February 5, 2003

Tracking Tux: Research Round-Up

- By Barbara French, Tekrati -

It's one thing to know that Linux and open source have gone mainstream. It's another thing to experience the transition firsthand, with full body contact. Several IT industry analysts did just that when open minds met at the LinuxWorld Expo in New York City last month. Amid big banners hawking big vendors, they found the open source community's passion transferring intact to first-time enterprise IT attendees. Granted, wild parties and ponytails per capita were down. Items on the upswing included rational strategies, deployment successes and commercial-grade business solutions. Open source analysts share their topline observations on the Expo as it reflects the changing state of Linux.

From Rowdy to Ripely

Al Gillen, IDC software infrastructure research director, found "a significantly higher proportion of corporate IT there from a business -- and big business -- perspective." One of the ISVs he visited reported a good stream of IBM zSeries users stopping by their booth. "Attracting that type of user tells you about the business IT interests around Linux, and at this show."

"The show has reached a level of maturity that wasn't there before," said George Weiss, Gartner vp and research director in hardware and operating systems. "There was a preponderance of large vendors, mostly from the UNIX space. You walked in and saw large signs of IBM, HP, Intel, CA, BMC and others. The sense that I got from walking through was that Linux is entering a phase of maturity... from small software developers and integrators to large vendors." The kind of work attendees were up to also made a lasting impression. Among Expo attendees, he encountered a large number of users deeply involved in enterprise projects and in deploying open source in their enterprises.

Amy Wohl, president of Wohl Associates, sums up the change in balance with an anecdote. At a Linux conference four or five years ago she was escorted to a front row seat for a keynote presentation. She had arrived late. The young man seated next to her eyed her up and down, looked at her badge and asked, "So what's an industry analyst?"

"No one would have asked me that at this LinuxWorld Expo," chuckled Wohl. "This was a business show."

Fixed Values

Attendee attitude impressed Weiss, who like Gillen and Wohl, has been tracking Linux and UNIX since the earliest days. He saw the intense focus of open source hackers echoed among the swelling ranks of enterprise IT attendees. Across the spectrum of attendees, Weiss found "a greater seriousness, willingness and desire to learn more about Linux operating system environments, applications available and vendor strategies for support and service" than at typical IT industry expo events.

He said the large crowds attending booths were clearly interested in the nuances, subtleties and sophistication of Linux. SGI, Red Hat, HP and other vendors staged lectures in their booths. "Many people were very intent and sat through entire lectures," said Weiss. "They weren't just walking through and browsing. They were there to learn." He suspects a good percentage of the IT enterprise attendees, many of whom took notes, attended the show "to report back to their management and perhaps to document the progress of the Linux community."

This reflects what Weiss is seeing in Gartner client inquiry trends. "Interest in Linux is percolating into higher management levels of enterprise IT organizations," said Weiss. "They are becoming focused on Linux commitment, compliance and best practices as they move forward in deploying Linux in the enterprise."

"What has not changed is the continued focus of the major systems vendors and ISVs on supporting the Linux market," said Stacey Quandt, a Linux and open source analyst with Giga Information Group.

Weiss agreed. "I got the sense from large vendors that they are pouring more funding into Linux projects. Of course, they're funding projects that serve their own interests, but it's more than that. They're funding things that will help the community achieve greater stability in the future."

He cited continued strong, unqualified support from major vendors for organizations like the Free Standards Group, OSDL and inhouse technology labs. "Standards compliance initiatives -- like the Linux Standards Base -- are a crucial cog in making this work."

Focal Points

The Expo Finance Summit was the debut event for Financial Insights, an IDC analyst company launched following their recent acquisition of Meridien Research. Bill Bradway, gvp financial retail services, noted high attendee interest around the types of applications and infrastructure requirements best suited by Linux solutions. In an email, he noted two types of requirements of most interest among finance industry attendees: "Infrastructure servers where file, print, and mail servers are a requirement fit into one category. Another is where there is a high volume of fairly repetitive transactions that need to be processed efficiently. Matching and execution engines for stock transaction processing and settlement are examples of this second category."

Pierre Fricke, evp of web application infrastructure and product lifecycle management infrastructure at D.H. Brown Associates, presented "Positioning J2EE and .NET" to a full session despite his Friday slot on the agenda. "J2EE goes hand in hand with Linux. J2EE is Linux's modern application platform for enterprises and Linux is the high volume opportunity for J2EE," said Fricke. On the Linux side, Fricke is impressed with JBoss, an open source J2EE platform. "JBoss is starting to penetrate the market, even though it doesn't have support from major vendors. It's getting traction on Wall Street and particularly with developers." For the Microsoft camp, Fricke said, "VisualStudio .NET is a best of breed solution for many developers, although it's not going to be the choice of hardcore technologists."

He saw evidence that Microsoft's understanding of the open source phenomenon is maturing. "Going forward, competition is going to be based on a more rational and business-oriented view. The desperate Microsoft activities and emotional messaging have subsided." Fricke sees this as a positive for the Windows with .NET and Linux communities and technologies. "Both architectures -- Windows and Linux -- bring value to the table."

