Linux Market Grows Up


Executives from IBM and Hewlett-Packard at the conference in San Francisco said the Linux industry has finally grown up and is ready to take on Windows and Unix for all corporate needs. Waltham, Mass.-based Novell announced SUSE Linux Enterprise 9, the first enterprise Linux server software based on the Linux 2.6 kernel. Red Hat, Raleigh, N.C., entered the middleware space with the launch of Red Hat Application Server, while Armonk, N.Y.-based IBM donated its Informix Cloudscape embedded relational database to The Apache Foundation.

On the hardware front, Blue Bell, Pa.-based Unisys--a close Microsoft ally--announced its first Linux-based ES7000 server capable of supporting up to 32-way computing. At the opposite end of the spectrum, HP, Palo Alto, Calif., launched its first commercially supported notebook preloaded with Linux, the HP nx5000.

Additionally, the building rivalry between Red Hat and Novell--evidenced by their new battle on the application-server front--gave the Linux conference a decidedly commercial feel. Red Hat CEO Matthew Szulik quipped last week that the two-horse race emerging in the open-source Linux OS market mimics the "Noah's Ark Syndrome" in the commercial technology industry.

"Linux is not a boy, not a child. It's grown into an environment that can run any part of the data center," said Martin Fink, HP's vice president of Linux, alluding to an old IBM television commercial that represented Linux as a young child. "It's a stage of maturing, and we've reached a state of young adulthood.

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"It's now an IT ecosystem," he added. "This is where the future investments are going, and if you don't participate, you'll be left behind."

Tell that to the channel. While IBM, HP and other large systems integrators are reaping significant revenue from Linux services and support contracts, a mainstream channel has not yet emerged. HP's nx5000, for instance, will only be sold direct, and Red Hat--the leading Linux vendor--has yet to launch a viable channel program.

At the LinuxWorld Expo, Mike Evans, Red Hat's vice president of partner development, said Red Hat plans to team with IBM's and HP's Linux partners to add more specialized Linux VARs and ISVs to its portfolio. He acknowledged that Red Hat is still working out its services model but said it is not trying to become a major consulting company.

Anthony Awtrey, vice president at Ideal Technology, Orlando, Fla., said his firm made more than $1 million in Linux services revenues last month. He maintains that solution providers have to work out their own models rather than rely on vendor programs.

"The Linux channel may never happen," Awtrey said. "A while back, I predicted that solution providers would form more of a spiderweb relationship with projects like JBoss and Apache rather than passing product through a distributor network like traditional commercial companies."

Still, IBM has a Linux program for IBM Business Partners that play in the SMB space. And Novell plans to leverage its channel partners to move Netware customers to Linux.

Integrated Data Systems and Services, an IBM Business Partner in Reading, Pa., highlighted at the show a major Linux services contract with Spirit Lake, Iowa-based Pure Fishing.

The Linux channel will differ from traditional channels, but services opportunities are growing, solution providers said. "Anyone can redistribute open source," said Russell Nelson, vice president of the Open Source Initiative and owner of Crynwr Software, a 13-year-old open-source consultancy in Potsdam, N.Y., that sells support. "Any company that wants to thrive in the channel needs to see the channel not as distribution, but instead as service."

One ISV at LinuxWorld Expo said the Linux technology and competitive landscape may have matured, but the global business ecosystem needs time to evolve. "In the short term, it'll be tough," said Stan Wang, CEO of Viador, a Redwood City, Calif., ISV. "But longer term, it will happen."