Big Changes Afoot in the Linux Market
May 6, 2011 5:00 AM PT
Having covered Linux in the enterprise and business arenas for more than 10 years, I've seen some dramatic changes in the way the open source operating system is developed and used. However, never has there been as much change in the Linux landscape and market as right now, given the impact of cloud computing, devops (the confluence of application development and deployment), and open source software's maturity. The options for users and customers, as well as the challenges and opportunities for vendors, are now very different.
As stated earlier, there have been significant changes and milestones in the Linux landscape in the past. Examples include the rise of Linux to dominance in HPC; the enterprise credibility that came from beating SCO and its claims of IP infringement; faster, wider development involving more contributors and more corporations; in fact, so much faster development that we've seen concerns raised about how big Linux is getting.
Another significant change to Linux arrived with virtualization and the growing use of virtual machines rather than physical servers to run enterprise and other IT infrastructure. This paved the way for the cloud computing impact on Linux, but there's no question virtualization itself has ushered in significant changes, primarily the development, evolution and now commercial push for kernel-based virtual machine (KVM), the hypervisor integrated with the Linux OS. We still see a majority of virtual infrastructure in the enterprise running with the open source Xen hypervisor, but the arrival and support for KVM is having an impact on Linux, its use and its future.
New Linux Uses
Despite all of these previous, significant changes, the biggest change and impact to the Linux landscape and market to date has been the advent of cloud computing. True, this does build from the spread of virtualization and use of VMs on Linux, but cloud computing has meant deeper changes in the players, uses and communities that matter most. We now see a very different presence for various distributions, some of which might surprise those who would have you believe the operating system market is boring right now.
There are a number of additional, significant changes and competitive factors for Linux in cloud computing. First off, it is not the same story as the traditional, enterprise Linux market where two vendors and distributions (Red Hat with RHEL and Novell with SLES) dominate. While we still do see cloud computing infrastructure built using these leading distributions, we also see a prevalence of Ubuntu Linux in both the cloud and virtual appliances.
Another Linux use in cloud computing that is somewhat new is Amazon Linux, which is basically the deployment of a Linux Amazon Machine Image (AMI) on the company's public cloud computing service. Another Linux option that continues to be a factor is Oracle Enterprise Linux, which is popular among Oracle customers, many of which are working in the clouds.
In addition to its traditional competition with Microsoft's Windows OS, Linux must also contend with Azure, Microsoft's own cloud computing platform, which also changes the lay of the land for Linux, given the enterprise and developer following for Microsoft. There are other cloud computing frameworks also being described as cloud operating systems that are having an impact on the Linux and OS market, including Eucalyptus Systems, Nimbula and OpenStack.
Devops, Community Distros
Cloud computing is driving a number of changes in how Linux is used, but the cloud is also having a major impact on application development, thanks to the trend of 'devops,' whereby enterprise application development and deployment of those applications is via system administrators and IT operations.
Devops represent dramatic change in the way organizations develop and release software, both technically and culturally. We've found Linux and open source software to be a key catalyst in devops, since it typically exposes system administrators to the openness, transparency and collaboration of open source software -- a requirement for devops. I expect Linux to contine to be a central tool ushering devops to wider enteprise use.
We also see a continued presence and pressure from unpaid, community Linux distributions such as CentOS, Debian, Gentoo and others. These distributions are not necessarily taking market share from the likes of Red Hat Enterprise Linux and Suse Linux Enterprise Server, but they are effective alternatives. They offer not only cost savings, particularly for many large enterprise, service provider and others users that have the capacity and skills to support themselves.
These community Linux distributions are also key building blocks for cloud computing, particularly as they offer scalability without licensing management or cost headaches; they are open source, so code can be added or subtracted to fit particular needs; and they have vibrant communities pushing the code forward.
We expect to see an ongoing, if not increasing, effect from free community Linux distributions as they continue to evolve along with cloud computing. I would also note that among community Linux use, particularly in cloud computing, we also see plenty of Fedora and OpenSuse. These are the community distributions from Red Hat and Novell (now Attachmate following its acquisition of the Suse Linux technology and business), and they may also represent these vendors' hidden strength in cloud computing.
I am watching and tracking these changes, in part with a new survey on Linux use. If you or your organization uses Linux or cloud computing, I encourage you to weigh inwith your opinion.