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Virtualization Rules the Day at LinuxWorld

Another LinuxWorld San Francisco has come and gone. The event combined LinuxWorld with the inaugural Next Generation Data Center show, drawing an estimated 11,000 attendees last week.

Virtualization was a theme again at this year's event (it dominated last year's show). The theme was a good match for the blended LinuxWorld-Next-Gen Data Center venue. One reason for the good fit is that server consolidation has been the primary driver of virtualization adoption in the enterprise, according to analysts.

The virtualization theme was reflected in the show's keynote addresses. The kick off keynote was a talk on "Virtualizing the Datacenter" by Werner Vogels, vice president and CTO at Amazon.com.

"Most of this presentation is actually about how I hate datacenters," Vogels quipped. He went on to describe the Amazon.com infrastructure as "a huge service-oriented architecture ... We know everything about developing software as a service."

Vogels touted Amazon's datacenter services offerings, including:

  • Amazon Flexible Payment Service, which features Web services APIs providing for e-commerce payment services;
  • Amazon S3, which provides storage to developers and online businesses;
  • Amazon SQS (Simple Queue Service) for storing messages; and
  • Amazon EC2 (Elastic Compute Cloud), which provides big compute capacity in the cloud.

Dell CEO Kevin Kettler told his audience on Wednesday that virtualization and Linux "play to one another's strengths." It's a reason why Dell is combining Linux and virtualization to manage and consolidate its own enterprise data centers.

"Three thousand of Dell's own servers run Linux, including its mission-critical applications," Kettler said. Researchers at Dell Labs are currently at work on embedding the hypervisor, the most basic virtualization component.

Kettler demonstrated a Dell Optiplex 745 running Windows Vista, Windows XP and SuSE Linux with the XenSource hypervisor.

"This is what we think will be the future of computing on the business client," he said. He also announced that Dell was set to begin shipping PCs preinstalled with Novell SuSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 10 in China, as well as selling Inspiron desktops and notebooks with the Ubuntu Linux distro in Britain, Germany and France.

During his keynote, Novell President and CEO Ron Hovsepian fervently defended his company's controversial interoperability and patent agreement with Microsoft -- again. And he said that Novell would be shipping GPLv3 code, even to those customers who got their Novell Linux subscriptions from Microsoft.

"We've had 20 years of battling with Microsoft," he told attendees. "It's in our blood. But the reality is, when we walk in the customer door, they have Microsoft. We see a mixed-source world, and the real value lies in making stuff work together."

Ann Livermore, executive vice president of the Technology Solutions Group at Hewlett-Packard, talked about the next-generation data center during her keynote, as well as the company's continuing integration of Linux into its products. Linux figures prominently in HP's plans, she said. One-third of the servers the company ships are already Linux-based, she added, which means that HP ships a Linux server every minute.

"We believe that there is a tremendous need for contributions from the open source community, combined with the technology and innovation of companies like HP," she said.

The keynotes closed with Mendel Rosenblum, cofounder and chief scientist at VMware. Rosenblum wowed the largely anti-Microsoft crowd with his prediction that virtual appliances will soon make host operating systems irrelevant.

Why? Operating systems are simply too complex. They are bloated with millions of lines of code that must manage resources among multiple applications. It's hard to maintain, vulnerable to bugs and a pain for developers.

"If you have something this complex, it's also really hard to innovate," Rosenblum said. "This is the position that Microsoft is in. Even with its team of engineers, which is huge, it's hard to do anything."

Rosenblum, who is an associate professor of computer science at Stanford University, believes that the solution is for developers to create custom operating systems.

"Rather than making your application run on a bunch of different operating systems, you choose one operating system, you bundle it together and you ship this thing around as a virtual appliance," Rosenblum said.

This year's conference and expo was rife with Linux product announcements, with some of the more notable ones described below.

In May, startup company Projity launched a software-as-a-service (SaaS) replacement for Microsoft Project called Project-ON-Demand. On Tuesday, the company unveiled an open source desktop version of the product at LinuxWorld, and it was the buzz of the show floor. Called OpenProj, this version is still in beta, but the company is billing it as "a complete desktop replacement of Microsoft Project." According to company spokesperson Riju Sam, OpenProj shares the Project-ON-demand scheduling engine, and it has equivalent functionality. It's available on Linux, UNIX, Mac, or Windows on a monthly subscription basis.