Quandt, an Expo panelist, said hot topics among attendees concerned the future of the Linux desktop, DBMS support on Linux, how the UNIX vendors and Sun Microsystems in particular will react to the growing adoption of Linux. "There is a lot of interest in AMD's Opteron x86- 64-bit microprocessor architecture as well as interest in the implication of large SMP NUMA-based Linux systems," said Quandt. She also noted more users asking for advice in creating a business case for a Linux migration.

She said the biggest change from last year is more enterprise customers implementing or considering a dual distribution strategy. "In most cases this is a means to not being 'locked' into a single distribution. However, companies like Unilever are engaging in a dual distribution strategy due to geographical factors."

The hottest topics catching Weiss' attention -- systems management, volume management and cluster file systems -- were represented most visibly by the likes of CA, BMC and Veritas. "Systems management, including storage management and mission critical recoverability, is going to be key as Linux goes mainstream. Likewise, tools for provisioning."

Gillen saw strong attendee focus on clustering and availability technologies. Gillen also commented that while IBM had a number of customers presenting on line of business application deployment, this may not be the macro trend it appears. The LOB customer presentations were lined up as much for press digestion.

Big Vendor Dish

>From Quandt's perspective, vendors who stood out included SGI, NEC, IBM, Qlusters, HP and AMD. "Overall, large SMP Linux systems, and others in the pipeline from other vendors, will rapidly gather market share and displace many high-end Unix opportunities within the next 24 months," said Quandt. "This will contribute to the cumulative market-share loss of UNIX servers and consolidation of the UNIX market."

CA was the surprise vendor for Wohl. "They had an interesting story. They're moving applications to Linux based on customer demand. Plus, they put all their Linux initiatives together." She says she'll watch to see if CA becomes a force in the open source market.

Wohl dished kudos to Red Hat for demonstrating viable corporate focus. "For the first time, they very clearly decided what they wanted to say," said Wohl. "Advanced server is their corporate message." Wohl's free newsletter offers astute appraisals of Red Hat, CA, HP, Sun, Ximian, IBM and Microsoft's "non-presence-presence" at the Expo.

Fricke noted that BEA wasn't at the show. This contrasted with IBM, there in force and demonstrating their commitment to Linux as a strategic operating system.

Ecosystem Dynamics

For IDC's Gillen, vendor presence on the Expo floor reflected what's happening in open source market opportunities. "This market is fairly quickly being divvied up. The opportunities for small vendors to establish a presence are quickly diminishing. There are still opportunities, to be sure, but the larger and established vendors are making it more difficult for small vendors to enter."

Gillen points to systems management as an example. "Red Hat, Ximian and SCO have products already in place. If you're a small vendor, how do you go in and establish a presence for yourself?"

Weiss felt that smaller, pure-play open source vendors were under-represented. "While big-vendor presence generates confidence, it's also important to showcase what the vendors on the periphery offer. I regret that there wasn't as much opportunity for the small vendors tied to open source. So many smaller vendors -- especially those tied to the open source community -- are barely scraping by. Hopefully, the show management can do something about it to make it more affordable for these vendors in future shows."

Wohl agrees that second tier companies are vital for a healthy Linux community. "Big systems and solutions companies don't offer everything you need," said Wohl. "Second tier companies build products in the ecosystem for enterprise and SMB markets." Linuxcare, MySQL, Ximian and MetiLinx particularly impressed Wohl.

Another Day

Wohl believes 2003 will be an important year for distro model evolution but left the show a skeptic on Linux desktop market readiness in North America. "I love the idea of a Linux desktop market happening," said Wohl, "but I don't see it happening now. It's a future market." American hardware vendors pointing to third world markets as their Linux desktop opportunities are somewhat delusional, suggests Wohl. Those market opportunities are for free Linux software and regional equipment brands.

Paul J. Dravis, The Dravis Group, summed up the Expo experience this way: "The focus is shifting from 'does Linux work?' to how does it scale and what are the management tools."

He said many attendees were trying to get their hands around the dynamics of clusters. In addition, he noted growing interest in personal productivity tools and groupware, with emerging interest in Linux on the desktop, particularly among attendees from outside North America. Dravis said the economic backdrop, an undercurrent at the conference, fueled the topic of TCO/ROI.

Dravis suggested this parting thought on LinuxWorld Expo in New York: "What's the next part of the software stack to go through the UNIX-to-Linux market dynamic?"

LinuxWorld Expo - Related Free Research Links

Wohl Associates
Amy Wohl's Opinions, 1/29/03 Special Edition: Linux and LinuxWorld

D.H. Brown Associates
DHBA offers two reports (simple registration) on their conference presentations:
Pierre Fricke: "Will webMethods' JBoss Strategy Hold the J2EE Platform Vendors at Bay?"
Tony Iams: "Linux Strategies and Solutions: Linux Server Suppliers Contend for Leadership." Iams presented "A Competitive Assessment of Linux in the Enterprise" during the Wednesday sessions.

LinuxWorld Expo - NewsForge Reports

LinuxWorld wrapup: The futility of trying to see it all
LinuxWorld Day 2: Dancing with the dot-orgs, laptops on parade, Knoppix for kids
LinuxWorld diary: Day one - updated with Golden Penguins and a talk with Dell execs

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