New kernel set to speed Linux adoption

As CIOs continue to express caution over Linux, it will be adoption of the 2.6 kernel that signals the open-source operating system's readiness for more mission-critical applications, say vendors

Linux is ready to spread from Web servers into mainstream applications at the heart of businesses, according to companies exhibiting at the Linux Expo in London's Olympia conference centre on Thursday.

The view from the vendors contrasts sharply with that expressed by chief information officers at this week's UK Tech Summit held at the Bloomberg Studios in London. There, a panel of three CIOs said they did not feel that Linux yet offers the cost advantages or peace of mind that is required for running mission-critical applications in an enterprise.

It will, say the vendors, be the adoption of version 2.6 of the Linux kernel that signals the open-source operating system's readiness for more mission-critical applications. IBM plans to introduce the 2.6 kernel into its products early in 2004. Linux leader Linus Torvalds released version 2.6.0-test7 of the Linux kernel on Wednesday, saying he and 2.6 leader Andrew Morton now are directing programmers to focus on stability rather than cleaning up the code. The move is a step towards the kernel's final release.

"Linux has been mainstream in edge of network applications for some time," said Adam Jollans, Linux strategy manager at IBM, referring to Web, email and DNS servers and cacheing appliances. "But we're now seeing it being adopted in e-commerce, commercial clusters, software development, Web applications and branch automation."

The operating system is still seen as a leading-edge technology for high-end database servers, commercial clusters, enterprise resource planning, customer relationship management and supply chain management, Jollans conceded. But he said some companies are beginning to use Linux "for real business applications, with Sage, PeopleSoft and now even JD Edwards porting to it, and SAP has been a long-time Linux supporter, with over 500 customers already."

When version 2.6 of the Linux kernel arrives, said Jollans, it will allow the operating system to scale up much better. "The 2.6 kernel will take it up to 16-way, effectively," he said.

Mark Hudson, proof-of-concept consultant at database vendor Sybase, agreed. "We have done a lot of work perfecting of Sybase on Linux," said Hudson. "But is the operating system perfect yet? Certainly, on a four-way server, but we got the equivalent of 6.5 CPUs worth of throughput on an eight-way server."

Hudson said he expects the 2.6 kernel to solve this issue and enable the company's database and other server products -- all of which he said will be ported to Linux by the end of the year -- to scale on the operating system to eight-way and beyond.

The difference in enthusiasm between CIOs and vendors is reflected in a research note issued by research firm Gartner on Thursday, which acknowledged that every operating system (OS) environment has a set of accelerators and inhibitors affecting its deployment. "When the inhibitors overwhelm the accelerators, environments eventually fade and die," wrote the research firm. "In the case of Linux, the accelerators currently have greater importance, thus outstripping the inhibitors."

When weighted for strategic importance, said Gartner, the accelerators pushing Linux are more compelling than the inhibitors. Among the accelerators propelling Linux into businesses are cost pressures, the openness of Linux, and concerns with security, reliability and licensing issues with Microsoft's platforms.

Among the inhibitors that still haunt Linux in enterprises are its readiness for mission-critical work, the migration of in-house applications, and the availability of third-party applications and integrated solutions.