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Unix vendors, sans Sun, line up for Linux

Major Unix vendors concerned about the growing popularity of Linux are seeking some unique solutions, rallying behind the platform to help promote their own -- while keeping one key competitor on the outside.The trend is clearly evidenced by the alliance announced this week by IBM, Intel Corp.

Major Unix vendors concerned about the growing popularity of Linux are seeking some unique solutions, rallying behind the platform to help promote their own -- while keeping one key competitor on the outside.

The trend is clearly evidenced by the alliance announced this week by IBM, Intel Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co. and NEC Corp., which are joining forces to sponsor the Open Source Development Lab. The companies will spend millions of dollars to fund what they're calling the industry's first independent, non-profit lab for developers who are adding enterprise capabilities to Linux. The lab will be based near Portland, Ore.

The goal: make Linux more reliable, available and serviceable so it can meet enterprise computing needs. The leading Unix vendors are building off their belief that Linux is not a threat and instead has significantly expanded the total Unix market and, accordingly, the opportunities within that market.

A range of hardware and software makers also have thrown their support behind the initiative, including Caldera Systems Inc., Dell Computer Corp., Linuxcare Inc., LinuxWorks, Red Hat Inc., TurboLinux Inc. and VA Linux Systems Inc.

"It is becoming increasingly clear that going the Linux route on the server side is now an option rather than a compromise," said Dirk Elmendorf, chief technology evangelist at Rackspace Managed Hosting, a San Antonio service provider that manages more than 2,200 servers, 80 percent of which are Linux-based. "On the surface, this show of confidence by the major Unix players validates Linux, but whether it pans out to anything more than a 'feel good' scenario remains to be seen."

Unix vendors also have a financial incentive in pushing Linux, said Martin Marshall, an analyst with Zona Research Inc., in Redwood City, Calif.

"If Linux gains respect and credibility as a reliable and stable platform at the enterprise level, there will be huge revenues -- and profits -- to be made from sales of the underlying hardware necessary to run the operating system," Marshall said.

But while HP, IBM and others have declared their solidarity behind Linux, the consortium does include one glaring omission: Sun Microsystems Inc., maker of the leading Unix variant, Solaris.

"We were not included in the discussions around [the initiative's] formation," said Russ Castronovo, a spokesman for Sun, of Palo Alto, Calif. "But we will weigh our options and possible future contribution to this initiative."

IBM and HP officials said Sun is "welcome to join" the group at any time.

Meanwhile, the rivals continue to snipe at each other. Steve Mills, executive vice president of IBM Software, in Somers, N.Y., told eWEEK last week that Linux's popularity will begin to marginalize Solaris.

"If you can do it with Solaris, you can do it with Linux," he said. "In the future, there will be no reason to buy Solaris. Not only are we moving to Linux, but the whole market is doing that."

Sun, the last Unix vendor to dip its toe into the Linux waters, has made efforts of late to embrace the open-source operating system.

Sun has sponsored a University of Michigan program to make the next version of its Network File System -- a key component of Solaris -- compatible with Linux. Both the Solaris and Unix versions of NFS will be freely available to the Unix open-source community.

Sun also announced last week that it will give out the source code for the internationalization components system of Solaris, effectively making it easier to use Linux software in myriad languages.

Herb Hinstorff, manager of Sun's Linux program office, maintained that these moves are aimed at growing the total Unix market and are not in response to a perceived threat from Linux.

"Linux is essentially Unix, and it has contributed significantly to boosting that overall market," Hinstorff said. "We are focusing on drawing Solaris and Linux closer together."

Additional reporting by John Dodge and Roberta Holland