451 Take on Red Hat-CentOS

There was a somewhat quiet, cost-free acquisition of sorts in the Linux world earlier this year when Red Hat announced it was joining forces with Red Hat Enterprise Linux community clone CentOS. The move, which effectively brings organization, governance, backing and technology of CentOS under Red Hat’s brim, is interesting for a few reasons.

First, it illustrates the continued presence and power of unpaid community Linux distributions like CentOS. Second, it’s part of the changing Linux market, which is being driven by cloud computing and new types of uses on the rise. Third, it also may be a sign that open source software users and customers are exerting more influence than ever before.

Read the full article at LinuxInsider.

Microsoft hearts Linux, just not Red Hat

Just when you thought it couldn’t top itself — having contributed Linux kernel code under the GPL, broadly supported Linux alongside Windows with its systems management and other software, and spun off a new subsidiary dedicated to openness, Microsoft showed yet more Linux and open source love recently, adding an impressive Linux lineup to supported software on its Azure cloud.

However, there’s one major Linux player that’s sort of getting left out of the love-fest. It’s enterprise Linux leader Red Hat and its Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL), which has to sit by while other distributions, including RHEL community clone CentOS and market competitors SUSE and Ubuntu, get first-class treatment in Microsoft’s Azure cloud.

Read the full article at LinuxInsider.

Microsoft, broadest supporter of Linux

In writing recently about the continuation (451 subscribers) of the Microsoft-SUSE Windows-Linux interoperability and patent agreement, it occurred to me that in a sense, Microsoft is the broadest supporter of Linux in the industry. Microsoft obviously supports SUSE Linux quite deeply given nearly five years of work with its commercial backer. Microsoft somewhat begrudgingly entered into a virtualization agreement with Red Hat, so that both could better support one another’s operating systems and hypervisors. Finally, Microsoft has been among the most aggressive vendors in the industry to back unpaid, community Linux, such as CentOS, for which it unveiled support last month.

Indeed, Microsoft has consistently displayed some respect for Linux in general, including its contribution of code to the Linux kernel under the GPL.

Despite the concerns about Microsoft’s control over SUSE Linux or Linux in general, the fact of the matter is Microsoft’s investment of both dollars, including its SUSE deals worth a few hundred million, and investment of of resources, such as the interoperability work with Novell/SUSE, the kernel contribution, the cross-OS and hypervisor support work with Red Hat and the support of CentOS, Microsoft is significantly supporting Linux development and use in the enterprise.

I wrote last year about the uncertainty around Novell/SUSE kernel contribution given the Attachmate acquisition.

That all-important contribution from one of the key drivers behind the Linux kernel will now likely continue in large part thanks to Microsoft. And while we cannot simply forget Microsoft’s past actions, such as resisting the GPL, the company’s position as a broad supporter of Linux certainly illustrates how we live in a much different Linux landscape today.

Economy up or down, can open source come out on top?

We’ve written about how a bad economy is indeed good for open source software. We’ve also recognized that with open source software’s maturity and place at the enterprise software table, a bad economy can be a double-edged sword for open source since the failure or fade of large enterprise customers, say big banks, hurts open source vendors right alongside traditional software providers.

What is interesting is that after a couple of years of economic rebuilding, we’ve seen recently how open source is being driven by innovation, particularly in cloud computing, where open source is prevalent and disruptive, and also mobile computing, which continues to be impacted by openness.

Given recent economic developments around the globe, I’m wondering whether we may see a return of cost as the main driver and benefit of open source software in the enterprise. Recent conversations with vendors and customers illustrates the fact that the motivation for adopting open source is not always the main benefit from open source. For example, open source users and customers identified cost as the main reason for adopting open source when we asked more than 1,700 of them two years ago. However, when the same group was asked what was the main benefit from open source, the top pick was flexibility. We also saw dramatic increases in factors such as performance and reliability when comparing drivers for adoption and benefits from adoption. Still, just as we’ve seen unpaid community Linux lead to paid subscription Linux and also paid Linux lead to more unpaid community Linux use, it can go both ways with open source advantages, as well. One recent conversation with an up-and-coming, open source-centered vendor in the NoSQL space highlighted how many large enterprise customers are deploying open source in divisional, departmental, pilot and other limited form to replace traditional databases primarily for flexibility, performance and similar reasons, but finding the cost savings to be significant and worthy of wider deployment.

