Linux and Finance at LinuxWorld Expo

Welcome to New York, financial capital of the world. Linux isn't here to run some little web server--banks and other financial institutions are one good proposal and a couple of meetings away from rolling it out in their data centers. Strangely enough, they don't mind saying they're using Linux for development or testing, but nobody wants to be the first to say to a customer, "Your account is on a

First, development. Open-source development projects have solved problems of scale, code reuse and quality control that financial institutions haven't, so the smart ones are starting to take a lesson from the hackers. Every big financial institution basically has a computer company inside. These places have huge IS budgets and staffs, and have more different machines than even most Linux Journal readers. Unfortunately, the trend has been to encapsulate development projects into small groups that share no code, waste effort and make all communications among separate in-house kingdoms as difficult as possible. However, Tim Hunt at Goldman Sachs is rolling out a new system to, he hopes, start to change that.

"Code has to be rewritten because nobody knows it exists", he said at his talk. And most attempts to collaborate break down. "The New Yorkers have to get up early, the Londoners have to skip lunch, and the Tokyo people complain about having to go to bed." The answer he's trying is SourceForge, through VA Linux Systems' "SourceForge OnSite" program. SourceForge, which brings together a lot of free software for developers, might be simple, but of the tools included, Hunt said, "Maybe one or two of them are best-of-breed, but the real win is that they're all in one place, ready to go."

Another ambitious financial software project is openadaptor, a joint venture of Dresdner Bank and collab.net. openadaptor is a Java-based framework for sharing data among financial applications. It came into existence as an in-house project at Dresdner, where it's now used in mission-critical applications such as global stock market trading. Since Dresdner is in the financial services business, not the software business, an open-source openadaptor will make it easier to work with many different systems and clients. Dresdner finds that it's easier to hire and retain developers to work on Open Source. At a swanky openadaptor party at the 23rd Street club, Dresdner programmers agreed they are, in fact, cooler now that they are open-source developers, not just bank software people.

Speaking of SourceForge-like projects, want a free virtual Linux box on an IBM mainframe for your development project? The S/390 gurus at the IBM booth say the lawyers have approved it, and the offer will be up on IBM's Linux for S/390 site soon. Each virtual box will have 20GB of disk, by the way. I ran into a bunch of financial IT people who haven't gotten management to sign off on bringing Intel-architecture servers into the data center with the Suns, but don't have any trouble getting a virtual Linux box running on the mainframe they already own. Looks like IBM will be selling more services and, eventually, more mainframes.

Strangely enough, nobody I talked to at the IBM booth knew anything about the company's proposal to put copy restriction into IDE hard drives which has apparently been defeated for now. Some people at Intel, the proposal's co-sponsor, knew about it, but happily accepted "DRM Free Technology" stickers to show their opposition. If IBM and Intel want to play "Open Source", they had better fire all the copy control weenies--all that stuff is inherently incompatible with free software and will only screw them up when they try to play with the new, more open, direction their big customers are taking.

Linux on S/390 for existing S/390 customers is one route into the data center, and moving along much faster than we could have imagined last year. (How did such a big, old company get to be so fast?) And some of the bank people I talked to at the show even have a detailed item-by-item checklist of what, exactly, needs to happen to bring Intel-architecture Linux servers into the data center with the Sun machines. The fact that they have it nailed down so tightly means they're seriously considering doing it, and now it's just a race: who will be the first Linux vendor to offer a Wall Street-style contract with spares and staff on site, short response times and the other items on the checklist? You won't learn who won this race from press releases--no financial institution wants to admit they're the first one to deploy production Linux systems. Next year in New York, we'll be hearing how that first batch of confidential Linux boxes is working out.

Are we standard yet?

This show had the biggest dot-org pavilion, reserved for nonprofit development projects, that I've seen at a Linux show yet. Beaujolais to IDG's Charlie Greco for that and fast Linux boxes in the press room. All the .org booths had the same kind of standard sign, except for the one non-standard booth, which was for the Free Standards Group. FSG met in New York the day before the show to discuss the often-delayed-but-now-on-a-strict-schedule-honest Linux Standard Base. Looks like the vendors are finally starting to listen to the software people who want to develop for one standard Linux. They have forked off a group to design the One True Package Manager and have given all the members of the main group ambitious projects to do in the one month before the next LSB meeting. Will the LSB pull an OSD, and do a search and replace on existing Debian Policy? Probably not, but Debian's work shows this has been done once and can be done again.

Cisco Systems is planning to tear up a beautiful undeveloped tract of land outside San Jose, California, which we don't exactly need considering all the traffic, pollution and power shortages around here already. So, please check out ImageStream Internet Solutions, a maker of carrier-class Linux-based routers headquartered in Plymouth, Indiana. ImageStream's products cost about half of what Cisco's low-end and midrange ones do, move more packets faster, and I'm sure Indiana appreciates them more than Silicon Valley is going to appreciate another parking lot. (By the way, "What's your outage block?" has replaced "What's your sign>" in California.)

3com was at the show with some new Ethernet cards, and Donald Becker is suitably impressed with how well they handle checksums in hardware. Time for a test. And not to boast too much, but some of our winners in the "Hack Embedded Linux for Fun and Prizes" contest showed up, too. Watch Embedded Linux Journal for news on what the winners are doing with their development kits, to be sent out this month.

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