Start-up beats IBM for Linux software

A revamped version of key disk drive management software in Linux will be based on a project from a start-up, spurring a retreat by IBM programmers working on competing software.

Stephen Shankland Former Principal Writer
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Stephen Shankland
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A revamped version of key disk drive management software in Linux will be based on a project from a start-up, spurring a retreat by IBM programmers who had been working on competing software.

Sistina Software's LVM 2.0 will be included in the coming 2.6 version of the Linux kernel, while IBM's programmers working on competing software have refocused their work on volume management administration tools.

IBM has pumped billions of dollars into its Linux development efforts and has had success in areas such as getting Linux to work better on high-end machines with numerous processors. But Big Blue's clout and the 200 or so programmers in its Linux Technology Center don't guarantee the company victory over smaller rivals.

The software in question is Linux's "logical volume manager," which governs how multiple hard drives are joined so they appear as one. It's a crucial feature for using Linux on higher-end servers.

For example, volume management software makes it easier for hard drives to be added to accommodate growing storage needs or for a failing hard drive to be replaced. Linux programmers, however, have been looking for a replacement for the current LVM 1.0, initially developed by Minneapolis-based Sistina.

Sistina's LVM products are open-source and freely available. Although the company sells support for LVM to customers who want it, its major revenue source is file system software that works hand in hand with LVM.

Among the features coming with LVM 2.0 is

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a standardized interface that will make it easier for IBM or others to control the software. It also works better with "clusters," groups of servers united into a single pool, Sistina said.

Sistina's announcement that LVM 2.0 would be incorporated into the 2.6 Linux kernel came shortly after IBM programmers working on their own competing Enterprise Volume Management System (EVMS) announced they would scrap much of their project.

As recently as August, Dan Frye, head of IBM's Linux Technology Center, had hopes for EVMS. "It's really a quantum step forward in ease of use, reliability and performance," Frye said in an interview at the time.

But when top Linux programmers declined to include EVMS in the 2.5 kernel--the test version that will become 2.6--IBM decided to cut its losses.

"The 2.5 kernel feature freeze has come and gone, and it seems clear that the EVMS kernel driver is not going to be included," said programmer Kevin Corry in a posting to the Linux kernel mailing list. "It has become clear that the current EVMS approach is not what the kernel community was looking for."

Instead, the team is working on adapting its volume manager administration tools to work with more general volume management software, Corry said.

Alan Cox, the second-in-command of the Linux kernel after founder Linus Torvalds and an employee of top Linux seller Red Hat, lauded IBM's move. "Throwing away a big piece of code really sucks. I think, however, it's the right path," Cox said.