This begs the question whether open source software, driven by its myriad of advantages for different contexts, finds a way to win regardless of whether economic conditions are good or bad? There’s no question open source has displayed staying power throughout both. We should also point out that these advantages and factors end up putting a lot of pressure on open source software development and projects, given there are inherent expectations of cost-savings, flexibility, speed, performance, scalability, etc. As we’ve highlighted recently, open source is not always the correct route for enterprise ogranizations. However, we do believe that if done properly, open source projects and communities can and do deliver benefits that enable both providers and consumers of technology.

Similar to sales and marketing, longevity, economic and developer opportunity, open core, etc., it all boils down to the community, which in a good economy tends to drive innovation and value or in a bad economy serves as a source of cost efficiency, savings and survival. That is, of course, if the community is properly supported in code, cash, contributions and stewardship that still allows open source to do its thing.

What the world’s fastest systems say about Linux

I’ve been tracking the Top500 Supercomputer List with a particular eye on Linux for some time now, highlighting how Linux continues to power the majority of the world’s fastest supercomputing systems. So it’s no surprise to see continued dominance for Linux, but there are some interesting changes every six months when the new fastest supercomputer system list comes out. The most recent list, released last month, reinforces Linux leadership as every single one of the top 10 fastest supercomputing systems in the world runs Linux. We had previously seen Linux in four of the top five systems or seven to eight of the top 10, but this year was marked by a sweep of the top 10 for Tux.

Read more at LinuxInsider.

Community Linux love from Microsoft

One of big stories out of the Open Source Business Conference this week was Microsoft’s announced support for the CentOS community Linux distribution, a free clone of RHEL that nonetheless enjoys significant enterprise and cloud computing use, as we’ve covered extensively, including a special report that is currently being updated, in part, with a new survey.

This is not the first time MS has displayed love for unpaid, community Linux, given its 2009 contribution of GPL-licensed code to the Linux kernel. This was significant in that it was contribution and participation by Microsoft in the Linux kernel, beyond one of its partner’s Linux distributions, such as the case of Novell and SUSE Linux and more recently, Red Hat and its RHEL for mutual, customer-demanded virtualization support (451 subscribers) between Microsoft and Red Hat.

It seems Microsoft understands that unlike pirated Windows, which it considers a loss, the use of free, unpaid Linux — particularly by large enterprise, government and other organizations — is a big opportunity for it.

True, use of community Linux is typically driven by cost savings and the capability of sizable organizations to self-manage their Linux servers, often involving no payment. However, our research indicates there is often is still a need for higher level support and, more commonly, the ‘insurance factor’ of having a commercial vendor behind your infrastructure software so you, or your boss or board, have someone to call or blame if things go wrong. Microsoft is capable of supporting CentOS in both cases of technical support and being the insurance for an organization. It will be interesting to see the kind of reaction and traction the company gets from customers, presumably Windows shops, running CentOS.

It was only a couple of years ago we were writing about the death, and ongoing life of CentOS.

Today, it continues to be one of the most fascinating open source software projects in that it has no formal commercial backer, not even a foundation, but yet benefits from a solid, dedicated development team that continues to push the OS forward. We, along with Microsoft, continue to hear about use of CentOS increasingly in cloud computing, where it can be used, often free of charge, to add, subtract, scale and scrap as needed. It is, like other Linux distributions, also popular among hosting and other service providers, who again are primarily building public, private and hybrid cloud environments and ecosystems.

This is why again it is very interesting to see Microsoft supporting CentOS with HyperV and Windows. It’s not the first vendor to do so, as server giant HP has supported CentOS, Debian and other community distros to some extent in its server and support offerings. Microsoft’s CentOS support is certainly another example of how the landscape and market for various Linux distributions and operating systems in general is currently undergoing disruption.

Another cloud deal points to changes, openness

I recently wrote about big changes afoot in the Linux market, the topic of a current special report I’m writing. We’ve seen significant changes in the Linux landscape and market in the past 10-15 years — including its enterprise fight and victory over SCO, its rise to dominance in HPC and, more recently, the faster, broader Linux kernel development that continues to remain strong. However, no change has been as significant as cloud computing.

