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Innovation

Postcard from Penguin Land, Part 2

In Part 2 of my adventures at LinuxWorld, I talk with MySQL CEO Marten Mickos, ZEND President and CEO Doron Gerstel, Computer Associates Senior Vice President Sam Greenblatt, Scalix CEO Julie Farris, and AMD's Director of Worldwide Business Development, Kevin Knox.
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Written by David Berlind, Inactive on

In Part 2 of my adventures at LinuxWorld, I talk with MySQL CEO Marten Mickos, ZEND President and CEO Doron Gerstel, Computer Associates Senior Vice President Sam Greenblatt, Scalix CEO Julie Farris, and AMD's Director of Worldwide Business Development, Kevin Knox.

Thursday, 9:10 am, Press Room, LinuxWorld

Thanks to the Morgans Hotel's front desk that refused to call me a cab until I was physically present in the lobby of the hotel, I was ten minutes late to meet with MySQL CEO Marten Mickos and Marketing Vice President Zack Urlocker, and ZEND President and CEO Doron Gerstel. ZEND is "the PHP company" and PHP, according to Gerstel, is now the world's most widely deployed scripting language for Web applications.

I suddenly realized that I was meeting with the "MP" part of "LAMP." LAMP, a.k.a. Linux-Apache-MySQL-PHP, is the most commonly deployed open source stack. The primary point of the meeting was for the two CEOs to publicly reaffirm their commitment to each other. Mickos told me, "Everyone has known about LAMP for a long time. MySQL and ZEND have worked together on a practical level for a long time. But now that relationship is formalized and we'll be co-marketing each other's technologies."

"It's been a big year for MySQL" Mickos told me. "Most important is that we added support for stored procedures and in April, we'll be rolling out support for clusters." Between the two features, it will be difficult for anyone to question the enterprise readiness of MySQL. Database providers Microsoft, Oracle, and IBM, all of which have already had their market shares nibbled by MySQL, will now have a tougher time dealing with the open source phenomenon. Worse for Microsoft and IBM (each of which like to sell operating systems with their SQL databases), the increased attraction to LAMP that comes as result of MySQL's support for stored procedures and clusters will work to the detriment of non-Linux operating systems.

Mickos and Urlocker had to leave the meeting early. As they exited, the only question in my mind about MySQL's future is "who will acquire it?" My top three choices are Novell, BEA, and Sun. Novell in particular has been on the open source acquisition trail. After Ximian and SuSE, MySQL would fit into Novell's portfolio like a glove and, furthermore, would make it the only company to have two of the letters (L and M) in the LAMP stack. Such a portfolio would arguably position Novell as the leading enterprise open source player in the world. BEA has a bit of open source fever as well. Though its not open source, BEA's acquisition of JRockit, sent a clear message to the market that the checkbook was out and it's shopping for technologies that it's willing to give away

BEA is doing quite well in the application server market. But over time, I anticipate that the company will feel an increasing amount of pressure to expand its own portfolio. IBM, Microsoft and Oracle all have more complete technology portfolios (including database servers, application servers, integrated development environments, compilers, and even operating systems in the case of IBM and Microsoft). There's a lot of market consolidation going on, and even though both BEA and Borland maintain Switzerland-like neutrality in their niches, I'm not sure how much longer either can continue without more pieces of the stack. MySQL would make a nice addition to that pair.

And then there is Sun. Whereas the role of open source in the strategies of IBM, HP, and Novell seems relatively clear, I still get the sense that Sun has a few adjustments to make. Although the three companies recently joined hands to form the Java Tools Community, Sun's relationship with BEA and Oracle has become noticeably strained over the last couple of years thanks in part to Linux. The company has an application server, an operating system, a directory server, development tools and a gaggle of other enterprise stack components, but it doesn't have a database. Culturally, MySQL may not be a good fit for Sun, but cash (which Sun has an abundance of) is the sort of brute strength that has overcome cultural misfits before (remember IBM and Lotus?).

