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LinuxWorld preview: RHEL 4 shines bright, but it's not the only star

Jan Stafford

To destroy an old adage: Red Hat at night, shoppers' delight. The new 4.0 release of Red Hat Enterprise Linux, the company's first distribution on Linux 2.6, is at the top of most IT pros' must-see list at LinuxWorld Conference & Expo in Boston and, probably, everywhere else this month. That doesn't mean that RHEL 4 will be the only hot technology during LinuxWorld or in 2005. Expect to be overwhelmed by the choices, a refreshing change from the early days of sparse shopping for enterprise Linux products.

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LinuxWorld is not just about Linux, but about the way open source solutions can be integrated into enterprise IT infrastructures and business practices.
Yogesh Gupta
chief technology officer and senior vice presidentComputer Associates

Here's a "what's hot" list for those who need to trim shopping lists to a manageable size. We canvassed 30 Linux and open source software experts -- consultants, vendors and users -- to get their recommendations. (We'll admit up front, however, that there are too many shiny new things to list, so this is just a starter list.)

RHEL 4

Let's start with the obvious, the new Red Hat distribution. Our site expert, consultant Kenneth Milberg, explained why RHEL 4 is No. 1 on most people's list. "In addition to containing the 2.6 kernel, it also will include a rewrite of the Linux's I/O subsystem, which manages transfers of data between systems components," he said. "It will also come with a version of Logical Volume Manager, which does disk partitioning. There will also be a huge change to how VMM [virtual memory] handles writes to disk."

Add features to it and RHEL 4 steps into the ring to duke it out with Novell SuSE Linux Enterprise Server 9 (SLES 9). Novell beat Red Hat to the punch with a 2.6 distro. The folks we polled think that the wait be worth it, because RHEL4 will be mighty robust, feature-wise. No one thinks it will deliver a knockout to SLES 9, but they're excited about seeing the fight.

Databases, of course

Linux-friendly databases helped drive Linux into the heart of corporate data centers. They're certainly among the most mature enterprise Linux products. That doesn't mean they're old news, however. Databases were on the lists of almost all the experts we polled.

The most-listed product was MySQL 5, a new release of the open source database from MySQL AB. It's going to be a portability standout with its support for stored procedures and triggers, our sources said. MySQL CEO Marten Mickos said the new release will have many new features that customers have asked for and will make MySQL even easier for small and large corporations to use.

Two other open source databases attracted our experts' attention. Pervasive Software's PostgreSQL 8.0 and support bundle is a must-see, said Andrew Bowles, director of strategic alliances for BakBone Software. Also, other sources said, Computer Associates' Ingres r3 is a serious contender for some IT pros who want to get away from proprietary databases.

Getting more familiar with Oracle Database 10g and hearing about Oracle's grid computing initiatives are a top choice for our survey respondents, too.

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Web world

Web services are at the top of the hot list for Yogesh Gupta, CA's chief technology officer (CTO) and senior vice president. "More and more, LinuxWorld is not just about Linux, but about the way open source solutions can be integrated into enterprise IT infrastructures and business practices," he said. "Everyone should be looking out for something new in that light."

Web-based applications should definitely be on IT shops' evaluation lists, according to IT pros. Steven Thompson, CTO of Omega Products International, is only buying new software that is Web-based and certified with a Mozilla Firefox client.

Web-based e-mail clients are on the cusp of a breakthrough, said Julie Harris Farris, founder of alternative messaging systems Scalix Corp.

Seeking relief from migration hassles

Experts like Versora CEO Mike Sheffey are going to check out migration tools like Progression lDB, which enables a move from MS SQL Server to databases such as MySQL and PostgreSQL. Another migration product getting some attention is Alacos' Linux Migration Agent. Beyond the product realm, our sources expect major vendors, like Hewlett-Packard, announcing new services that help ease businesses' migration pains.

It's about open source, of course

Mozilla's Firefox browser is on almost everyone's "very hot" list. That's completely justified, said author and consultant Nigel McFarlane. "Because Firefox runs on nearly all desktop environments, you can standardize your internal uses of the Web with a single tool, even for those with Macintoshes, OS/2 machines and power users on Unix or Linux," he noted. "Firefox makes sense for end users, for the technical people that support them and for Web site managers who want to benefit from the efficiencies inherent in standards-compliant Web content."

Samba, Apache, ISC BIND, Sendmail, ISC DHCP and PHP are open source projects that have been in major deployment for over five years, said John H. Terpstra, co-founder of the Samba Team, consultant and author. That doesn't mean that they shouldn't be on everyone's hot list, he said. If you're not using them, you're behind the IT curve.

Navica Inc. CEO Bernard Golden agreed, noting that "Samba is a must-see program for any company whose road map involves a deliberate transition to Linux." He also advised checking out open source security projects, particularly Bastille Linux and Snort. These products are at the heart of the secure Linux enterprise, he said. (Watch for Golden's LinuxWorld wrap-up story on this site.)

Finally, our sources are going to check out The Eclipse Foundation to get a look at the future of open source, particularly business intelligence. "Open source can make business intelligence systems fit into the budgets of organizations that can't afford the commercial offerings," Golden said.


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