Yahoo: The Linux Company

Everyone knows that Google runs on Linux, but at Linux Foundation Collaboration Summit, Yahoo revealed just how much it too replies on Linux.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

San Francisco--If you know anything about big companies that run Linux, you know Google runs on Linux. Yes, every time you do a Google search you are, in one sense, a Linux user. What far fewer people know is that Yahoo is also a Linux company. Today, at the Linux Foundation Collaboration Summit, Sven Dummer, Director of Linux engineering at Yahoo!, explained that 75% of Yahoo’s Web sites and services run on Linux. The rest? It runs on FreeBSD.

While Yahoo isn’t as big as it used to be, it still, according to Dummer, has 100,000s of servers, 640-million users, and over a 1 billion visits a months. According to Netcraft’s list of the most popular Web sites in the world, that’s still good enough to put Yahoo in as the 13th most popular Web site on the globe, or the fourth if you count all the international Google sites as one. In other words, Yahoo is still a player.

So what does Yahoo use? Well, Dummer explained, “Yahoo has its own Linux distribution, YLinux, targeted for out specific needs. It’s based on Red Hat’s Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL). Yes, that’s right Yahoo is another Red Hat customer helping Red Hat become a billion dollar company.

Dummer described “Red Hat as a valuable partner.” While Yahoo does modify the code, “We try to keep Linux as pristine as possible. We take out certain packages and add a little of our own stuff.” What Yahoo tends to add is configuration, roll-out, and management tools to deal with its data-centers of servers.

Yahoo does, however, support its own supporting software package system. That’s a relic, Dummer said, of its FreeBSD ancestry. This system is used to package up new software and patches for both RHEL and FreeBSD. At the same time, Yahoo does use the RPM Package Manager (RPM, yes it’s a recursive acronym) for a lot of its internal software deployment.

At the same time, Yahoo, with Red Hat’s help, tries to keep up to the second when it comes to security and critical bug fixes in the Linux kernel. Dummer said, “When it come to security, we don’t try to go their own way.”

Dummer would like to speed up Yahoo’s adoption of newer Linux distributions though. That’s both because Yahoo has more trust in Linux and because—bottom line time—newer versions of Linux saves Yahoo money. How? By giving “Better performance for watt.”

In talking with me after his speech, Dummer told me that the newer Linux kernels are much better at power consumption and heat emission. “Red Hat 6, Dummer said, “for example uses only half the power of RHEL 4.”

That may not sound meaningful to you, but it makes hard financial sense to anyone in the data-center business. If you can cut down your electric bill both for powering up your servers and cutting your air-conditioning costs, you can make double-digit savings to your server farms’ costs.

As for Windows? Dummer simply replied, “We might have some Windows servers somewhere but none of them are on the Web or in the cloud.”

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