April 16, 2004

Real World Linux 2004, Day 3: The conclusion

Author: David 'cdlu' Graham

TORONTO -- The third and final day of the Real World Linux 2004 conference saw a number of valuable technical sessions and two interesting keynote speeches, one from IBM Canada
president Ed Kilroy and the other from Linux International director Jon 'maddog' Hall. updated 16/04 22:00U

IBM on 'Open for E-Business'

Kilroy, IBM Canada's President, gave a keynote address entitled "Open for E-Business on Demand: An Executive Perspective." Kilroy said that Linux has become mainstream and that IBM supports Linux because it brings real value to both IBM and to its customers.

Kilroy thanked customers who have remained with the company for a while, adding jokingly: "Non-IBM customers, we'll get you on the way out."

After years of cutbacks and corporate trimming, companies are back to considering growth. Companies, Kilroy said, have become very good at cutting costs over the past few years, and they are looking to start moving forward again.

Eighty percent of chief executive officers are going into 2004 with growth on their minds, he said. Eighty percent of CEOs are concerned about agility in response times to their customers' needs, and 60% of companies need corporation-wide transformation in the next 2 years, Kilroy said.

With this changed business environment, many companies are looking to revamp themselves and their systems to meet their customers' needs. Kilroy said it is time to push IBM's on-demand business model, which integrally involves Linux.

On-demand, he explained, means a lot of things . A company that is on-demand is a company that can react quickly to rapidly changing circumstances.

Some of Kilroy's key points:

  • In order to be a company capable of business on demand, the company needs to have all its processes integrated from one end to the other.
  • The company needs to operate as a unit.
  • On-demand business is one that can rapidly react to internal and external threats.
IBM Canada president Ed Kilroy gives his keynote speech.

Kilroy gave an example. In 2003, IBM planned to have a meeting in Toronto, where 1,200 IBM employees would gather to discuss various projects. When the conference was only a few days away, the SARS crisis hit the city of Toronto, putting scores of people in hospital and killing a number of victims. The external threat to IBM's internal conference forced the company to decide whether the conference was worth the SARS risk, or if it was best to cancel it.

The result -- and the part of it that falls under IBM's definition of on-demand -- was that the risk was neither taken, nor was the conference cancelled. IBM instead moved the entire conference into a two-day long series of Webcasts, eliminating the need for a good deal of human contact.

Companies cannot count on improving indefinitely. Eventually the way they are going will cease to be efficient or competitive. Companies must concentrate not on getting better, but, as he put it, getting different. Those businesses need to be willing and able to evolve, and their processes and infrastructure need to evolve together, in concert, to maintain the best value.

Because Linux is open, Kilroy said, is it a cornerstone of IBM's vision of on-demand business. It enables companies to choose platforms appropriate to the jobs they are intending to do. It is cost effective, and it is secure. Linux, he pointed out, is used in everything from the smallest embedded devices to laptops, to game consoles, and on up to the largest mainframes and supercomputing clusters.

IBM, Kilroy said, contributed $1 billion in value to Linux in the year 2000 and now has 7,000 employees around the world whose jobs are dedicated to it. He told us that Linux is used in mission-critical applications across the entire company.

Kilroy told us that IBM uses, excluding research and development (R&D) servers, more than 2,100 Linux servers across the company. Among the uses he listed for the Linux servers was:

  1. An intranet server for the company with 100,000 users, running on a zSeries system
  2. Security assessments
  3. E-mail and anti-virus scanning
  4. Hosting services for clients - what he termed e-hosting - and network management.>
  5. IBM's Standard Software Installer (ISSI), a process that builds images for the company's 320,000 employees
  6. Microelectronics 300-milimetre wafer manufacturing.

IBM's power technology processor

The 300mm wafer is for IBM's "power technology" processor, he said, and it is used in all sorts of applications, including Microsoft's X-Box game console. The assembly line is fully automated, start to finish, with no human intervention. It is controlled entirely by Linux computers and has been running 25 months without any failures or outages.

He spent the next few minutes briefly outlining some Canadian companies whose Linux migrations had been done using IBM hardware. Among them, he said, Nova Scotia's Chronicle Herald print newspaper adopted Linux in 1997. The whole shop is running, he told us, on IBM blade servers. The newspaper benefits from lower maintenance and licensing costs for their systems.

Mark's Work Wharehouse, a clothing store, needed to update its aging inventory and point-of-sale systems. The old system, he explained, was run independantly at each store, and at the end of the day a mainframe at headquarters would take all the information from all the stores and figure out how much inventory would be needed to be sent to each store based on the sales.