As we’ve previously discussed, Linux and open source software serve as critical building blocks of cloud computing, from the perspective of both providers and users, and open source is also influencing the discussions of cloud computing among its communities. Conversely, cloud computing is also having a significant impact on open source software, specifically Linux in the case of my current research.

Another important thing to track as we consider the changing Linux landscape are partnerships and integrations. Just as we indicated the collaboration between Red Hat and Eucalyptus Systems signaled some of these changes, a similar, recent partnership between Red Hat and Nimbula continues the trend. This is also interesting because so-called ‘cloud operating systems’ that are among the disruptors to the Linux market include both Eucalyptus Systems and Nimbula. Another one in the mix is OpenStack, which again reinforces the importance of open source in the clouds and also bolsters the idea that cloud computing in general will emerge with openness.

The reason I see this, beyond the power of customer need and demand for it, is based on what we’ve seen from vendors, technologies and trends in the past. Just as cross-OS, cross-hypervisor support have become expectations for customers and delivered by vendors, we will likely see the same cross-platform support in cloud computing, with different clouds supported by different vendors to offer customers more flexibility and choice.

I’m still seeking input on the matter, so I also encourage readers to take a very quick survey on OS and cloud computing use.

A new SUSE Linux, separate from Novell

I’m currently researching and writing about the changing Linux and operating system landscape, which is being impacted by cloud computing, additional competitors and devops, as well as the ongoing impact of unpaid, community Linux distributions such as CentOS and Ubuntu.

Another one of the changes underway is what’s happening with SUSE Linux, largely considered the second-leading enterprise distribution behind Red Hat Enterprise Linux, which has undergone some uncertainty thanks to the Attachmate deal to purchase the distribution and separate it from Novell.

To continue the strong SLES development and address this uncertainty, it was good to see recently extended support for SLES to provide greater assurance to the community and customers. We’ve also mentioned before the credit due to Attachmate for communicating its intentions on OpenSUSE –important since both RHEL and SLES are bolstered, particularly in cloud computing in my opinion, by their unpaid, community cousins: Fedora and OpenSUSE. We would note we also continue to see strong support for Fedora community, development and openness from Red Hat.

Given we have wondered in the past about whether the SUSE Linux technology and business (including OpenSUSE) would have more opportunity separate from Novell’s other business in networking, identity management and collaboration, it will be interesting to see what happens. Will a dedicated SLES focus lead to ore market traction? Will it accelerate the promotion and use of SLES and/or OpenSUSE in cloud computing, where open source continues to be significant? Will the contribution to the Linux kernel from SUSE and OpenSUSE continue? Will there be another sale of SUSE Linux? Perhaps, but it looks more and more like we’ll see an independent SUSE Linux operating out of its home town of Nuremberg, Germany. And while I continue to see and sense some degree of uncertainty around SUSE Linux, I am also getting reports that there is still good loyalty to the SUSE Linux brand, technology and community.

Given the changes afoot in the Linux and operating system space, the change in ownership of SUSE is a relatively minor disruption. How well SUSE Linux, OpenSUSE and their supporters are able to tap into the driving trends of cloud computing and devops will be much more significant to the users and future of SUSE Linux, as well as any other version of the open source OS.

New Linux landscape emerging

Recent news that Linux vendor Red Hat is changing the way it releases code, described as ‘obfuscating’ or worse by some FOSS advocates, brings up an important discussion of complying not only wiith the letter of open source software licenses, norms and practices, but complying with the spirit of open source.

However, I’m going to leave that debate to others while I focus on another matter that is highlighted by Red Hat’s recent move: the changing enterprise Linux landscape. Red Hat’s move shows an intensifying competition in the Linux market, with Red Hat seeking to thwart or slow the copying and reselling of its code. It also highlights the change in positioning of Linux distributions, which are expanding beyond a couple of main distributions to a number of other possibilities, driven primarily by virtualization and cloud computing. Of course, there is also an impact from unpaid, community Linux distros, including CentOS, Debian and Ubuntu, as covered in our special report The Rise of Community Linux.

