Cooperative open-source lab opens doors

Computing leaders take their first steps to make Linux work better on heavy-duty computers, opening the doors to the first projects at a jointly funded developer lab.

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Stephen Shankland
3 min read
Computing giants will take their first steps Wednesday in a program to make Linux work better on heavy-duty computers, opening the doors to the first projects at a jointly funded developer lab.

The lab, announced in August, could enable open-source programmers to get access to high-end hardware, where Linux is still a new arrival. The facility is close to but separate from IBM and Intel operations in Beaverton, Ore.

Among those providing $24 million funding over two years for the Open Source Development Lab are Hewlett-Packard, Intel, IBM, Computer Associates, NEC, Hitachi, Mitsubishi Electric, Dell Computer and SGI. All the biggest Linux companies also are involved, including Red Hat, VA Linux Systems, Caldera Systems, SuSE, Turbolinux, Lynuxworks and Linuxcare.

About the only companies missing from the effort are Sun Microsystems, which has a mixed relationship with Linux and a chilly relationship with Intel, and Microsoft, whose chief executive, Steve Ballmer, recently listed Linux as its top threat.

Two projects are under way at the lab, said Tim Witham, director of the lab: one for getting Linux to work well on servers with as many as 16 CPUs and another for testing the Jabber instant messaging software with more than 64,000 customers exchanging messages.

"Now that we're open for business, we're looking for more and more to roll in," said Ross Mauri, vice president of development for IBM's server lines.

New projects will be added on a first-come, first-served basis, as long as the projects are open source and there's enough computing horsepower to house them, Witham said.

The project is the outcome of the peculiar dynamics of the open-source effort, a collaborative effort among thousands of programmers scattered across the world. Some are volunteers and some are paid for their efforts, but the open-source world generally lacks the central planning and funding of traditional proprietary software projects.

Getting open-source programmers and companies with new hardware to cooperate can be difficult. For example, when a company develops a new digital camera, it's obvious that it should approach Microsoft to make sure the camera works with Windows, but it takes some digging to find out who, if anyone, can make sure it'll work with Linux as well.

The Open Source Development Lab, though, is one of a host of efforts by Intel and others to make sure Linux programmers have the hardware they need. Many Linux programmers who got their start on ordinary Intel desktop computers don't have ready access to the high-end, multiprocessor servers that run the big databases of large corporations.

The development lab has six four-processor Intel servers, one eight-processor server, and 50 two-processor servers used to simulate "client loads"--in other words, to pretend to be countless hordes of people using the same Internet service, Witham said.

Witham and his staff of three full-time systems administrators will spend their time helping get tests up and running for those using the site, he said.

New hardware will arrive as new projects arrive, Witham added. "You're looking at a fairly large number of servers in the near term," he said.

The lab is important for Intel, whose chips are the most popular foundation for the Linux operating system. Despite the fact that most Intel chips run Windows computers, the company sees Linux as promising.

Will Swope, general manager of the Intel Solutions Enabling Group, said Intel sees Linux as an opportunity to woo Unix programmers to Intel machines. Unix today is common on servers using CPUs from Sun, Compaq Computer, SGI, HP and IBM. "We want to make sure those people have Linux as an alternative," Swope said.