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LinuxCon corrals community, clouds, challengesJay Lyman, September 24, 2009 @ 11:06 am ET
I attended the first LinuxCon this week and saw firsthand evidence of a growing, thriving Linux community. Notice I did not call it the Linux kernel community nor Linux development community since it’s much more than the kernel that is key to the fate and progress of Linux, with an increasing role for users as well.
Of course, LinuxCon and the accompanying Linux Plumbers Conference (held for the second time since last year are primarily a gathering of Linux kernel hackers and the developers that push the open source OS forward. So it was fitting to have some of the most significant contributors and maintainers gathered to discuss the state of Linux in front of the Linux faithful.
A highlight of the conference for many was a kernel panel featuring Linux creator Linus Torvalds himself, Jonathan Corbet, Chris Wright, Ted Ts’o and Greg Kroah-Hartman, moderated by James Bottomley.
The panel began with some discussion of improvements and efficiences in kernel development and incorporation of new branches and code, with Torvalds indicating his kernel life had gotten a bit more manageable. However, the discussion soon turned to some significant issues, particularly the size and fitness of Linux. What began as a lightweight OS (which is still stripped of parts and used for lightweight embedded and other uses) has grown dramatically over the last 10 years. In fact, in just the last year, 2.7m more lines of code were added to the kernel. Although there is certainly a great sense of vitality around Linux and the kernel, there was also agreement that Linux may be getting too fat. While there was no real solution that emerged, at least it’s clear kernel developers and Linux leaders are aware of the situation.
Another interesting topic and perhaps dilemma for the Linux kernel and its backers: the aging team of core contributors. Also, as highlighted by Linux Foundation Executive Director Jim Zemlin to open the conference, the Linux community needs to do a better job of reaching out and including women. I would add that there is also a need for greater diversity and geographic representation among kernel hackers, even though we already see a global Linux community with LinuxCon visitors from across Europe, Asia, South America, Australia and elsewhere.
The unmasking of the fake LT was fun, mostly for the rap music video with dancing penguin suit guy, but once again we saw Matt Asay take the prize (this after winning the open source license debate recently). I guess this open source advocate is on a roll.
For my part at LinuxCon, I gave a talk on community Linux — that is unpaid, self-supported Linux — and its impact on the enterprise, with a particular focus on cloud computing. This coincides with a 451 Group report on the same topic. When we wrote our report on community Linux a year ago, we highlighted how community distributions such as CentOS, Debian and Ubuntu are putting competitive pressure on commercial, subscription Linux, such as RHEL and SUSE. We see the presence of community Linux and its impact increasing, though we must point out there are also complimentary effects from community Linux, which grows users, support and the overall Linux ecosystem. Still, we see enterprise organizations using community Linux for some of the same reasons they look to Linux in general: cost savings, flexibility and greater utilization of developers and teams that are capable of supporting themselves.
We had indicated that technology trends such as virtualization and cloud computing tend to favor the established, paid Linux distributions and vendors. In fact, virtualization, cloud and interoperability are key areas where Linux vendors differentiate their paid versions. This continues to be the case, and there is ample room for Linux vendors to continue and deepen that differentiation. However, there will be more community Linux pressure coming from these ‘other’ distributions, and much of it appears to be coming from cloud computing.
We are hearing from vendors and end users that community Linux makes sense for cloud computing. Obviously cost is a big factor, and perhaps bigger give current economic conditions. Also, enterprise organizations are finding that they can support themselves in many situations. Technically, community Linux distributions may also be easier to strip of messaging and other parts for use in cloud building. Community Linux may be growing its presence in cloud computing, with vendors such as Convirture, rPath, RightScale and others incorporating it into their technologies and strategies. However, when it comes to offering Linux in the cloud, we again see this favoring the more established, more accepted commercial distributions of Linux.
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