Indications are that the Linux market changes are continuing, with a greater impact from the unpaid community distributions, which are often ideal for stripping out or adding components for various virtualized and cloud computing deployments. Based on customer and vendor conversations, we also see Ubuntu as a much more important Linux distribution in the clouds, compared to the traditional enterprise server market. In fact, most polls and surveys indicate Ubuntu as the top Linux OS used for clouds, including our own. Finally, there is yet another Linux distribution that is not necessarily an ‘official’ Linux, but is certainly well-used in cloud computing: Amazon Linux. While the company does not promote its own Linux version, wide use of Amazon’s Linux AMI are, in effect, Amazon Linux. The same might be said for OpenStack, which is being described by Rackspace and other backers as a ‘cloud operating system.’

Given we have described 2011 as the year of Linux in the clouds, we will be watching closely to see how the market, the use of Linux and the various distributions and their backers continue to evolve. This will also be the focus of a new special report from The 451 Group that is coming soon.

2011 to be year of Linux in the clouds

It’s time for our annual outlook on Linux for the new year, and after spending the last few years highlighting non-desktop Linux in 2008, the range of Linux in 2009 and hidden Linux in 2010, they will all be coming together in 2011, which will be the year of Linux in cloud computing. This is a trend that has been building over the past few years, but I believe it will hit a tipping point in 2011.

The significance of Linux to cloud computing and vice versa has been building for some time already, with the use of unpaid, community Linux in the clouds, commercial Linux from the likes of Red Hat, Novell, Canonical and others in the clouds and a general propensity toward Linux and other open source software in cloud computing. We also covered the recent Red Hat-Eucalyptus Systems deal, which is all about Linux in cloud computing.

As we’ve covered in the past, we see Linux use driven both ways — from unpaid, community Linux to paid subscriptions and also from paid Linux to unpaid versions and self support — but regardless of whether it is Red Hat Enterprise Linux, Suse Linux Enterprise Server, Ubuntu Linux, CentOS, Debian, Fedora, OpenSuse or other version, there is more and more Linux used for cloud computing. This includes not only public and private cloud infrastructure, but also as cloud services, with many Linux flavors available on various public clouds. We’ve also covered the advantages of open source software, and while we continue to see cost and flexibility drive use of Linux in cloud computing, we also see advantages to open source licensing in simplified, less intrusive and less frustrating license terms, management and support (meaning an open source alternative does not typically bring the dreaded audits and sales pressure of traditional, proprietary software).

There’s no question that formidable competition looms on a number of fronts, particularly from Microsoft’s Azure cloud which is winning interest and adoption from many users, but Linux is still consistently identified and used as a core building block to all types of cloud computing, and I believe we’ll see more of this than ever in 2011.

Implications, questions on SUSE Linux, but not the end

There is no shortage of implications and questions from the Novell sale to Attachmate, which includes a side-deal for unknown IP assets from Novell purchased by Microsoft-backed participants. Bottom line, it appears as though Attachmate has acquired the SUSE Linux technology and business, based on the fact it announced plans to split SUSE from Novell, which we believe is wise. Still, the deal has significant impacts for the Linux OS, the enterprise Linux market, cloud computing, community Linux, competing vendors and operating systems, partners and more. Below are some thoughts on the impact and some of the questions that remain unanswered.

Novell has always been a major contributor to Linux development. It appears Attachmate sees value in the SUSE Linux business, as it is wisely separating it from Novell’s other technology, which may have been a bit of a drag on the thriving development and use of SUSE Linux, SUSE Studio and OpenSUSE, particularly in virtual appliance and cloud computing scenarios. It was good to see some acknowledgement of the importance of the OpenSUSE community from Attachmate. Though it was not very thorough or detailed, and plans for SUSE Linux, OpenSUSE, the business and customers around it are still very unclear, it’s more than we saw from Oracle on OpenSolaris, which illustrated Oracle’s challenges with open source communities. Nevertheless, the fact that Novell has been such a significant contributor to not only Linux kernel, hypervisor and other software development, but also to market penetration for Linux means that Attachmate, or whoever ends up owning SUSE, has big shoes to fill.

