Linux on the server has long flown the flag for open source-derived applications in business. And it appears open software is finally hitting a range of bulls-eyes as a small but growing cohort of fans scope out open source applications for datacentre management. Monitoring and database solutions, portals and Web presence are just a few areas where open source is packing a bigger punch.
Although support traditionally isn't as thick on the ground for open source-derived product as for proprietary, closed solutions, that very fact represents an opportunity for the channel, which, by selling additional support software or services, can boost its own bottom line.
Cybersource CEO and long-time Linux supporter, Con Zymaris, said more open source and open source derived applications were moving into the datacentre. "But it's spotty," he said. "There's more to this story in 20-30 other countries. Australia is generally behind on uptake."
Zymaris estimated Australia is three or four years behind places such as the European Union in Linux adoption in the datacentre. That said, some big names have been running Linux at least at server level for a long time. Retail giant, Coles Myer, hosts hundreds of Linux servers in its datacentre, as does the National Australia Bank. The Queensland government, according to Zymaris, claims to have about one per cent Linux adoption in its datacentres, with broader industry adoption hovering around 17 or 18 per cent.
Zymaris said adoption was slow partly because organisations often didn't work out the TCO far enough ahead. Initially, Linux might not work out that much cheaper, but it could get cheaper every refresh as users skill up, he claimed, whereas Windows Vista or XP generally did not.
If an organisation calculated the TCO for two software refreshes or more ahead, the cost differential could become significant, Zymaris said.
The virtualisation boom - particularly around VMware - is a big driver for open source adoption. "The VSX server is partly built on Linux and on top of that you can put Windows, Linux, Windows over Linux, Linux over Windows - so that's really important," he said.
Many Web servers run Linux. And when Novell inked a joint deployment deal with Microsoft, mainly for datacentres, the atmosphere definitely improved, Zymaris said.
In the application stack, he said, Australian datacenters had a lot of open source, as well as open-source derived middleware such as JBoss. Sun's acquisition of open source database vendor, MySQL, also illustrated the rising importance of open software.
"MySQL can't be everything that Oracle can be, but it's like Holden versus an 84-tonne truck; not everyone needs an 84-tonne truck, but lots of people need the Holden," Zymaris said. "There are 5-10 million instances of MySQL around the world."
Seek and ye shall find
VMware channels director, David Blackman, said a lot of what VMware does is based on distros such as Linux and BSD. "We support over 60 versions of Linux on the OS, so we're very involved," he said.
The virtualisation vendor is growing a huge marketplace for virtual appliances that are mostly open source-derived. "Fundamentally, we're allowing ISVs to develop their applications based on open source operating systems, and put them into a virtual appliance. That makes it very easy for customers to deploy in their datacentres," Blackman said.
VMware's online virtual appliance marketplace lists about 600 virtual appliances, which customers can search through and download.
Popular applications at the time of writing included the Ubuntu 7.10 Gutsy Gibbon Desktop, with free VMware player.
It is a virtual Linux system with all applications usable out-of-the-box and advertised as suitable for test driving Ubuntu or as a secondary OS running within Windows.
Other virtual appliances available include the Damn Small Linux 3.4 Virtual Machine, a 50MB mini desktop oriented Linux distro. According to the developer, this modular app can boot from a business card CD as a live Linux distro, or from a USB fl ash drive or within a host OS such as Windows. It can power a 486DX with 16MB of RAM and transform into Debian using a traditional hard drive install.
There's also WARA - Web Archiving and Retrieval Appliance - and RestoreVM, an enterprise network backup and recovery solution for datacentres, targeting resellers. These interesting and low-cost applications will give a shot in the arm to open source in the datacentre and provide opportunities for canny solution providers and ISVs.
Datacentre management software is one area where open source is coming into its own. Out-of-band management provider, Opengear, has been notching up a string of successes involving its open source derived datacentre management and monitoring applications.
Opengear managing director, Bob Waldie, and Asia-Pacific sales director, Leanne Ramsay, said the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) has deployed Opengear console servers to manage its global network. The servers host remote monitoring, management and administration to all DFAT's posts, here and abroad. DFAT's global network spans 108 locations on five continents, and employs 3400 staff.
The Opengear CM4116 had the remote management features, affordability and reliability to attract DFAT. What's more, in a top-security environment such as an embassy or consulate, the equipment itself is sealed in a vault. Opengear product ran well in a sealed chamber with forced air but no air conditioning and manages gear from vendors including Juniper, Cisco and Nortel. "The CM4116 is based on a Linux kernel and we use it for all their communications. Its security is based on open source SSH, the securely encrypted architecting protocol," Waldie said.
He said Opengear had done its own open source Java applet in a Secure Desktop Tunnelling project, available on open source download centre, SourceForge.net. Open source is key to the whole architecture of Opengear's console server.
"We've taken it totally open source and what we do for customers like DFAT is give them the ability to customize the code that runs the box," Waldie said.
US-based technology provider, Raytheon, has also deployed Opengear console servers as part of its air traffic management system for civilian airport customers. The servers are used for remote administration in its development environments, jump-starting its lab servers, and providing centralised remote server access. Opengear hardware simplified Sun server management to improve its air traffic management domain automation.