Enterprise Linux 2008: The year in review

Linux made huge strides in maturity and ubiquity in 2008, as it delved further into virtualization, cloud computing and use in mission-critical environments. Our Enterprise Linux 2008 year in review notes some of the highlights of Linux growth this year.

Whether between competing distributions and vendors or with that big Redmond, Wash., company the Linux wars were great spectator sport for open source devotees in 2008. Virtualization and the cloud were hot topics, with rollouts from the major players like Red Hat, Novell and Ubuntu throughout the year.

These trends will surely continue, especially as IT shops around the globe implement cost-cutting measures. The U.S. recession may be a boon to open source and a bust for proprietary software or for individual programmers – we'll all just have to wait and see what happens in 2009.

It would be impossible to cover everything that happened over the past 12 months, but here are some highlights from the Linux world in 2008.

January. In January, easy virtualization came to the Linux platform. The OpenVZ Project released a version of Ubuntu 7.10 preconfigured with its open source OS virtualization software. This enables users to download an Ubuntu software template and set up virtual machines on top of an existing Linux system.

HowtoForge released a how-to guide for setting up a Samba Domain Controller with an OpenLDAP directory that authenticates like a Windows Server 2003 Domain Controller.

We also heard that Sun acquired the open source database MySQL, which observers agreed could create a killer combo together with Solaris and Sun hardware.

On the nuts-and-bolts side, Linux Kernel 2.6.24 was released, though we asked whether its release was worth downloading or whether users should wait for the kernel to be packaged with their software's repositories.

February. Trusted Computer Solutions (TCS) released a security blanket for Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL). The software was the first automated security assessment tool for locating and identifying potential loopholes in a Linux OS. The updated version incorporated the complete Defense Information System Agency's Security Technical Implementation Guides and the nongovernmental guidelines from the Center for Internet Security and the SANS Institute.

With the release of Ubuntu Hardy Heron Alpha 4, which brought lib-virt and virtmanager to the platform, virtualization continued its march into the Linux world. Together with new virto instructions that shipped with the platform, the release provided substantial performance enhancements for a VM running Ubuntu as a guest OS. Further, it was apparent that Ubuntu wouldn't cede in the Linux race, as Dell announced an expanded sales area for its Ubuntu Dells By the end of the month, the company had planned to ship computers to all of Canada, Central and South America, and in March the company added China to this list. And by May, Ubuntu Hardy Heron Alpha 4 Dell was shipping Ubuntu 7.04 on its boxes. We also noted that among the major open source platforms, Ubuntu and Red Hat were gaining– at least by some counts – over Novell's SUSE Enterprise Linux.

Hyperic HQ 3.2 launched an updated systems management suite, including support for MySQL as a back-end database, cross-platform diagnostic and reporting tools, and integration with Nagios' open source network monitoring software.

March. Following Hyperic's toe-to-toe competition with the "big four" open source vendors, GroundWork Open Source Inc. released its own network and systems management tools for enterprise-level configurations.

At its BrainShare user conference, Novell announced the release of SUSE Linux Enterprise 11, along with highlights of its new roadmap and a thing called the Fossa Project, an effort to turn computing infrastructure into collaboration. The company also announced a few new pals: SAP, PlateSpin, and Atos Origin. Novell's partnership with PlateSpin aimed to develop joint solutions for features that SUSE lacked, including physical-to-virtual and virtual-to-physical migration in the Xen stack.

Oracle took a swipe at Red Hat at InfoWorld's Open Source Business conference and announced that it would add Clusterware to Oracle Unbreakable Linux support. But in the Linux race, Red Hat hardly fared badly, with a 31% revenue jump in 2007 – good news for the open source community in general.

But the news wasn't so good for award-winning vendor Levanta, which closed its doors on the last day of the month.

April. To bridge the gap between Linux and Active Directory, Symark released its PowerADvantage to centralize authentication and bolster Linux security.