The separation of the SUSE Linux technology and business also leads us to wonder whether it is poised for another sale, perhaps to another third-party that was interested in only the SUSE piece. Amid speculation that Microsoft may have helped make the deal happen to thwart a rumored SUSE buyout by VMware, we believe there is still a possiblity VMware, or other player, could acquire SUSE Linux. However, this appears increasingly unlikely given signals from Attachmate it will keep and run the SUSE Linux business, perhaps more effectively or aggressively in the virtual appliance and cloud computing environments where there is perhaps most opportunity for Linux. We will also be watching vendors such as HP and IBM, which are significant supporters of both SLES and RHEL, to see if the recent deal for Novell has any impact on their Linux positions.

Of course, uncertainty about the development or direction of SUSE Linux may steer some enterprise customers toward competing operating systems, such as Red Hat Enterprise Linux, Windows, HP-UX from Hewlett-Packard, AIX from IBM, Solaris from Oracle or community Linux distributions such as CentOS, Fedora and Ubuntu (which also comes with commercial support fro Canonical in some cases). However, the Novell deal probably does not come as a surprise to SUSE Linux users, and many of these customers — in financial services, HPC, insurance and other enterprise verticals — are among the most advanced Linux users and are capabile of continuing with SUSE Linux on their own, with Attachmate or both. We see Red Hat as among the big winners in the deal, since it emerges as the only enterprise Linux provider of its kind, but mostly because SUSE Linux does not belong to VMware, which is aggressively competing with Red Hat on several levels, including support of OS, hypervisor and middleware technologies. Microsoft also stands to benefit from SUSE Linux under Attachmate rather than VMware, given Microsoft’s interest in and support for SUSE Linux through a longstanding partnership with Novell. The big question in regards to Microsoft concerns the IP acquired by CPTN, which is backed by Microsoft, for $450m.

While there are numerous customers, vendors, communities and people impacted by the deal, one of the often-overlooked factors is the hypervisor. Novell and use of SLES are a significant part of the Xen hypervisor community. This may be another win for Red Hat, which favors the Linux-integrated KVM hypervisor, particularly if this move for SLES means it also moves more toward KVM and away from Xen.

In conclusion, it was about this time of year in 2006 that Novell and Microsoft announced their landmark partnersip, which over the years has produced greater Windows-Linux interoperability and co-management and large enterprise customers for both. At the time, there were cries that this was the end of SUSE Linux. This was also about the time that Oracle rolled out its own Unbreakable Linux, which was heralded as the end for Red Hat Enterprise Linux. I believe, as these previous lessons and the history of open source software show us, we’ll continue to see significant use and development of SUSE Linux and OpenSUSE, regardless of who is backing them, and that SUSE Linux will continue to be a prominent part of the enterprise IT and enterprise Linux landscape.

NOTE: 451 Group subscribers can read more of our analysis and take on the deal in our report.

CAOS Theory Podcast 2010.06.11

Topics for this podcast:

*Linaro reinforces traction for mobile and embedded Linux
*Open source strategy spotlights: Novell, HP
*Riptano makes commercial play with Apache Cassandra
*Linux still tops in Top500 Supercomputers

iTunes or direct download (26:27, 7.3MB)

Linux supercomputing strength is generic and community

With every Top500 Supercomputing list, we like to check in on Linux, which maintains a dominant position after a relatively fast ascent, primarily at the expense of Unix, over the last several years.

One thing that is striking in the latest list is the dominance of generic Linux, which reportedly accounts for more than 80% of the world’s fastest supercomputing systems. Combined with named Linux distributions, primarily Red Hat Enterprise Linux and SUSE Linux, Linux accounts for 91% of these HPC systems. The Linux share of the Top500 list is even greater considering another 3% or more of systems that are mixed-OS, mostly with some form of Linux.

