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Heavy hitters crowd onto the open-source bandwagon

Last week's LinuxWorld Conference and Expo saw a pronounced increase in the presence of major hardware and software makers, and served as background for a number of important industry announcements. Sun Microsystems, Hewlett-Packard, Oracle Corp. and IBM, among others, filled the exhibit floor at San Francisco's Moscone Center with enormous displays, trumpeting their support of the open-source OS. Even Microsoft, long considered the enemy of open source, hosted its first booth ever at this year's show.

The most dramatic announcement came on Monday, when Sun Microsystems held a press conference to unveil the company's plans to jump into the enterprise Linux server market. CEO Scott McNealy and other Sun execs detailed plans to expand the Santa Clara, Calif.-based company's Intel-based Cobalt line of low-end servers to win back some of the business currently being lost to white box and Dell x86 servers.

The new LX50s (code named ''Big Bear'') are 1U servers with single or dual processors, each featuring 1.4GHz Intel Pentium III chips. Both versions will run Solaris and Sun's own version of Linux. According to Sun's new software maven, Jonathan Schwartz, Sun Linux 5.0 was built by Sun on the base 2.4 Linux kernel and adapted from Linux technology embedded in the server appliances acquired with the company's 2000 purchase of Cobalt Networks. Sun representatives said its Linux software will not be sold separately, but the core distribution will be licensed under the GNU Public License, which means the source code will be available for free.

Standard systems will come bundled with loads of pre-installed software, including the Sun ONE Application Server, MySQL database, Sun Grid Engine software, Sun ONE Developer Studio, Sun ONE ASP, Sun Streaming Server software and Java 2 Standard Edition.

Although Sun still dominates the Unix market by more than 50% (by revenue), according to IDC, the market for high-end servers appears to be shrinking. IDC expects that trend to continue. But IDC predicts that revenue from the sale of Linux servers will more than triple from $80 million last year to $280 million by 2006.

Some of the industry's top executives took to the stage to deliver keynote speeches. McNealy spoke on Tuesday, detailing his company's Linux strategy going forward.

Oracle's chief, Larry Ellison, delivered his keynote on Wednesday, beating the drum for his company's ''Unbreakable Linux'' initiative, which is based on a new Linux version of its clustered file system software. The system is designed to ease the management of Linux servers linked to run Oracle's database software. The Foster City, Calif.-based company also announced that it would make the source code to its clustered file systems available as a free download.

Also on Wednesday, Oracle posted online the source code for its new Clustered File System designed for the Oracle9i Real Application Clusters (RAC). According to Robert Shimp, Oracle's vice president of database marketing, this is the first source code ever offered by Oracle to the Linux community. The release is an early test version of the software for developers. A production version is due for release in October, he said.

Senior IBM VP Doug Elix also gave a speech on Wednesday. ''Ladies and gentlemen, make no mistake, the Linux momentum is real,'' Elix told his audience.

Although many companies have jumped on the open-source bandwagon, IBM still claims the largest share of the Linux customer base. Thousands of IBM customers are currently using Linux for serving up files and Web pages, and for running some business software, Elix said. Elix added that he expects Linux to play a major role in IBM's grid computing strategy going forward. Big Blue also announced large investments and developer programs for the open-source operating system.

Red Hat Linux reigned supreme as the distro of choice for many of the show's heavy hitters. More than 50 exhibitors, including BEA, Borland, Computer Associates, Oracle and Veritas, demoed all or part of their solutions on Red Hat Linux Advanced Server in the company's booth.

Raleigh, N.C.-based Red Hat Inc. announced that it would be offering global support for the upcoming AMD Opteron and AMD Athlon processors based on AMD's Hammer technology. It will provide support in its Red Hat Linux Advanced Server and future enterprise Linux offerings from Red Hat, a company spokesperson said.

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at john@watersworks.com.

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