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Commentary: Linux's foot in the door

Forrester Research's Joshua Walker says CIOs can be confident they'll get first-rate Linux support from their largest application vendors and systems integrators.

Commentary: Linux's foot in the door
By Forrester Research
Special to CNET
October 18, 2002, 10:45AM PT

By Joshua Walker, Research Director

Long thought of as a fledgling operating system, Linux is now ready for prime time. CIOs have many new reasons to be confident that they'll get quality Linux support from their largest application vendors and systems integrators.

Forrester recently spoke with directors at Sapient, Accenture, IBM and Red Hat who are responsible for Linux services and products. They gave us examples of how Linux continues to build momentum. Most recently, the open source operating system has achieved the following:

• Received the seal of approval from big companies., Verizon and E*Trade Group have all publicly disclosed their support for Linux in the past year. Amazon, in particular, has a case study on Red Hat's Web site touting the more than $10 million cost savings in hardware that Amazon attained by moving its shopping site from proprietary Unix servers to cheaper Pentium-based systems that run Linux.

• Earned the commitment of key infrastructure vendors. Oracle ships a version of its flagship database product and its application server for Linux. Recently, Oracle's chief executive, Larry Ellison, announced that his company will provide Linux versions of all its business applications. IBM ships 65 server products for Linux from across its four major software lines, including DB2 Enterprise, WebSphere Enterprise, Lotus Domino and 24 Tivoli products.

• Become part of Sun's software initiative. Sun Microsystems is using Linux to wage war against Microsoft and retain its customers. For example, it will deliver low-end Linux servers to try to curtail the number of Solaris customer departures, and it will deliver personal computers built on Linux that bundle StarOffice as an alternative to Microsoft's Office Suite.

Ready for prime time
To date, IT departments have kept an eye on Linux--but also kept their distance. According to Forrester's Business Technographics data, only 9 percent of Global 3,500 companies have completed a Linux implementation. But this is changing. Key milestones have been reached that make Linux a stronger alternative to high-priced Unix boxes.

• The market has consolidated. Several of the leading Linux vendors, such as SuSE, Caldera and Conectiva, have teamed up to produce a unified version of Linux called UnitedLinux. This teamwork reduces the number of flavors of Linux in the market and provides a standard enterprise version of Linux built on a single code base. Red Hat, which did not join the UnitedLinux effort, has signed a deal with IBM to be a strategic provider of Linux-based solutions. So the breadth of enterprise Linux providers has now been reduced to two main players: UnitedLinux and Red Hat.

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• The vendors have standardized. Over the past year, the Linux Standard Base (LSB), a work group of the Free Standards Group chartered with maintaining the standards for the foundational Linux kernel, became more influential. Why is this important? The LSB ensures that Linux does not mutate into several incompatible versions, ? la Unix. This makes it easier for vendors to develop enterprise applications because each flavor of Linux has the same standard core. Red Hat, SuSE and Mandrake all have received LSB certifications for their new releases.

• There are options for professional services. SuSE and Red Hat already provide their own professional services to clients. But customer demand has forced big-name systems integrators to respond. For example, IBM Global Services, Hewlett-Packard, Accenture and Sapient all offer implementation support for Linux and Linux-based applications.

• There is broad support from enterprise application vendors. Top vendors are porting their applications to Linux. SAP has more than 100 production clients using its Linux configuration, and J.D. Edwards is working with IBM to follow suit. Other vendors like Documentum, Stellent and Epicentric also already ship products that run on Linux.

Using Linux for databases, e-mail and development
Linux offers credible cost benefits over traditional operating systems for certain applications. The catch is knowing where to maximize those benefits. Here's how to start using Linux now:

• Swap out Web and email server hardware. Applications like Lotus Domino and Apache Web server are prime candidates for a migration to Linux. Although costs will stay nearly constant in terms of software licenses, hardware costs will decrease significantly in moving from Unix to Intel hardware. An enterprise-scale Intel-based server from Dell Computer, for example, costs less than $10,000, while entry-level servers from Sun will cost about $15,000.

• Migrate database servers. Both of the leading database vendors, Oracle and IBM, have pledged allegiance to the penguin platform. So feel free to make the move, knowing that you'll still receive the same level of support and services.

• Replace development boxes. Now that there are a number of Java IDEs (integrated development environments) that run on Linux, companies should give their developers cheaper Intel boxes running Linux, instead of pricey Unix workstations. And since Linux is a derivative of Unix, training costs will be minimal.

© 2002, Forrester Research, Inc. All rights reserved. Information is based on best available resources. Opinions reflect judgment at the time and are subject to change.

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