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Big names sign on for Linuxcare programming services

The start-up's earlier moves to hire open-source programming gurus are paying off via several big deals with storage companies.

Stephen Shankland principal writer
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Stephen Shankland
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Linuxcare's earlier moves to hire open-source programming gurus have paid off; the start-up has signed several deals to help storage companies prepare their products for the world of Linux.

On Thursday, Linuxcare announced deals with Hewlett-Packard, Network Appliance, Maxtor, Tricord and SGI. Each deal is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars to the company, said Dave Sifry, co-founder and chief technology officer. The deals are either new or recently completed.

The deals are critical to the San Francisco start-up's survival amid the general tech downturn and the evaporation of Linux hype. Linuxcare has even been considering a consolidation with Turbolinux to stay afloat.

Most of the deals tie in with Samba software, which lets file storage operations on a Linux computer behave like a Windows machine, a key requirement for infiltrating Linux computers into Windows networks.

Among Linuxcare's top programming guns are Andrew Tridgell, leader of the Samba effort, and Tim Potter, a high-ranking Samba coder.

"Besides the fact they're great guys, they have brought us in so much revenue, it's fantastic," Sifry said.

Linuxcare helped HP design the software for Linux-based Netstructure 1010 and 1020 servers that the company plans to debut in March, Sifry said. HP also funded Linuxcare to speed up an existing project called Winbind that lets Linux computers easily fit into the Windows network management systems, Sifry said.

With Winbind, an administrator can easily control Linux computers with Windows NT or Windows 2000 administration tools by making the Linux machine act just like a Windows machine. The Linux machine fits into the Microsoft scheme for controlling network features, such as which people have access to the server and what their passwords are.

Linuxcare's decision to sell Linux and open-source programming services is a shift from its older business model of providing technical support for Linux sellers such as Red Hat or Turbolinux.

"They're obviously trying to evolve their model," Giga Information Group analyst Stacey Quandt said. "Now they're doing more of system engineering."

In the case of Maxtor, Linuxcare helped the company tune Linux for its network-attached storage (NAS) device, Sifry said. Linuxcare's work helped Maxtor make sure the NAS machine is able to talk to two systems for sharing files over a network, Unix's NFS or Microsoft's CIFS.

SGI is paying Linuxcare to help bring its high-end XFS file system to Linux, Sifry said. XFS is a journaling file system that keeps track of changes to files so that rebooting a Linux machine happens more quickly and with less data loss or corruption. Windows 2000 and versions of Unix already possess this feature.

SGI committed itself to bringing XFS to Linux in May 1999, but the process has been drawn out, and other competing file systems also have been released, including IBM's JFS, the ReiserFS, and an improvement of Linux's existing ext2 file system called ext3.

"They're very interested in seeing XFS get accepted as the journaling file system for Linux," Sifry said.

The work with Network Appliance isn't actually for a Linux machine, but rather to help NetApp's own proprietary operating system talk better with Windows CIFS systems, Sifry said.

NetApp is the top maker of network-attached storage devices. Its high-end products cost more than $1 million a piece.

Tricord, another server appliance maker, also hired Linuxcare to help with its Linux-based storage devices. The company had changes it wanted to make to the Linux kernel and hoped that working with Linuxcare would help ensure those changes were accepted into the standard Linux software.

Linuxcare was founded in 1998. It filed for an IPO last March but withdrew it a month later amid layoffs, the departure of Chief Executive Fernand Sarrat and other problems. Arthur Tyde III, the company's founding CEO, resumed that role in October.

To keep the company running, Linuxcare closed a $30 million round of funding in August.