Instead of continuing down that path, their company set up Linux- and Web-based point of sale terminals which maintained real-time information on the head office's computers. This resulted in a 30 percent reduction in total cost of system ownership for the company.

One of the more interesting points Kilroy made during his keynote was near the end, when he told of the U.S. Open Tennis tournament's Web site. It ran on Intel servers and peaked and troughed heavily over the playing season, depending on weather, who was playing, and so forth. To have a server capable of always handling the highest load that could occur, he said, would be uneconomical, because most of the time the server is not used at its highest level.

What they did, instead, was share a computer cluster with a cancer research group. As traffic to their site increased, more processor time was allocated to the Web site hosting and less to the cancer research. As the traffic tapered off, the computers returned to the task of researching cancer.

He emphasized that a switch to Linux can cut a company's costs and allow it to reinvest the savings into its business transformation and IT infrastructure. In essence, he said, an upgrade to Linux can pay for itself.

The moral of his presentation, according to his final slide, was the comment: "Don't fear the penguin."

He also urged those present to take advantage of the information IBM offers free on its website about using Linux.

In the brief Q&A session that followed, a member of the audience asked if IBM's SmartSuite would be released under the GPL. A fellow IBM employee said that IBM would like to do so but that components of SmartSuite are licensed but not owned by IBM, so making it public may take some time.

More on page 2 ...

Jon 'maddog' Hall speaks

Jon 'maddog' Hall opened his speech by announcing that his lawyers were reminding him to tell people that Linux is a registered trademark of Linus Torvalds. Companies or inviduals that want to use the Linux name should read up linuxmark.org for information about using the name and registering it before simply using it.

He then went on to quote Sir Isaac Newton: "If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants." Linux, he said, should fall under the term "cooperativeism," rather than the sometimes used "communism." He also explained that his interpretation of free software is that it is free to be helped, not necessarily free to be taken.

Hall rehashed a good deal of the things he told his smaller audience at Wednesday's "visionary" debate panel in more detail.

From 1943 to 1980, he said, all software was open source. Companies did not ship compiled software, they shipped souce code. If a company needed some software written, they contracted the work out, and, if it was not done properly, on time, or with adequate documentation, the developer would not be paid.

In 1969, Hall said was a university student. In that year, a software package called DECUS was written and donated to libraries. The idea behind the move was that if the person writing it had to write it anyway, why not let others use it? Others could use it for the cost of copying the papertape code.

Hall said that 1969 turned out to be an important year in software development for two other reasons: a) two scientists at Bell labs developed the first version of Unix, and b) Linus Torvalds was born.

From 1977 to 1980, Hall said, the price of hardware dropped. In 1980, shrink-wrapped software started to hit the market and has remained the dominant form of software distribution.

Hall offers a history lesson

In 1984, Richard Stallman, upset at software he could not modify, launched the GNU project, an effort to build an operating system that would have source code available and free. Stallman then went on to write emacs. Hall said some people think he should have stopped there instead of trying to write the GNU kernel, because emacs has enormous functionality and is sometimes jokingly referred to as an operating system.

RMS and the GNU project went on to write the gcc C compiler, libraries, and command interpreters to go on top of their upcoming operating system.

As the concept of available source code continued to take off through the '80s and '90s, sendmail, bind, postgres and other such major projects began to appear, using the model of free software that was beyond the scope of the GNU project.

In 1991, Finnish university student Linus Torvalds started a new operating system project to imitate Unix, because it was simply too expensive to acquire Unix for personal use. Torvalds, as anyone who knows their Linux history can tell you, started the project as nothing more than something to do for fun.

Unix is really a Linux-like system

Hall said that Unix is a trademarked brand of X-Open; it is a certification mark. Because of that, it is incorrect to say that Linux is a Unix-like operating system, because it isn't unless X-Open says so. Technically, he concluded, Unix must be a Linux-like operating system, except that it is expensive and closed.

For people or companies who do not want to write code under the GNU's General Public License, he told the crowd, there are other options besides being closed source. Licenses such as the artistic and BSD licenses allow a different set of restrictions from the GPL.

He thanked the Free Software Foundation for all their hard work up to now on getting free software adopted.

Hall reminisced about days gone by when he could call up companies from which he had bought software for support and, rather than getting a dismissive menu system as now often happens, be able to quickly speak to someone like the company's president or CTO to get the support he needed.

Jon 'maddog' Hall delivers his keynote address.

Getting a reply to support requests, he said, are in the closed source world. By using closed source software, companies' business methods change. If the source is provided, a company can fix it and get on with its work rapidly, but with closed source, the company providing the software has to be depended upon to fix the problem. With open source software, the user or user company becomes a part of the solution.