Before the financial services sector truly imploded, we also reported on Linux's role in the industry, which needs real time, rapid-fire transaction processing. We noted that observers had deemed Linux mature enough to serve the big dogs in financial services . Red Hat broke two speed records for the financial sector, completing a single transaction in .9 of a millisecond and breaking the gold-standard for real-time status processing.

We also couldn't resist a little Windows bashing in our comparison of Microsoft Vista vs. Linux desktops, which is, of course, a favorite pastime of Linux fans.

Sun did an about-face and made up with Open Source Development Lab Carrier-Grade Linux working group. Wind River, whose technology helps embedded devices run faster. The latter agreed to port its Carrier-Grade systems to Sun's UltraSparc T2 chip multithreading (CMT) processor. This gave Sun entrée into embedded networking applications and allows the networking industry to benefit from Sun's CMT processor.

Novell climbed aboard the growing movement toward application appliances with the beta-launch of its SUSE Appliance Program. The company introduced the first component of its appliance stack, SUSE Linux Enterprise JeOS (Just Enough Operating System), enabling companies to build applications faster by creating stackable components for customized applications. And like other shifts in open source and in data centers generally, virtualization has enabled this trend.

May. In the Windows vs Linux battle, Michael Larabel, a Linux software developer, tested Ubuntu Hardy Heron 8.04 and Windows Vista Ultimate, and Windows came up with a 2-watt edge. But Linux users were hardly convinced of Ubuntu's superiority and you responded.

Sun released OpenSolaris, its free fully supported open source software. The software includes the Zettabyte (which, I must note is a really fun word) file system (or ZFS), a continuously running backup system that enables developers to revert to previous versions of an OS that is customized.

Novell's JeOS was the subject of a lawsuit filed by Astrum Inc. The lawsuit contended that the two companies entered into a mutual nondisclosure agreement to develop the software appliance but that Novell violated the agreement by revealing confidential information to partners and customers.

Red Hat released RHEL 5.2, and Novell issued a service pack. Red Hat's new version included upgrades in six areas, with a focus on virtualization and clustering. Novell's SUSE Linux Enterprise 10, Service Pack 2 contained improvements in interoperability, virtualization management and hardware – making it fully compatible with Microsof't Hyper-V virtualization hypervisor.

June. Red Hat made some bold moves, first announcing that the New York Stock Exchange selected RHEL as the primary OS for its new Universal Trading Platform, as well as its decision to head to Boston for its annual summit -- straight into Novell territory. We featured extensive on-site coverage of the Red Hat summit, which offered up several key IT themes, including the ubiquity of Linux in the enterprise So too, Red Hat announced several initiatives, including its new cloud-computing vision; its viability as an alternative to VMware (and in September, with Red Hat's acquisition of Qumranet, Red Hat further solidified its play in the virtualization arena by committing to the open source KVM hypervisor); its Linux automation strategy and its new virtual machine management tools.

Moving to the cloud was a key topic in Jim Stallings' keynote at the summit. This was not the first, or the last, of the "cloud" buzz that would occur this year. Sure enough, Red Hat offered JBoss on Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud.

July. The Windows wars continued, and July brought news that Red Hat Linux had trumped Windows in a power test. And while it may have been "no news" to many of you, dear readers, the O'Reilly Open Source In the Enterprise report concluded that open source has grown fast. But open source hasn't reached full strength yet, said Steve Yegge, who offered his advice to open source fans: Marketing and branding are key to increasing open source success.

Likewise Software launched Likewise Open Fall 08, an upgrade of its free, open source single sign-on (SSO) tool.

Linux got some bad news in July, when it received word that the U.S. Navy canceled its $20 billion Zumwalt destroyer contract. The ship's unified computing system, developed by general contractor Raytheon Co. in Waltham, Mass., runs on IBM BladeCenter and IBM x86 servers running Red Hat Enterprise Linux.

