Computing heavyweights to chaperone Linux into servers

IBM, NEC, Intel, Dell and Hewlett-Packard are joining with Linux companies to coax the open-source operating system into high-end, multiprocessor machines.

Stephen Shankland Former Principal Writer
Stephen Shankland worked at CNET from 1998 to 2024 and wrote about processors, digital photography, AI, quantum computing, computer science, materials science, supercomputers, drones, browsers, 3D printing, USB, and new computing technology in general. He has a soft spot in his heart for standards groups and I/O interfaces. His first big scoop was about radioactive cat poop.
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Stephen Shankland
3 min read
Computing heavyweights IBM, NEC, Intel, SGI, Dell Computer and Hewlett-Packard are joining with Linux companies to coax the operating system into high-end, multiprocessor machines, the companies announced today.

As previously reported, the computing powerhouses are joining forces to create a laboratory where open-source programmers can improve the performance of Linux and associated software on these expensive servers. The new Open-Source Development Laboratory, into which the companies will pour millions of dollars annually, will provide a way for independent programmers to push Linux into this high-prestige domain.

The partnership also includes the four major commercial sellers of Linux--Red Hat, SuSE, TurboLinux and Caldera Systems--as well as computer maker VA Linux Systems, Linux services company Linuxcare and embedded Linux company LynuxWorks.

Linux grew up on single-processor computers, mostly those based on Intel chips--not coincidentally, the types of computers that are easy to come by. But finding machines with two processors, much less 32, has been a lot harder for the volunteer crowd of programmers that has built Linux from scratch. As a result, Linux has shown more promise than performance in these powerful and expensive machines.

Will Swope, vice president of Intel's architecture solutions enabling group, said the move will transform the situation.

"Tens of thousands of Linux developers don't have access to these kinds of enterprise systems for validation, stress testing, load testing, tuning, scaling, system management--a whole slough of those kinds of technologies," Swope said.

Linux was developed largely by the collaborative open-source community, which shares software instructions without proprietary restrictions. This is in stark contrast to Microsoft, which keeps the inner workings of its software a closely guarded secret.

Despite these informal, noncommercial roots, Linux has found a place alongside Microsoft's Windows in the server product lines of all major computer sellers. HP, IBM, Dell, Intel and others have even elevated Linux to the status of Windows.

Computing companies, initially cautious about Linux, are scrambling to benefit from its momentum. The new Open-Source Development Lab, which will be located in Portland, Ore., is one of several corporate efforts launched by companies hoping to obtain the good will of the open-source community. IBM, Sun Microsystems, Intel, HP, Compaq Computer, SGI and others have also released some of their own software for use by the Linux community.

"Linux is moving into the enterprise," WR Hambrecht analyst Prakesh Patel said, referring to the realm of large corporations with big databases, heavy computing loads and conservative systems administrators.

But, as companies are discovering, improving Linux isn't a simple matter of paying programmers to get the work done and then releasing the software to the Linux community.

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For example, both IBM and SGI have released software that would give Linux a journaling file system, a technology that makes a computer recover from a crash more quickly and more gracefully. It's not clear whether the journaling file systems--IBM's JFS or SGI's XFS--will prevail over other efforts such as ReiserFS, which is backed by Linux seller SuSE, or an upgrade of the current Linux file system called ext3.

Even successful assimilation of corporate software into Linux can be tough. IBM irked Linux programmer Linas Vespas when the company released a version of Linux for its S/390 mainframes, a project Vespas was working on independently.

"Unfortunately, IBM secrecy caused a fair amount of duplicated work," Alan Cox, one of Linux's top programmers, remarked in January regarding the situation.

This time, the companies are working to encourage development in a more neutral environment.

The lab will be run by an independent director and controlled by a board that will include corporate representatives as well as Linux luminaries, Swope said.

The new Linux laboratory will be accessible to people on the premises and over the Internet, Swope said. Other sites will be opened later, he added.

CNET's Linux Center The lab will feature several high-end servers from the participating companies, including servers with dozens of processors from IBM, said Ross Mauri, vice president of Unix software for IBM. There will also be computers running on chips from Intel, IBM, Compaq and others, Swope said.

The move is a technological necessity for computing companies these days, Patel said. "They really need to figure ways to partner or capture this opportunity, or they'll be left behind," he said.