This year promises to be very good to CIOs and IT directors seeking an easier migration path to enterprise Linux and less costly software. That's my prediction, based on the action at last week's LinuxWorld Boston Conference & Expo. Besides seeing some stellar migration tools there, I was impressed by the wide variety of mature, enterprise-ready open source applications and tools on display. Even more impressive was the fact that top-level corporate IT execs were checking out those products.
Here's my take on the three major themes of this show including the CIO factor, the expansion of Linux beyond a single-server architecture, and new products that will make migrating to Linux much easier. These three themes point to one conclusion: Open source is the wave that your company should catch in 2005.
The Dockers and suit factor
This LinuxWorld drew crowds, both in attendees and vendors. There was constant traffic and never a lull or an empty aisle on the exhibit floor. The booths themselves took up all the space in the exhibition hall, unlike other shows where half the hall is cordoned off due to a lack of exhibitors. In fact, LinuxWorld may move to a larger hall in Boston next year.
It was not the crowd's size, but its makeup that caught my notice. At previous LinuxWorlds, the vast majority of attendees had the hobbyist's garb of jeans and sandals. But in Boston, there were plenty of older attendees wearing less casual wear like Dockers and, yes, suits.
I assumed from my style observations that more IT managers were attending the conference to find out more about open source and Linux. A number of vendors confirmed my perception, saying that they'd spoken with more "buyers" than ever before at LinuxWorld. To an exhibitor, a buyer is the Holy Grail of a trade shows. The vendors said that top-level IT managers – CIOs, CTOs, IT directors – had instigated serious discussions about how Linux and open source could help their organizations.
Linux: Movin' on up…and out
Fortunately, there were plenty of products on hand to give these IT professionals some good ideas about the advantages of Linux and open source.
There were a number of exhibitors offering products that enable Linux to break the bounds of a single box. Clustering, which enables several servers running Linux to act as one, was a hot field at the show. CIOs now have many options for almost any type of cluster, from high-performance computing to single application clusters. Products shown included blade server hardware and software for managing Linux clusters.
IBM and Computer Associates displayed products that clustered Linux databases across multiple machines. IBM's DB2 ICE (Integrated Clustering Environment) offers the ability to transparently add Linux boxes and spread a database across them to improve performance, all without someone having to design the distribution upfront.
CA's cluster product offers the ability to transparently add machines to a cluster of database server machines, each of which can access the disk array storing the actual data. This provides the ability to improve performance and remove bottlenecks.
While the IBM product is a commercial, proprietary offering, the CA product is built entirely from open source products and can be used at no cost. Both products indicate an emphasis on making open source robust and reliable – key concerns in production IT environments.
I noticed a number of IT execs checking out another Linux scaling product, Virtural Iron VFe 1.0. Virtual Iron Software will be releasing Virtual Iron VFe 1.0 in a few months. The product provides the ability to set up a virtual machine environment by linking multiple computers in a data center together as building blocks, or virtual computers.
Right off, you're going to think that VFe is just like VMWare. Well, there is a difference. VMWare lets you divide up a single x86 box into partitions, rather than building a virtual computer from several computers.
One difference between Virtual Iron Software's product and VMWare could be seen as a liability: VFe is Linux-only. It makes up for that limitation, however, by delivering extreme flexibility. With VFe, not only can additional virtual machines be added with no need to reboot a server, a virtual machine can span multiple physical machines, offering real scalability beyond the bounds of a single machine. What is really cool is the fact that when a new physical machine is added to the virtualization pool, it is transparently available to have virtual machines added to it without any need to take down the virtualization server or any of the other machines.
Migration, not segregation
In the past, open source has usually been an add-on to an existing IT infrastructure. The new open source application was built and began offering services while the already-existing applications continued to be used. In other words, open source was an add-on and operated as a separate island.
Linux doesn't have to be an island anymore. Here's a brief description of just a few of the many products I saw at the show that offer ways to migrate existing applications to their open source equivalents.
Versora showcased a product called Progression DB that migrates Microsoft SQLServer databases to MySQL, PostgreSQL, or CA Ingres. Progression DB moves not only data, but database definitions, queries, triggers and stored procedures.
Alacos offers a product that migrates Microsoft Windows desktops to their Linux counterpart. Not only will it move bookmarks, desktop background and files from Windows to Linux, it will also migrate Microsoft Outlook e-mail, contacts, and calendar entries to their Linux equivalent. While Alacos won't perfectly migrate everything, it does an amazing job.
StarOffice, which enables companies to migrate Microsoft Office users to the commercial version of the open source OpenOffice, has really matured. The latest version of StarOffice addresses the peskiest issue that everyone always brings up when considering this switch -- migrating complicated macros and VBA (Visual Basic for Applications) scripts that some percentage of the user base depends upon. StarOffice now offers a sophisticated macro language as well as a VBA replacement language that can reduce the proportion of un-migratable users.
What all of these applications means is that attention is now being focused on moving the existing infrastructure to open source, rather than leaving it untouched while open source is annexed to it. Migration is where real open source ROI will reside, so these tools portend a very interesting next year for open source.
This LinuxWorld shows that pragmatists are now joining early adopters and enthusiasts as open source users. The march of open source into the mainstream IT infrastructure will pick up momentum this year. The next time you hear someone enthuse about open source, it might be your boss!
About the author: Bernard Golden is CEO of Navica Inc., a systems integrator based in San Carlos, Calif. He is the author of Succeeding with Open Source (Addison-Wesley, August 2004) and the creator of the Open Source Maturity Model (OSMM), a formalized method of locating, assessing, and implementing open source software.