Those three companies--Novell, BEA, and Sun--might equally benefit from bringing the Israel-based PHP-provider ZEND into their folds. In hindsight, I wish I had asked the leaders of both companies if they thought an acquisition was in the cards for them. Not that they would have been able to comment, but the look on their faces could have provided me with some information.

In addition to the formalized relationship with MySQL, the big news from ZEND is the forthcoming release of WinEnabler. "A lot of people are building Web applications with Apache and MySQL on top of the [Windows] NT code-base (Windows NT, Windows 2000, Windows 2003, etc.)," said Gerstel. With 'N' standing for 'NT,' Gerstel says "Until now, NAMP (as opposed to LAMP) hasn't been possible. Now, it will be."

Although he probably should have called it WAMP (with the 'W' for Windows), this is bad news for Microsoft. As long as PHP was the missing link in WAMP, there were more hurdles in transitioning from WAM to LAMP. The availability of WinEnabler, as long as it works, will clear the path between the two platforms, thus making it one of the enablers (no pun intended) to BEA CIO Hocker's aforementioned prediction: "In two years time, Linux will be the operating system of choice for enterprise computing."

Another feather in Gerstel's cap is a relationship with Sun whereby developers will also be able to use PHP to script J2EE-based servers. Gerstel's other main messages for 2004 had to do with object and XML support in PHP5 and establishing a U.S. presence. Currently, ZEND has no offices in the U.S. but lots of programmers.

Thursday, 10:30 am, Microsoft Booth

Since the show began, the Microsoft booth has been cloaked in a black curtain with instructions to return today at 10:30 am for the big news. Throughout Wednesday and all of this morning, there was plenty of rumor and speculation going around the show as to what Microsoft had up its sleeve. As it turns out, it was little more than a silly publicity stunt. In anticipation of something earth shattering, a small crowd formed around the Microsoft booth just prior to the moment of unveiling. When the clock struck 10:30, the crowd was informed that Martin Taylor, general manager of platform strategies at Microsoft, had decided to brave the climate at LinuxWorld and would answer any question the audience had about Microsoft. After cursing to myself because I ran up two long flights of stairs to make sure I didn't miss the fun, and because I was missing Sun's Chalktalk on the Java Desktop System, which, coincidentally (or maybe not) was scheduled for the same time, I ran back down stairs to catch the Chalktalk.

Thursday, 10:35 am, Sun's Java Desktop System Chalktalk

There wasn't much in the way of earth shattering news here either. It was mostly a reaffirmation of stuff I've already heard, such as Sun's commitment to make it's entire stack, including the Sun Java Studio development tools and SunRay, available on Linux. AMD's Kevin Knox was there to say that the partnership between Sun and AMD was no flash in the pan.

After the meeting, I spoke with Sun officials who encouraged me to see the Looking Glass demo that Computer Associates senior vice president Sam Greenblatt would be giving during his keynote that afternoon (a demo that I missed, but I saw Sun CEO Scott McNealy demonstrate it at Comdex last November). Sun is pitching Looking Glass, which is sort of a 3D-meets-theatre-in-the-round desktop user interface, as the next big thing. Sun officials I was speaking with after the ChalkTalk said that a substantial portion of the work that Sun had so far done on Looking Glass would be contributed as open source for integration into GNOME. Later I learned that Sun won't have much choice since the Looking Glass source code is already full of modules with GNOME headers. You gotta love those open source licenses.

Thursday, 1:00 pm, Meeting with RLX

Nothing earth shattering here either but RLX does have a good story. The biggest news from RLX public relations manager Simon Eastwick is that, in addition to breaking further away from its Transmeta-based heritage (a good move in my estimation), RLX has a blade management product called Control Tower that will manage IBM and HP's blades as well. Though I didn't get a chance to look at the product, Eastwick gave a pitch in which he criticized the competing management platforms, such as HP's combination of the old Compaq Insight Manager and Altiris' provisioning tools and IBM's Director. Eastwick implored me to take a look at the product and said that once I do, I'll be convinced. "Nothing else comes close." I plan to check out his claims, so stay tuned.

