There was a time when Linux was associated with nerds in their bedrooms toiling away on DIY Linux kits, driven by visions of a Windows-free world. These were the believers and on the other side there were the sceptics. The attitude of most businesses was to wait on the sidelines until the fate of the technology was decided one way or the other.
Well, Linux has emerged from the bedroom and there are growing signs that it is negotiating the rocky path to the boardroom. None more so that when mainstream IT firm Novell put Linux at the centre of its business strategy by acquiring the world’s second largest Linux vendor Suse Linux at the beginning of last year.
The company now offers Linux-based software products targeting organisations of all sizes. At the top end, offerings include Suse Linux Enterprise Server 9 and the newly minted Open Enterprise Server, which offers a migration path to Linux for users of NetWare, Novell’s once-dominant operating system (OS) for networks. At the SME level there is Novell Linux Desktop and Suse Linux Professional 9.3.
Richard Seibt (pictured), president of its EMEA business unit, gave an update on Novell’s Linux story when he visited Dublin recently. As an IT industry veteran and former head of IBM in Germany, Seibt comes across as a powerful advocate for the OS. He argues that the adoption of Linux is still in the early growth phase especially in the enterprise sphere where technology decisions often have a long gestation. So although the percentage of corporate servers running Linux is currently running at about 20pc according to research estimates, Seibt is confident that this will steadily grow to 50pc.
Seibt argues that at this stage “most large enterprises” have decided to deploy Linux infrastructure or at the very least are seriously evaluating it for their next IT rollout. “They want to have an alternative to Microsoft and open source and Linux is about choice,” he says.
However the big casualty of the growth of Linux will not be Microsoft, Seibt suggests, but Unix, the robust OS found in many a data centre and which comes in many proprietary versions. “Everybody wants to decrease the complexity in the IT infrastructure. They don’t want to use so many OSs anymore; they want to standardise. All the different flavours of Unix add complexity to the IT infrastructure.” He believes even firms such as IBM and Hewlett-Packard, which have their own Unix versions, will eventually fall in behind Linux because it will be more cost effective for them to do so and increase their profitability.
Novell has signed up several large European organisations to Linux-based software. They include such traditional businesses as Deutsche Bahn, Germany’s national railway company, which selected Linux as its strategic server platform. The cost advantages of Linux are cited by some customers as a key factor in the buying decision. For example, one new user of Suse Linux Enterprise Server, Feedster, a rapidly growing internet search engine and advertising network based in San Francisco, has even claimed the lower IT costs that come with Linux will help it raise funding. “If you’re not running Linux, it’s difficult for an emerging internet business such as ours to get funding,” said Scott Rafer, CEO of Feedster, last week. “To build a business in a scalable, reliable and cost-effective way, Linux is the only way to go,” he attested.
Although no large Novell customers in Ireland have yet deployed Suse Linux Enterprise Server, they like the fact that they are being given a choice of OS, which means they can use a variety of hardware platforms, notes Kevin McAteer, business development director for Novell Ireland.
But Linux is not just for large organisations: SMEs are seeing value in it too, argues Seibt, who cites a German study conducted jointly by IBM and Novell that found 83pc of SME customers used Linux and 63pc of them were using it in so-called “mission-critical environments”, ie not just on the desktop but on servers running important business processes.
The appetite for Linux at businesses small and large is something Novell is uniquely able to satisfy, believes Seibt. “We are the only software manufacturer that can offer the entire stack from the bottom to the top.”