"There is a significant correlation with the Salesforce.com success/disruptive influence in the CRM marketplace and what Projity is having in the project/team space," Sam said in an e-mail. "The delivery of an equivalent solution that replaces complex, costly incumbents is a common theme ... This has great relevance to the overall SaaS marketplace as more robust alternatives become available in various categories."

EnterpriseDB released a new distribution of its PostgreSQL open source database at the show. The distro, dubbed EnterpriseDB Postgres, bundles the most recent version of PostgreSQL with 12 of the most widely used add-ons for the software, including tools for cryptography, security, full-text searching and replication.

The company has been on something of a tear recently (as one company insider put it). In the past few weeks, it hired IBM and Sybase alum Bob Zurek as its CTO, launched five new partner programs and boasted that tele-floral giant FTD has migrated several key applications from Oracle to EnterpriseDB.

On Wednesday, Oracle Corp. revealed that several of its open source projects, including a file system and a systems management tool, will soon be available under the GNU General Public License Version 2 (GPLv2).

The GPL has been around since the 1980s. It's the license under which the GNU/Linux operating system is distributed, allowing the copying and sharing of code. The latest version is GPLv3, which had its debut at the end of June.

Wim Coekaerts, Oracle's VP of Linux engineering, characterized the code contributions as a "commitment to enhance Linux for all users." The company's announced open source contributions include:

  • The Btrfs file system, which is designed to enhance scalability and simplify management for large storage configurations;
  • The YaST system management tool, which can be used with openSuSE and Novell's SuSE Linux Enterprise Server to enable easy installation and configuration of system software, hardware and networks; and
  • The Oracle Linux Test Kit, which is derived from the Oracle Validated Configurations program, and is designed to verify Linux kernel functionality and stability

Oracle is also working with Emulex on other open source initiatives. The two companies are developing an open source interface to expose the T10 Data Integrity Field standard to the Linux kernel and end-user applications. In addition, the companies are working to replace the existing asynchronous I/O interface in the kernel with a more generic subsystem.

IBM launched its "Big Green Linux" initiative on Tuesday to help its customers exploit Linux as a means of reducing costs and energy consumption with cooler data centers. The Linux project is part of the company's larger Project Big Green, introduced in May, which IBM describes as "a broad commitment... to sharply reduce data center energy consumption for IBM and its clients."

IBM was responding to customer needs in launching the initiative, according to IBM's new head of Linux, Inna Kuznetsova. She added that IBM estimates that approximately 30 percent of its Linux-related server revenue now comes from non-x86 platforms.  

Hewlett-Packard also announced plans to release application programming interfaces (APIs) and libraries associated with its High-Performance Computing (HPC) Parallel Compositing Library to open source. On Monday, the company announced that it would be licensing the code for this visualization software under the GPLv2. 

Parallel Compositing is the process of spreading resource-intensive visualization processes across multiple graphics cards. It exploits a scaling technique called sort-last rendering. With this technique, the graphics cards create "sub-images," or parts of the final image. The compositing operators then combine these sub-images into the final image. This technique allows users to create very large images, roll through large datasets, render volumetric data, and work with both distributed and shared memory boxes.

In a related announcement, HP disclosed plans to add support for the Xen virtualization package and Debian operating system as part of its Partner Virtualization Program.

This year's conference also scheduled several "developer day" events dedicated to mobile Linux. Several mobile-and-embedded systems vendors showed off their dev tools and open source solutions at the dev-day events, including ACCESS, Motorola, Wind River and Palm.

Mobile Linux is a huge market for developers. Analysts at IDC report that a billion mobile phones were sold in 2006. Linux is getting serious traction in this market as a lower cost alternative to proprietary systems. Researchers at Gartner report that the percentage of smart phones with Linux jumped to 26 percent in 2005, compared with just 6 percent the year before.

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