Another interesting highlight of the latest Top500 Supercomputer list is that use of community Linux is a significant factor here. We’ve covered unpaid, community Linux use in the enterprise for some time now, and we continue to see its impact on enterprise IT and as we see with the Top500 list, supercomputing. Similar to how we have seen community Linux grow in the enterprise, the impetus in HPC is as much about capability as it is about cost. These organizations have the teams and talent — and increasingly everybody has somebody who knows or has experience with effectively using Linux and open source software — to take advantage of Linux, whether building their own clusters for modeling and simulation, running or even providing virtual appliances and applications or building public, private or hybrid cloud computing architectures. Underlying that community Linux use, even in HPC, is a strong and growing presence on the list of one particular Linux that has been at the crux of increased consideration, use, support and profile of unpaid community Linux: CentOS. The unpaid, unsponsored (at least by any official company or even organization) clone of Red Hat Enterprise Linux managed 1.4% with 7 supercomputing sites on the latest list, all this despite being declared dead last summer before developers got it back on track. CentOS is no doubt a part of the 81% of generic Linux used for these supercomputing systems, as well.

CAOS Theory Podcast 2010.05.28

Topics for this podcast:

*Licensing buzzes with Google, OSI, virtualization and the cloud
*Open source barometer Black Duck sees growth in mobile, healthcare, government
*New life for LinuxCare shows renewed vigor for Linux in clouds
*Apache Hadoop support old and new with IBM, Datameer

iTunes or direct download (27:13, 7.5MB)

LinuxCare relaunch reveals cloud lift for Linux

LinuxCare, which recently relaunched a new cloud computing-based Linux services business, had represented frankly a lot of the Linux support business, promise and opportunity that never quite lived up to the hype and expectations. LinuxCare, which suffered from lack of leadership and execution, later became Levanta, and we eventually questioned its Linux-only approach in an enterprise IT world increasingly made up of mixed-OS deployments. Levanta shut down, along with some other missed systems management efforts, in 2008.

The lack of novelty and uniqueness about Linux continued, and as we saw with Linux World 2008, Linux had become so well ingrained in enterprise IT that it truly seemed nobody cared. Like Levanta, LinuxWorld is now gone.

So why would now be the right time for another go at Linux support business? I believe the answer lies in the same response I’ve been offering a number of users, vendors and clients: cloud computing. We began watching more closely the use of Linux, including unpaid community Linux, in cloud computing a couple of years ago with our report, The Rise of Community Linux. Last year, we continued to track the use of Linux, and again community Linux, in cloud computing as we were still hearing about the use of both paid versions such as Red Hat Enterprise Linux and Suse Linux Enterprise Server, but also community versions such as CentOS, Debian, and Ubuntu, which is growing both its paid and unpaid use in cloud computing environments.

We’ve also seen cloud-specific versions and vendors, such as CloudLinux, which typically aim their cloud-tuned Linux software and support at specific verticals and industries. For CloudLinux, as well as for the major Linux vendors and others, that specific industry is hosting and other service providers moving to the clouds.

So a LinuxCare relaunch with with focus on supporting Linux for cloud computing infrastructure, applications and services makes some sense, and also highlights the continued business, benefits and opportunities of Linux as opposed to competing operating systems.

Open source evolving with the cloud

We’ve covered the significance of open source software in cloud computing, both with the emergence of cloud models and more recently from the perspective of customers. In the first weeks of 2010, we see open source is maintaining, if not growing, its role in cloud computing. There are also indications open source and its use are evolving in the cloud.

While we’ve seen open source software used both to build cloud computing infrastructure and offered among cloud computing services, we had thought that the building of clouds with open source may be the greater opportunity given typical and historical adoption and use patterns. However, we are seeing continued examples of additional open source offerings in the cloud.

One such example is MuleSoft’s new offer of Tomcat application server via the GoGrid cloud. The product, MuleSoft Cloudcat, consists of cloud-based Apache Tomcat on GoGrid with commercial support from MuleSoft.

We’re also seeing examples of new open source software for the cloud. We’ve covered the use of unpaid, community Linux in the cloud, but a new cloud-specific distribution, CloudLinux, may also have some interesting implications, particularly for hosters and other service providers. CloudLinux, compatible with Red Hat Enterprise Linux clone CentOS, is commercially backed and supported by a company of the same name.

Cloud services and software are not the only sign of open source’s continued prominence in cloud computing. Also showing us that open source is maturing along with cloud computing: a new partnership between Terracotta and Eucalyptus. These two open source cloud players obviously see the benefits of working together and they’ll be integrating technology and teaming on sales and marketing.

