Hardware Today: For Linux, Maturity Leads to Inroads

By Drew Robb (Send Email)
Posted Jan 24, 2005


In the world of Linux servers, 2004 was not so much about revolutionary breakthroughs as it was about consolidation, growing maturity, and "corporatization." In many ways it's like the booming renewable energy industry. The age of hippies sitting on hillsides dreaming of windmills replacing coal and nuclear plants has passed. In their place are Fortune 500 suits — a less idealistic phase but a necessary one that propelled wind power from the far fringes into the energy mainstream.

In the world of Linux servers, 2004 was not so much about revolutionary breakthroughs as it was about consolidation, growing maturity, and 'corporatization.' Two hardware vendors that illustrate this trend are Penguin Computing and IBM.

Similarly, Linux appears to be transitioning successfully from the outer rim of the enterprise galaxy to the very hub of the server mainstream. While a few of the pioneering companies remain, like Red Hat and Penguin Computing, big names like IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Novell, and Dell are now driving the growth of the platform.

According to the latest numbers from IDC, Linux has moved into the fast lane. Linux server shipments grew at a respectable 15 percent annually four years ago, and now are growing at a rate of 40 percent.

"HP and IBM are the biggest drivers on the server side as Linux grows in maturity," said Gordon Haff, an analyst at Illuminata. "Linux is accepted for more and more tasks, although that doesn't mean it's going to completely displace all other operating systems."

According to the latest numbers from IDC, Linux has moved into the fast lane. Linux server shipments grew at a respectable 15 percent annually four years ago, and now are growing at a rate of 40 percent.

While Linux initially gained ground in the enterprise via an abundance of small Apache Web servers, its deployment has widened significantly in the past few years. Linux is now found in various kinds of infrastructure servers, has attained success as an application server platform and in other midtier tasks, and blossomed in supercomputing clusters.

A series of steady advances has aided Linux's upward march into the enterprise. The release of the 2.6 kernel in 2004, in particular, added several key enterprise capabilities. This heralds greater scalability, enhanced 64-bit support, and heightened virtualization for organizations looking to deploy Linux deeper into the enterprise.

The growing legion of corporate Linux faithful, too, are adding to the allure of the operating system. Novell, for example, entered the open source realm in a big way in 2004 with its acquisition of SUSE last January. By all indications, the vendor appears to be betting the company on Linux growth.

Perhaps the biggest emerging trend, though, is the distinct blue hue Linux is taking on.

"More and more customers are taking advantage of Intel Itanium and AMD 64-bit chips running Linux on machines with 16 CPUs and higher," said Greg Mancusi-Ungaro from Novell's SUSE Linux Enterprise Server group. "SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 9.0 scales up to 512 CPUs on Itanium and an upcoming service pack will up that to 1,024 processors."

Lintel Monopoly

Everyone knows the term "Wintel" denotes the virtual monopoly long enjoyed by the Windows-Intel combo. But the way Intel is introducing Linux friendly features in its Xeon and Itanium lines, the idea of a future "Lintel" monopoly may not be such a far-off fantasy.

Intel's much-vaunted EM64T processor, for example, supported Linux before it supported Windows. This technology is used by Penguin Computing in its line of Relion 1U and 2U dual Xeon servers. The company also has an EM64T-based Linux workstation in the pipeline.

But like most Linux players, the vendor is keeping its processor options open. Phil Pokorny, Penguin's director of engineering, said the company also sells a 1U Pentium 4 server, 1U and 2U dual AMD Opteron servers, and a quad Opteron server.

"In 2005, look for Linux servers with PCI-Express slots augmenting and replacing PCI-X, as well as SAS drives in SATA form factors," said Pokorny. "Specific to Penguin Computing, we have a fiber channel external storage product in the works, as well as EM64T and Opteron workstations."

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