From Bit Part to Leading Man: Moving Linux into the Enterprise

Checking in on Linux's spread into the enterprise with the support of big-name vendors.

What does Linux need to make real headway in the corporate world? One key element is the ability to interact transparently with other systems, and that takes tools. Without the support of major software vendors, Linux is relegated to a few side functions, such as web serving, without reaching the core business applications--sort of like being an extra in a lavish Hollywood production.

"Robust management solutions mark the line between enterprise-ready and enterprise-pervasive", says research firm Aberdeen Group, Inc. (Boston, Massachusetts) in its white paper "Penguin-Powered Computing". "For no matter how well behaved Linux may be as an operating system, it cannot function as a good corporate citizen until it can be managed as part of a distributed heterogeneous IT environment."

This "chicken and egg" dilemma meant that a) developers didn't want to write network management software without customer demand, and b) customers wouldn't deploy an operating system they couldn't manage.

Fortunately, a few vendors have helped break this cycle by offering Linux as a viable platform for their enterprise-class software. Computer Associates Inc. (CA) of Islandia, New York, for example, now offers an expanded array of Linux products, services and tools.

Where Are the Tools?

Until the last year or two, enterprises largely shied away from Linux due to a perceived lack of tools to support the operating system. Take the example of PCMall/eLinux, an on-line vendor of equipment and software based in Torrance, California.

"Our decision to support/use Linux internally was originally us wanting to 'eat our own dog food',' explains Christopher Swadish, Director of Operations. "We couldn't sell Linux-based solutions if we weren't willing to use them ourselves."

The company began using Linux on its ecommerce sites, and then expanded its use to provide additional infrastructure support for functions such as Network Address Translation (NAT) and Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP). It also runs several open-source security products on Linux to monitor the status of the environment and to handle reporting, and it recently deployed a fully functional tech support help desk on Linux as well.

"The introduction of Linux into our environment was painless and has proven very rewarding from both a system-management perspective as well as TCO", says Swadish. But, while PCMall/eLinux liked the operating system itself, it lacked the ease of support of other parts of the network. Even simple routine actions like backing up servers needed to be done separately.

"Initially, we were simply tar-balling the Linux systems up to tape or we'd use AMANDA or some other open-source alternative that would work well for backups, but there was no way of unifying our environment", Swadish continues.

Luckily for PCMall/eLinux, CA arrived on the scene with an impressive range of enterprise-class Linux tools and applications. Since 1999 when its first Linux offering appeared, CA has expanded up to 54 Linux products covering all six of its product lines.

"Early on we saw Linux as being one of those movements in the industry that we knew was going to take off," says John Pincomb, vice president for eBusiness Solutions at CA. "We decided it was something we wanted to be part of."

Mainframe Roots

Computer Associates started out in 1976 making software to improve performance on IBM mainframes. Over the next quarter century, the company has grown into a six billion dollar giant providing software to organizations in over one hundred countries, including 99 % of the Fortune 500. It produces over 1,200 software products in six main areas. Each of these fields now includes several Linux applications:

  • enterprise management (Unicenter)

  • storage (BrightStor)

  • security (eTrust)

  • portal and business intelligence (Cleverpath)

  • database management and application development (Advantage and Jasmine)

  • software lifecycle management (AllFusion)

"Unlike companies that add a Linux agent to a pile of products and then loudly proclaim, 'We do Linux,' Computer Associates has done the real work", says Aberdeen. "The result is an offering for Linux that is comparable to Computer Associates' capabilities in Windows 2000 and Solaris."

The company's first Linux product, released in April 1999, was a module for its Unicenter network and system management software. The following year, it released Unicenter for Linux, a full-scale enterprise management framework designed to run on the Linux platform and manage not only Linux boxes, but Windows, UNIX and others as well. In August 2000, a DVD containing Unicenter TNG Framework for Linux began shipping with SuSE Linux 7.0.

"Linux does not exist in a vacuum; it exists in a heterogeneous enterprise", says Pincomb. "Our job is to make it manageable within that context."