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Feb 08

Three key events that scaled up Linux for large enterprises

Friday evening can be a very busy time in Citibank’s Changi Business  Park, Singapore office. Hundreds of mission critical applications hit  the production servers, security patches are applied to servers, hundreds of professionals including developers,  systems engineers, Linux guru’s and management professionals spend the  whole night on the conference calls ensuring the smooth functioning of  servers at this financial giant. The applications that get life over the weekend have monitory value and therefore require robust servers to  host them. These servers need to maximize the utilization of the  applications and should have the stability to run for a longer period of  time without a reboot. These servers should also have the capability to  be scaled up as the infrastructure grows. Bottom line, these enterprise  level boxes need to be tough.

Thanks to people like Richard Stallman, Bob Young and Linux Travolds,  companies like Red Hat and Canonical and foundations like The Linux  foundation for creating and supporting the Linux operating system. The  muscle that today’s data centers have is built over Linux. The operating  has taken the whole computing world by storm. I would actually go a bit  further and say that (and it could be statistically and logically proved as well)  that the rate at which the information is growing, enterprises would not  have survived without the power of Linux. Microsoft windows server cannot support large scale enterprises with  the same efficiency, accuracy and reliability relative to the Linux based servers.

What made Linux the backbone of data centers? What increased its  adoption among enterprises? What made an operating system that was “made  by engineers for the engineers” incredibly powerful that it is now used  from desktops to data centers and everything in between? I have an  active interest in business and technology history and drawing from this  interest, I deduce three vital events that played an important role  in scaling up Linux and that can answer the aforementioned questions:

Helsinki, Boston, Internet and the year 1991: Linux, as an operating system evolved from a Kernel created by Linus  Travold, a student at that time at University of Helsinki. Linus was  using an operating system called Minix and suggested changes to Andrew  Tanenbaum, the creater of Minix. Andrew rejected the suggestions and as a  result, Linus created his own Kernel. The take here was that Linus took  into account the suggestions of users for improvement of the Kernel.  Years before, the idea of involving users to improve the software was  being pioneered by Richard stallman, one of the top software  philosophers in the world. Stallman left MIT, Boston where he was  working at that time and founded GNU with a goal of producing free  software. Free, here was in terms of freedom and not zero cost. In the  year 1991, the conducive conditions existed that would create Linux and  start its spread. Linus in Helsinki had the Kernel but no shell,  Libraries, compiler. Stallman, in Boston had necessary programs that  could be wrapped around an operating system. With the distance involved,  the only way to get the Linus program together with the GNU programs  was internet. The growth of internet from that point played a major role  in adoption of Linux. In the words of Richard Stallman: “The Internet  would also be crucial in Linux’s subsequent development as the means of  coordinating the work of all the developers that have made Linux into  what it is today.”

IBM and Linux become friends in 1998: When Linux was still within hacker fringes of the Internet, IBM had no  interest in investing in a new operating system. Although it was a risky  proposition for the king of proprietary software offerings, Linux had  one attraction. It could prove competitive for Microsoft. Around  1998, IBM started researching Linux and got involved with the open  source community. A successful stint with Apache project was encouraging enough for the company to put their dollars in Linux. The big blue knew that Linux was getting popularity  not only among the computer science students but also for a lot of  businesses. From getting involved in the community to helping improve  the operating system security through code testing, defect management  and even open sourcing some of its own code, the software giant today  spends more than $100 million annually on Linux development. This  adoption and involvement of IBM in Linux encouraged a lot of big  businesses to formulate their Linux strategies.

Red Hat disrupts technology industry in 2001: Red Hat Linux, at one point, was just a desktop application until Red  Hat forked into RHEL and Fedora. Paul Cormier, in 2001, re-examined the  business model to pitch Red Hat Linux to big businesses. The task at  hand was to adhere to the open source principles and at the same time  scale up to compete with Microsoft’s and Oracle’s of the world. The  solution was keep the source code free but compile the bits and bytes to  enterprise class. The result was Red Hat Enterprise Linux. Red Hat’s enterprise offerings now have diversified which includes Red Hat Satellite that have  added immense value to large enterprises in terms of speed, reliability  and scalability.

This article of mine is also published here on opensource.com and was listed on Hacker News, a social media news website by Ycombinator.

1 comment

  1. Pinky Mendez

    linux is a good OS though so it’s not impossible to use it by large companies.

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