We’ve also seen recently that the community aspects of open source continue to hold importance in cloud computing. In response to a perceived movement away from open source, a project dubbed OpenECP has forked from Enomaly’s Elastic Computing Platform. Citing ‘abrupt commercialization in November 2009,’ OpenECP backers indicate they will maintain free availability and provide community support. Interestingly, the OpenECP project chose to license it under the Affero GPLv3, and we’re watching licensing moves to see if cloud computing prompts more use of AGPL.

All of this shows how open source continues to play a vital role in cloud computing, enabling a wide range of vendors and providers to both build cloud computing infrastructure and applications using open source, and to offer open source via cloud computing to enterprise and other customers.

2010 kicks off era of hidden Linux

For something as open as Linux — the open source operating system developed by thousands of individuals and dozens of companies — you wouldn’t think it would be so hidden, but that’s exactly what Linux will be in 2010 and beyond. We’ve already discussed progress for non-desktop Linux and the layered pervasiveness of Linux. Now let’s consider what might happen as Linux quietly finds its way into even more consumer and enterprise use.

The most prominent yet most hidden place this is happening is in embedded devices — which range from consumer electronics such as media players, set-top boxes and televisions to automotive infotainment to industrial control technology to aerospace and military technology. We’ve seen some consolidation and M&A around embedded Linux, particularly the Android OS backed by Google and the Open Handset Alliance, with deals such as Intel-Wind River, Mentor Graphics-Embedded Alley and most recently, Cavium Networks-MontaVista. In addition, processor players including ARM Holdings and MIPS Technologies are supporting Android and embedded Linux. Soon behind the current cavalcade of Android-based smartphones hitting the market, we can expect even more various devices running Android and other forms of embedded Linux. What we shouldn’t expect is to see or hear the word ‘Linux’ in any advertising, packaging or campaigning.

Of course, there’s a whole lot more Linux and other open source software in mobile devices today — Android, Nexus One, WebOS, LiMO, Moblin, Ubuntu Netbook Remix and more — but we’re not really hearing or seeing it as ‘mobile Linux.’ Obviously there continues to be some degree of fragmentation, but given Google and the many Android-based devices that continue to come to market, there is also consolidation here, too. Linux may be stronger than it ever has in mobile devices in 2010, but don’t look for Linux by name. It’s unlikely you’ll see it from the handset manufacturers, software vendors, wireless carriers and others who are pushing it.

Next up, there will be much more virtual Linux, particularly in Microsoft and Windows shops that are enjoying greater integration and support of Linux from Redmond. This — along with the growing base of enterprise Linux users leveraging virtualization and additional commercial support from Red Hat, Novell, Canonical and others — will help fuel more virtual Linux traction and growth. However, don’t expect Microsoft to talk too loudly about virtual Linux options and keep in mind we are still, even now in 2010, relatively early on in the enterprise adoption of server virtualization.

Moving on, what better place for Linux to hide inconspicuously than in cloud computing? We’ve covered the significance of community Linux in the enterprise and also community Linux in the clouds. With more support for community software and growing desire to build private and hybrid clouds, Linux (both commercial and community) figures prominently into the equation as a basic, flexible yet scalable building block. The end result is both use of Linux to build cloud infrastructure and availability of Linux in the clouds, even though it is likely to be labeled or branded something other than ‘Linux.’

So while we can expect major market gains and new inroads for Linux, the further the open source OS spreads, the less likely we are to really see how far.

Support keeps coming for community open source

We’ve been tracking the enterprise use of unpaid, community open source software for a few years now, particularly Linux. Today, it is clear to see that commercial paid support for this type of software is on the rise. The latest example: OpenLogic’s bid to support CentOS, a free community Linux distro that, while a clone of Red Hat Enterprise Linux, does not have any official commercial entity behind it.

Still, as we covered in our CAOS report ‘The Rise of Community Linux,’ we see increasing interest in and use of community distros such as CentOS, Debian, which is particularly popular in the telecommunications industry, Slackware, PCLinux, Asianux and others, including community versions from the biggest commercial Linux vendors: Novell’s OpenSuse and Red Hat’s Fedora. Although it is distributed and supported by Canonical, we also see some unpaid enterprise use of Ubuntu, as well.

