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From: "Inker, Evan"
Subject: [hangout] InformationWeek - Adolescent Angst
Date: Thu, 5 Jun 2003 15:25:16 +0100
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Businesses are asking tougher questions as they consider deploying Linux to
handle more critical tasks. A shortage of enterprise apps still hurts.
June 2, 2003
As businesses turn to Linux to run more of their critical business
applications, it looks as if the open-source operating system is entering an
awkward adolescence. You liked Linux a lot when he was just the gawky kid
from down the block mowing your lawn or shoveling the snow. But now that he
wants to date your daughter, you're not so sure he measures up.
3-Dimensional Pharmaceuticals Inc. would like to welcome Linux into its
family. The company, which uses computers to screen possible drug
combinations to speed up the drug-discovery process, wants to move its
workstations for X-ray crystallography and other drug-discovery functions
from Unix to Linux. That would cut the cost of workstations from around
$30,000 for a Silicon Graphics Inc. Octane to about $7,000 for a Dell
running Linux from Red Hat Inc. The savings would make it feasible for
3-Dimensional, which was acquired in March by Johnson & Johnson, to put a
workstation in front of each of its 40 chemists, making them more
"We're trying to move so that more people can access the same data," says
John Spurlino, a senior director with 3-Dimensional. "Unix workstations are
more specialized and more expensive than a PC environment. If we can bring
those programs to a PC running Linux, it becomes more cost effective."
A good plan, but it hasn't worked yet. The three-dimensional nature of the
company's modeling software has been difficult to replicate on its test
Linux system, a 2-GHz Pentium 4 Dell workstation. To create a 3-D image of a
molecule, for example, the application has to flash different images
alternately on the workstation's screen. So far, Spurlino has been unable to
get the Linux system to synchronize the modeling app with the monitor.
Linux will play a greater role in businesses as more apps become available,
Perrin Manufacturing's Brand predicts.
More than a third--38%--say Linux's greatest weakness is the limited
availability of business applications for the operating system, up from 32%
a year ago. Nineteen percent say the proliferation of different flavors of
Linux is a problem, up from 12% a year ago, raising the fear of
incompatibility among the various versions, as happened with variants of
Unix. And to complicate matters, there's a legal battle brewing over whether
Linux infringes on Unix copyrights.
Business-technology managers are asking tougher questions of Linux now that
they want to use it for more than running Web servers. While the
applications that people want often aren't available, the low cost and
development support of Linux has it on most managers' lists when they begin
projects. "Users have gone out of their way to evaluate Linux," says Al
Gillen, a research director at IDC. Perrin Manufacturing Co., which makes
rest-room-towel dispensers, started using Linux eight years ago to run file,
print, Web, and E-mail servers. Now Joe Brand, Perrin's quality and IS
manager, is hunting for a new accounting package to deploy by year's end.
"The only real criteria now is that it runs on Linux," he says. Brand hopes
that having the Linux source code will let Perrin customize in-house if
necessary and make it less dependent on a software vendor. It's a big
selling point, because the maker of Perrin's current accounting software
went out of business. "I've seen a lot of companies come and go," Brand
says. "It's easy to find a programmer to do customization once you have
But so far, Brand hasn't found what he wants: an accounting application that
can manage the time and cost of each phase of manufacturing. "Most of the
general packages can't do this without customization," he says. A similar
frustration has resulted from Perrin's four-year search for a viable Linux
option on the desktop. "The problem is that there are certain packages that
have to run on Windows," Brand says.
Linux is likely to make inroads in the enterprise with the release later
this year of the 2.6 kernel, tuned for use with databases, Witham says.
Changes to the Linux 2.6 kernel will let programs access more data with
greater reliability and run heavier processing loads. It will improve the
performance of databases on eight- and 16-way symmetric multiprocessor
servers, include new file systems that provide faster access to data with
greater reliability, and make it easier to manage and configure storage on
One of Linux's greatest strengths--tens of thousands of software developers
around the world working to improve the operating system--can also be a
problem. Linux is being improved constantly, and new versions are made
available frequently. Large companies don't necessarily like the idea of
frequently upgrading their systems because they're looking for stability,
says Brian Stevens, VP of operating system development for Red Hat, the
leading Linux distributor.
That may change as more software vendors migrate enterprise applications to
Linux. PeopleSoft Inc. in early May introduced a development partnership
with IBM to port a number of applications to Linux running on IBM
Intel-based servers with the DB2 Universal Database and WebSphere
Application Server. Yet Linux might need more than the availability of
enterprise apps to speed adoption. Oracle and SAP have offered Linux
versions of their enterprise products for more than a year and haven't seen
significant increases in demand. Oracle says only a few hundred customers
have shifted to Linux-based applications. And Linux already serves as a
low-cost platform for running databases. Oracle last June launched its
Unbreakable Linux campaign for its database, application server, and
E-business apps, certifying Red Hat as the first Linux distribution it
supports. In March, it added certification for UnitedLinux. Yet Linux isn't
changing the length of time it takes to sign software contracts, says Bob
Shimp, Oracle's VP of database marketing. The bigger issue is the economy,
Low cost and the ability to use Linux without paying a licensing fee
continue to be significant drivers of Linux adoption. More than
three-quarters of those surveyed cite cost, reliability, and performance as
the top three reasons for using Linux.
More than a third of survey respondents have encountered compatibility
problems with existing software or poor documentation in their Linux
deployments, up slightly from a year ago. Increasingly problematic are the
growing number of Linux distributions and versions available and poor
technical support. More than a quarter of respondents attribute deployment
problems to proliferating distributions and versions, while 20% cite poor
On the desktop, Linux still isn't much of a factor in taking share from
Microsoft. Not that buyers wouldn't welcome a choice: Eighty-one percent of
survey respondents like Linux's relatively low cost, and 65% are looking for
an alternative to Windows. Half see Linux as more reliable than or
outperforming other desktop operating systems. Still, only 9% of a company's
PCs are likely to actually run on Linux. Windows' pervasiveness and
familiarity discourage companies from changing their desktop operating
systems. In addition, 54% say compatibility with existing software is a
problem in deploying Linux on PCs, while 31% cite their personnel's
technical knowledge of Linux as an impediment.
So where will Linux grow? Over the next year, most execs surveyed plan to
continue using Linux as an operating system for database management, Web or
intranet servers, application development, and network file-and-print
services. Less than a third plan to run enterprise apps on Linux, about the
same as a year ago. In the past, the Linux movement was driven by "the Linux
faithful," more than by technical capability, analyst Gillen says. As Linux
matures, the ranks of believers are being diluted by people who think about
Linux simply as a business tool. "The general business user doesn't look at
Linux as a religious statement," he says.
And users don't want their choice of operating system to require a leap of
faith. So expect them to continue exhibiting more care and caution and doing
more testing and cost-benefit calculations as they consider deploying Linux
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