT's 36% and has surpassed the growth rate of all combined Unix shipments. It is growing faster than NT. "Even by the most conservative estimates, it is expected that Linux will be the No.1 server OS by year 2004. This is in spite of the fact that there is no foolproof method to track Linux installations. Little wonder then, that the whole industry is taking notice and making Linux a priority in their future strategies," points out Sandeep Menon of IBM.

Linux distribution companies like Caldera and Red Hat have already setup distribution offices and have plans to start development centers here.

Though Linux offers compelling array of features, it has not yet to capture the enterprise segment in a big way. "Linux despite its popularity lacks in certain areas. Also there is no major support for Linux in the country. That hinders most big corporates from adopting this technology full fledged," points out Mathur of Kandalaya.

Reiterating this point, says Vinod Gupta, GM (IT), JK Corp Ltd., Delhi, "We definitely find Linux interesting. We are even using it as our mail server, but the main hitch in adopting Linux full fledged is that there are not enough value added solutions on it."

Today, the Linux usage pattern in the enterprise is very incoherent. It is mostly a part of a heterogeneous environment and is used for mail or Internet applications. The deployment mainly happens because of one advocate of that technology within the company who feels strongly about it. A point in this case is Manoranjan Kumar, divisional manager, Corporate IT, Samtel Group, New Delhi, who went ahead and deployed Linux for his company's intranet solutions as he was used to working on it in his earlier organization. But Samtel stopped him from deploying the mail server on Linux and went ahead with Windows NT. It proves that most enterprises are apprehensive about deploying Linux across the network.

Says Kumar "Though it is very robust and secure and cost effective it will not be deployed in bigger enterprises as most of them are scared about not getting enough support. The smaller organizations might deploy it as the enterprise network platform but it will take time with the bigger ones. In large companies we will see Linux in departments and niches."

The big vendors today are concentrating on making Linux more secure and robust so that it can be stable and scalable enough for large enterprise computing. But very few are actually working on supporting the technology. After sales support is one factor that is preventing enterprises from deploying Linux. Oracle has only recently announced its support plan for the Indian clients. HP has also defined its support strategy. "But the need is actually for independent support organizations that will take care of clients after it has deployed the technology," informs Mathur.

Moreover, Mathur sees maturity of Linux in the Indian market in the next two years as most education and training institutions have adopted Linux in their study curriculum. Even vendors have started providing some high-end training for Linux to their customers. Despite the fact that Linux is slowly making inroads into the country, there is only one exclusive Linux training center in India. Headquartered in Bangalore, the Linux Learning Center, besides offering exclusive training on Linux, is also involved in R&D activities and extensive support for those users who want to deploy Linux. The Center attracts students from all over the world.

"In 1999, when we opened the training center, we attracted only hobbyists, as Linux had no corporate identity. Red Hat has gone a long way in creating this corporate identity for Linux. Red Hat attracted biggies like Compaq and IBM. That is when Unix lost popularity as it wasn't as user friendly as Linux", explains Ramesh Kumar, director, Linux Learning Centre, Bangalore.

The Linux Learning Center offers three-day and four-day full time courses on Linux system administration and advance system administration and has recently started a course on database administration. "The database administration courses involving MySQL and DHP are very popular. These courses are aimed to cater to the demand for Linux system administrators by several database portals which are all on Linux," explains Ramesh Kumar.

Ramesh Kumar has helped deploy Linux for several corporate users such at ISRO, Sriharikota, Icope technologies, buildindiainfo.com and so on.

The Linux Learning Center spearheaded by Ramesh Kumar in association with G.T. Enterprises, an exclusive Linux distribution center is promoting Linux in a big way by working with government agencies and educational institutions. "We not only offer training in a commercial way but 25 per cent of our activities are promotional, trying to make people realize that there is this software which is virtually free, yet as good as its competitors," says Ramesh Kumar.

He adds that there is lot of documentation for Linux and that 14-15 percent of the R&D activity that is happening worldwide is on Linux.

The Linux movement has slowly begun taking shape in India. There is now a concerted effort from both the vendors and the users to identify the problems and finding solutions within the existing Linux framework. As the developers work full swing, Linux is slowly entering the enterprise. There is acceptance albeit with hesitance, but once the independent support companies evolve and developers create new applications, Little Tux might become the icon on every server and desktop. Let's give it two years.

NM - Priyanka Bhattacharya and Shubha Murthy can be reached at netmagindia@vsnl.com


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