Part of the reason for today's success of open source, he explained, is that hardware is very inexpensive. Today you can buy a 3GHz processor, a 120GB hard drive, a ton of RAM, and a video card for just a few hundred dollars; this would have made military planners jealous just a few years ago. The price of software, he noted, has not dropped along with the price of hardware; the result is that Linux essentially fills a vacuum left by the desire for lower software prices relative to the low hardware prices.

He also said that proprietary software poses a problem to military and government organizations. Should a government or military organization trust a foreign company to provide unauditable software for use on their sensitive machines?

Why Linux is beneficial to international companies

Another factor for governments is the issue of economic trade deficits. For a country to pay large amounts of money to a company in another country makes little economic sense, if there is a way to pay people in their own country and provide employment (and tax revenue) back to themselves. Linux provides such a means. Because there is no dependence upon a specific company being in the home country, a government can hire its own citizens to deploy and support Linux.

Another problem with the closed source software model, Hall said, is the issue of native language support. Countries and regions whose people do not necessarily speak one of the 50 languages Microsoft supports, for example, have no recourse to add their own native tongue to the software. With Linux, a company or a government can hire people to translate the software into their native language, or people can do so voluntarily without that effort causing any issues.

In the mid-1990s, Drs. Thomas Sterling and Donald Becker developed the Beowulf cluster. The concept behind it was simply that lots of cheap, off-the-shelf computers working together could replace the dying breed of large super computers. The result was a supercomputer for about 1/40th the cost, Hall said. Grid computing has taken that original concept to much greater heights here in the 21st century.

With a computer's instability, Hall said, if each person loses, say, $5 a day in productivity from crashes and bugs, that works out to about $2.5 billion per day in lost productivity in the entire computer-using world. If using more stable software gains each person $1 of unlost productivity, that is $500 million a day saved. He noted that the number is based on an installed base of 500 million computers across 6.3 billion people. He joked that 5.8 billion people have yet to choose their operating system.

Hall noted that Sourceforge has 850,000 registered developers and about 85,000 projects in development. Even if only 10% of that number is actually actively developing software, it is more people than Microsoft's 50,000 employees, he said. Of those, he said, 22,000 are marketing and sales people, and he estimates no more than 2,000 to 3,000 of the employees are actually hands-on software developers. As such, he said, the Linux community is much bigger than Microsoft.

Eighty companies on the show floor

About 80 companies spanned approximately 60 booths on the trade show floor. There was the usual mix of Linux companies, geek shirt vendors, bookstores, and little-known companies who would pounce on passing media badges in the faint hope that one of them might be so impressed as to get word out about their products.

The Real World Linux 2004 trade show floor.

One company did manage to catch my attention in this manner called Net Integration Technologies. They sell what they call an autonomic Linux-based server operating system named Nitix. The person I spoke to explained that it was derived from a Debian kernel -- a bit of a red flag, as he insisted that yes, it was from a Debian kernel -- but that it was now mostly original code.

I asked if Nitix or its components were released under the GPL and I was told that, no, the (advertised as Linux-based) operating system was developed in house in spite of its Linux roots. Perhaps it deserves a little more investigation to see if the salesman knew what he was talking about, or if the company really is selling an in-house developed Linux-based Debian kernel with only original code.

update Net Integration Technologies spokesperson Sandra Lemaitre wrote me informing me that I had been misinformed and included the following:

In our Nitix server operating system we use a standard Linux kernel (not
Debian, as you were told), and about 80% of the software that we use
(maybe even more than that) is released under the GPL or other open
source license. All changes that we have made to this code are freely
available on our open source web site: http://open.nit.ca/.

The autonomic bits of our Nitix OS are proprietary to us, but the rest
of it (Apache, Samba, etc.) belong to the open source community, and we
contribute to the community a fair bit by submitting patches to be used
by the rest of the world when we fix something in one of the open source
components.

Our company takes great pride in being part of the Open Source
community; two of our companys founders, Avery Pennarun and Dave
Coombs, have been involved with the Linux operating system for over ten
years and co-developed the popular WvDial application. Actually, many of
our developers have produced and contributed to numerous Open Source and
commercial software projects.

Real World Linux 2004 Conference in review

The first day was the most useful and informative of the three days to people who came to the conference looking to learn something. The three-hour small group sessions provided an opportunity for presenters to go into enough detail to be informative to those attending.

The conference's attendance was around 2,500 people over the course of the three days. In its first year, 2003, Real World Linux mustered approximately 1,700 people in the midst of Toronto's SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) outbreak.

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