August. The annual LinuxWorld conference provided the majority of news in August. In one session, Simon Crosby of Citrix Systems emphasized the the importance of the company's open source Xen hypervisor. A Next Generation Data Center session also put the reins on overexuberance about the cloud, indicating that IT departments need to make some essential changes for the infrastructure model to be viable. Oracle also announced its new VM Templates to speed deployment of an Oracle software stack and its extension of Oracle Unbreakable support to Linux . And energy and power consumption were also major topics, as rising costs focus bean-put pressure on data center managers to save on energy costs.

Alfresco Software took a shot at Microsoft's SharePoint collaboration software with Alfresco Labs 3 by adding similar functionality to open source content management software, including transparency and integration with Microsoft Office. And in a coup for open source, Microsoft bought $100 million more Novell SUSE Linux Enterprise certificates -- who didn't love that?

September. As we mentioned previously, with its purchase of Qumranet, Red Hat committed to KVM virtualization. Red Hat also stonewalled on Microsoft interoperability plans. Meanwhile, Novell and Microsoft announced that SUSE Linux Enterprise had been optimized to run on Microsoft's Hyper-V.

And Novell, which has struggled to entice users and to keep pace with the mighty Red Hat, suffered embarrassment when a ZenWorks log-in problem was discovered.

While numerous sources indicate that Linux adoption has grown, we had to ask, is Linux growing at the expense of Unix? The Data Center Decisions 2008 Purchasing Intentions Survey indicated that while most shops plan to add more Linux, they will also migrate from Unix. Factors like RHEL's superior price/performance ratio over Unix might be behind this trend.

October. The month started with more news on the Linux-vs.-Windows front lines. Just a week after Microsoft launched Windows HPC server, Red Hat released its own HPC technology. The company essentially democratized the HPC world, making cluster computing a reality for mere mortals. Red Hat also revealed that CERN's Large Hadron Collider could run on a customized version of RHEL.

While it's fun to hype the Windows wars, interoperability is important in today's enterprise environment. So Mono 2.0 an open source Unix-based tool that enables .NET applications to run on Linux, Solaris and Macintosh products from Novell was welcomed by the open source community.

And to be fair, the Red Hat/Novell wars are nearly as tantalizing as the Windows-vs. Linux sparring. In an effort to woo Netware customers to the Linux platform, Novell launched a beta version of its Linux Open Enterprise Server 2.

Much effort has gone into making Linux the sophisticated, mature mission-critical-ready platform that it is today, and the Linux Foundation released a study revealing the cost advantage of Linux for collective development. The study shared that the entire Linux computing ecosystem can be appraised at approximately $25 billion.

November: Red Hat finally shared Fedora 10, with improved virtualization, package management and policy controls, and faster startup. The company also introduced the beta of RHEL 5.3 with improvements in virtualization, clustering and file systems, and supports for the latest hardware drivers.

At this year's ApacheCon, the conference played host to an unexpected guest: Microsoft. Sam Ramji, Microsoft's senior director of platform strategy, told the Apache faithful that Microsoft is serious about partnering with the open source community to create open standards and interoperability. Indeed, this is a a new open source tune for Microsoft.

In November, virtualization and cloud trends moved forward with the addition of VMware monitoring to the Zenoss 2.3 application. With hype surrounding cloud computing, Cassatt announced its "internal cloud" offering – taking advantage of the risks associated with the cloud and the strength of the company's server monitoring and management products.

December. Companies around the globe felt the ripple from the economic meltdown on Wall Street, and economic slowdown signaled possible demise for Sun Microsystems, said analysts. The company laid off 6,000 employees and suffered a $1.68 billion quarterly loss. But despite the bad news, Sun has the resources to lob killer innovation at its rival open source community, which cannot afford to ignore it. And despite the uphill struggle Sun clearly faces,. sure enough, it released its OpenSolaris 2008.11 update, which made an obvious stab at wooing Linux users through adding familiar Linux-like paths and commands.

In December, rPath Inc. also expanded its support package to include CentOS and Ubuntu.

Finally, in times of economic turmoil, we shared some holiday ideas from the Linux community to spread joy and cheer into the new year.

Let us know what you thought about this year's coverage; email Leah Rosin, Associate Editor, SearchEnterpriseLinux.com.

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