Thursday, 2:00 pm, Meeting with CA's Sam Greenblatt

Greenblatt's first question was, "Did you see my keynote?" Unfortunately I missed it, but Greenblatt said he didn't really have anything to announce in his keynote. However, in my meeting with him, Greenblatt and Marcel den Hartog, a strategist in CA's Linux Technologies Group told me that Computer Associates has a message for enterprises looking to make Linux their next big thing. As you might expect from CA, den Hartog said that with each new revolution in computing the stuff needs to be managed, and that CA's world class management tools will be moving in lockstep with enterprise class open source projects to make them more manageable. Open source projects that CA is watching and wants to provide some enterprise-class management for (via Unicenter) are Linux itself and clustering technologies such as Beowulf, Jessica2, and PARIS.

Thursday, 3:30 pm, Meeting with Scalix CEO Julie Farris

After comparing notes with Scalix CEO Julie Farris, I was shocked that we had not met before. Farris is a messaging maven, having cut her original e-mail teeth long ago during the days when cc:Mail (which was eventually acquired by Lotus and absorbed into Notes) went head-to-head against Network Courier (eventually acquired by Microsoft, changed into MS-Mail and then evolved into Outlook/Exchange), and Novell's Message Handling Service (which went poof). Over my 13 years of high-tech journalism, messaging has always been one of my favorite topics, and I grew to know most of the members of the messaging community, but not Farris.

If you're wondering whatever happned to HP's OpenMail technology, give Scalix a call. The company has taken combined the original source code and the scaleability of OpenMail with the economics of Linux and come up with what could be the first real Microsoft Exchange-killer to come along in years.

Farris is staking out a position that's identical to that of Oracle when it comes to mail. Oracle routinely assails the architecture of Microsoft as being limited in terms of scalability and fault tolerance. Sounding very much like Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, Farris says, "The problem with Exchange is that you end up with hundreds of servers all over the place, and the cost of managing that infrastructure is out of control. What we offer is the opportunity to bring those costs down by consolidating all of those servers down to one or a handful of servers. We can run over 5000 users off of one Proliant box."

So what's cool about Scalix? For starters, it natively emulates Microsoft's MAPI protocol, which means that Outlook clients that depend on Exchange Servers for both e-mail and group calendaring won't even know that something has changed. Furthermore, Scalix provides migration tools so that all of the mailboxes on an Exchange Server remain intact after being migrated to Scalix.

"We support any client and any directory service including LDAP and Active Directory" says Farris. "We even have an LDAP directory. One of the reasons Exchange 5.5 users like our solution is that they have use Microsoft's Active Directory in order to upgrade, and a lot of them don't want to do that."

Dating back to her experience working on the Notes team at Lotus, Farris learned a thing or two about replication and reliability. As with Notes, which can store mailbox replicas on multiple physical servers (which means users can just switch to a functioning replica if one disappears due to a server crash), Scalix has the same sort of fault tolerant capabilities. "If a server goes down, Scalix handles the failover to a functioning server much more gracefully than Exchange does" says Farris. Of course, without any testing, I can't vouch for many of Farris' claims. Based on her curriculum vitae, she certainly has the credentials to earn the ear of any IT manager who is already committed or dabbling in open systems and open source. Also, at an entry price of $3,000 and with a cost of about $40 to $50 per user, the product is competitive with other highly scalable and fault tolerant enterprise class e-mail systems.

Well, there you have it. My most excellent adventure in Penguin Land. Finally, perhaps all the suits, ties, and management messages are a sign that Linux not only has a reserved parking spot outside the executive suite (which it has had for a while), but that it's getting the finishing touches on its decade-long grooming for the enterprise. Or, perhaps the suits were just to keep the heat from escaping everyone's clothing. If LinuxWorld were in the summer, the Birkenstocks would be back.

-Postcard from Penguin Land, Part 1

-LinuxWorld complete coverage

You can write to me at david.berlind@cnet.com. If you're looking for my commentaries on other IT topics, check the archives.

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