The prevailing attitude at the fourth annual combined Linux Expo and LinuxWorld
Conference and Expo in Paris seems to be that Linux is spreading rapidly but still isn't quite ready for
prime time on the corporate desktop. However, as of Monday it takes one giant step forward with a new, integrated business package from MandrakeSoft and partners IBM, WorldCom and Ayrsoft.
Called E-BoxIT, the new package combines MandrakeSoft's distribution of Linux, IBM's server hardware and WorldCom's connectivity, and is aimed at businesses with 50 to 500 computer users. The package, which will first be marketed only in France and the United Kingdom, comes complete with a customer relationship management (CRM) suite developed by a new Scottish firm, Ayrsoft.
Barry Cochrane, MandrakeSoft's Europe, Middle East and Africa sales director, says the new package was test marketed during the past month and will be officially launched on Monday, Feb. 4.
"It's beyond question that this package indicates a serious increase in takeup of Linux by the business world," Cochrane says. "But it's not that they're taking up an operating system. Rather, they're buying into a business solution. And that came about because IBM has been pushing Linux very strongly for more than a year now. A lot of Linux
distributions were courting IBM for endorsement of their distributions.
"But, at the end of the day, no one in IBM is interested in selling anything other than hardware. It's what they do. I'd come across Ayrsoft a couple of years ago. They'd developed a firewall/VPN server and services including a CRM system integrated with
mail, notes, scheduling, on top of the Mandrake Linux distribution. And so I came up with the idea to package it all as an integrated system. I brought the idea to IBM, and here we are."
The E-BoxIT solution answers the demands of "a lot of companies" for a server that's secure and stable behind a firewall and with VPN (virtual private network) capabilities, he says. But more than that, companies wanted business tools including groupware and CRM, but such tools weren't very easy to find under Linux, adds Philippe Ambon, MandrakeSoft services coordinator. "And they wanted proprietary and highly reliable hardware and some connection to the Internet."
Cochrane developed the idea for the package and negotiated with the other companies involved. IBM was enlisted to provide the hardware, WorldCom for the
connectivity and Ayrsoft for the groupware, CRM, firewall and other software not included in the MandrakeSoft Linux package. IBM and WorldCom resellers
will market the package.
Ambon says the partners are thinking about marketing the product to other
countries, but not in the immediate future.
Small- and medium-sized businesses often don't have large IT staffs, Corchrane says, so they want something that works "and they want someone to take
responsibility. So we came up with this idea which includes everything they're asking for."
Ease of use appears to be a key feature of the package. E-BoxIT is available on either a rental or a purchase basis. Financing is through IBM Global Finance. And, Cochrane
explained, it's easy to install: Slip the disk in and 15 minutes later it says "congratulations" because the whole system is automatically installed. Once the package is installed, users have access to easy-to-use services such as Web-based data storage.
"There's a big potential in the (small- and medium-sized business) market, but
they're frightened about security. They're frightened of losing their data," Cochrane adds. "If you have a service-centric system for storing data so I can access it from anywhere in the world with my browser, so any changes I make, any notes, any emails
I send are recorded in the central server, even if I get hit by a bus, someone can pick it up. Or if I'm on a sales call, I can look up the account and see its status in real time."
IBM is currently using the system and it's been tested on an xSeries 200 server with 5,000 users.
"And the beauty of the whole thing is it's a one phone call system," Cochrane explains. "One phone call and you can buy or rent the system. One phone call and you can get support, which is four-hour on-site standard response through IBM."