What’s driving this use? Cost and the fact that these distributions are free of charge and free of licensing issues at scale, in virtual and cloud computing environments is obviously a big reason. However, we also see the desire to more effectively and efficiently utilize existing IT talent and experience. Organizations using Linux and other open source software typically realize before too long they have employees capable of supporting and deploying that software, and this is another big driver of unpaid community open source in the enterprise.

Although it will to some extent, OpenLogic is not looking to compete with Red Hat or other Linux vendors and supporters as much as provide unique support for open source software that is gaining interest and use in the enterprise. The company cites customer demand as the reason for the offering and for starting with CentOS. OpenLogic plans in 2010 to add other community distro support, which consists of an SLA support package of indemnification, incident support, unlimited sockets or CPUs, and VM support.

There are plenty of other organizations adding CentOS to their offerings and support. While we’ve covered support from hardware vendors, particularly HP — which this year launched a community Linux support site — we have also seen virtualization and cloud computing-focused vendors that have also turned to CentOS and other community Linux distributions. Part of the trend of community Linux in the cloud, vendors such as rPath, RightScale and Convirture have incorporated CentOS and Ubuntu into their software and support, for example.

We’ll continue to watch what’s happening with community open source software, but it seems clear that enterprise customers will be using more of it, sometimes even in official, above-board fashion. This will also mean that commercial open source software vendors will be competing even more with it, but the good news is there is a recognition from most successful open source software vendors that these are the rules of open source, and this is part of the pressure and competition that drives innovation. All in all, it seems community open source software is turning out to be quite beneficial for enterprise IT.

LinuxCon corrals community, clouds, challenges

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.

CentOS is dead, long live CentOS

UPDATED 8/01/09 – It appears there has already been progress in addressing some of the issues raised among CentOS developers. A visit to the project’s home page provides explanation, as well as the original plea from developers.

There’s been some disharmony and disruption in the developer community of CentOS, the freely available clone of the Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) open source OS. Key CentOS developers resorted to a message on the project’s home page for CentOS co-founder Lance Davis, whom they say they was otherwise unreachable.

Immediately we saw some hype and some declarations that CentOS was going to die, dying or dead. That prompted response from the would-be mutineer CentOS developers who stressed the project would live on at the same time they conveyed that they had tried, reportedly for years in some cases, to call attention to and address the issues of project management and control of CentOS. Let’s remember this is a Linux version that has no commercial backer, no foundation or other oversight body and which runs on the pure free and open source software spirit and volunteer work of its developers. These guys work on CentOS because they love CentOS. Apparently, they love it so much, they’re willing to go through this public circus of sorts to reach the person and leadership they feel is sorrily lacking.

The open source (in this case meaning available for all to see) discussion is, rightly, prompting some serious concern and questions from enterprise organizations, yes enterprise organizations, that are among CentOS users. We’ve written extensively about enterprise-grade use of community Linux distributions, and CentOS is a prime example alongside Debian and Ubuntu (which admittedly has a commercial backer in Canonical, but which provides its server version for free distribution. These free Linux versions do not necessarily appeal to enterprise users in all situations, but they are increasingly on the radar with a rising generation of developers and system administrators, and they are increasingly attractive as cost-cutting measures where feasible. Furthermore, enterprise organizations are among those with the development teams, expertise and experience to comfortably use a community Linux distribution. Sometimes it leads to commercial Linux use, such as RHEL or SUSE Linux Enterprise Server (SLES) from Novell, but it also sometimes leads to more community, free Linux use, particularly if it works.

So what does this dust-up mean for enterprise users of CentOS? In the end, it is proof of a vibrant, well-supported Linux project and community. Similar to how a fork can serve as a necessary check on an open source project or vendor in a positive way, this nasty public display of the struggle for leadership, strategy and longevity shows that CentOS matters to these dedicated developers. Enterprise users may not want to hear about such disruptions, but they should not fear them. What is far more threatening is the silence of a stagnating project.

There was also further explanation of the call fortrust, delegation and leadership in the CentOS community. Regardless of what happens from here (and it appears some bureaucratic changes, such as Web domain, may suffice), the open discussion is reflective of the transparency and openness of open source software communities, and when things need to get aired out, they get aired out. At the very least, this seems a superior alternative to bottling up the politics, disputes, struggles and progress of any organization or project.