Enterprise Unix Roundup: Have Unix Your Way

By Brian Proffitt (Send Email)
Posted Feb 13, 2008

Brian Proffitt
With server appliance sales growing, is the future merely a world of transparent operating systems?

"Billions and billions served." That's what the red-and-yellow sign with the golden arches down the street reads. I imagine it says that in your neck of the woods, too, though variations exist; "Over 99 billion served" is one common variant, for example.

Love it or hate it, McDonald's revolutionized the restaurant industry by creating a standardized, assembly line-created product that does not vary from location to location. The company has, to put it succinctly, commoditized the hamburger.

Which got me thinking: How long until someone finally figures out a way to really commoditize the server? And what will such a world look like?

What really started my train of thought was a discussion I had this week with services vendor Krugle about its code search engine for the enterprise. The product is sold as a server appliance: a 1U box that runs its engine on top of ... on top of ... Actually, it never came up. You just take the box, slide it into a rack in your data center, connect it to the network, and manage the product as needed.

Enterprise Unix Roundup

A little digging in the spec sheets, and the mystery is revealed: the appliance runs on a modified Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) 4 or Fedora 6. However, since the appliance is essentially plug and play, I had to ask myself: Does it really matter what the operating system (OS) is? Sure, from an intellectual standpoint it's nice to know, but how long before we, as consumers, will not have any reason care about it at all?

The transparent OS is a concept that's been bandied about before. Whether through appliances or virtualization or interoperability or software as a service (SaaS), the lines between operating systems get so blurred that you don't know what's really running under the hood. Or, so the theory goes.

I happen to put quite a bit of stock in this theory. Although I don't think any one group in the Unix arena is deliberately trying to kill off one OS in favor of another, the natural evolution of Unix-like operating systems seems to be leading toward this "transparent" state.

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Of course, one company that does not play well with others is getting extremely nervous about this ubiquitization of the Unix system, as well it should. After all, is anyone seriously buying appliances based on any version of Windows? Beyond that, making the Unix-oriented systems transparent will make the last holdouts that much more visible, warts and all.

Mind you, making Unix systems "invisible" does not mean making the OS irrelevant. On the contrary, the opportunities for real interoperability and system hardening will be huge. Unix and Linux vendors will have to expand their sales strategies, and in many case they're already doing that now.

Is the world ahead a world of task-based appliances? Or hyper-virtualized boxes that save energy and hardware costs? Or will the client/server model hold on forever? Prognostications welcome.

Brian Proffitt is managing editor of JupiterWeb's Linux/Open Source channel, which includes Linux Today, LinuxPlanet, and AllLinuxDevices.

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