Corporate India Bytes Into Linux

Ever heard of the Halloween
Document I? Well this paper has nothing to do with the American celebration of the
Halloween festival. However, the striking similarity between the two is the timing-October
31.

So what’s the Halloween Document?
It is the name given by Eric Raymond, proponent of open source software (OSS), (visit
www.opensource.org for more details) to the leaked internal email report by a Microsoft
employee, Vinod Valloppillil, prepared over the weekend of October 31-Nov 1, 1998. As Eric
Raymond puts it, “It is in recognition of the date and my fond hope is that
publishing it will help realize Microsoft’s worst nightmares that I named it the
`Halloween Document’.” The document outlines the growth of OSS, specially Linux, and
its implications for a commercial organization like Microsoft. However, the underlying
current of the document is Microsoft’s acknowledgment (so far it has been dismissing
Linux) that it needs to take remedial measures in light of more and more corporates
embracing OSS like Linux.

The need for such a strategy-based
document was no doubt warranted, as across the globe Linux and other OSS are rapidly being
deployed by a cross-section of users, organizations and individuals much to the
consternation of commercial organizations. In India, too, the situation is in sync with
the world phenomena. Linux is finding acceptability in multinationals as easily as in
public sector corporations, software firms, donor agencies, training institutes,
universities and other segments. According to Atul Chitnis, Senior Technology Consultant,
C&B Consulting, “The spread of companies using Linux today in the country has
become too wide to classify. From a small shopkeeper to a multi-billion MNC are deploying
Linux with great success.”

Backdoor entry
It is important to note that like the worldwide trend, the initial impetus has been via
the backdoor entry in organizations. IS people across the country are quietly deploying
Linux into their respective organizations rather than management taking a conscious
decision of bringing Linux in. Managements are still skeptical of the FUD (fear,
uncertainty and doubt) factor of a freeware software like Linux. Alternatively, IS
personnel are more than convinced about Linux and hence the backdoor entry. It is not hard
to fathom the reason of the growing popularity of Linux among IS community. As students,
majority of them have been exposed to one or the other form of Unix. No wonder, major
developments in Unix field usually tend to happen in universities around the world. Linux
was developed in the Helsinki University and so was the first Indian Linux user group,
Bharat Linux User Group (BLUG), in the Regional Engineering College, Surat.

However the situation changes when
these guys walk out of the college. Once outside the corridors of education, chances are
that they may have to adapt other types of OSs (like Windows NT), which they are not
necessarily comfortable with. Moreover, proprietary Unix, on the other hand, like IBM’s
AIX, SCO’s UnixWare and Sun’s Solaris are expensive propositions to become commonplace in
the working environment. On both counts they face problems. So when they have the rare
situation of having the cake and eating it too, chances are that they would gleefully jump
at such a situation. Linux is a rare proposition to the Unix-used IS community. Because it
is a freeware and a flavor of Unix, the IS community are lapping it up and deploying into
their respective organizations, many a time without the knowledge of the management.

Why Linux?
Nevertheless, it would be highly prejudicial to assume that the backing of the IS
community will help Linux dominate the OS market in the coming future. For the real test
of any OS, is not just the cost or the usage by a particular community, but also other
important factors like stability, completeness, support, user-friendliness and other
factors to be accepted enmasse.

The wonderful thing is Linux is
scoring high in all these areas and hence, management is being forced to look at the OS,
despite its freeware status. ‘It cannot be free without a catch’ attitude is giving way to
‘hey let me give it a shot’ approach.

And this is clearly being seen on
the server front. This is where the corporate acceptance really matters. For any server to
be accepted in this realm, it is imperative that any OS fulfills factors like stability,
cost, completeness and support. Also, here the IS community is playing its role
adequately. Being a variant of Unix, maturity is not a big problem for Linux. For
instance, Linux can function effectively both as an internet/intranet server as well as a
traditional file server. Moreover, with Linux’s ability to emulate any other network OS
available today, be it a Unix server, Windows NT or Novell NetWare server, the end users
(including management) do not even know that they are connected to a Linux box. As Hughes
Software’s Suman Saraf, who set up a Linux network in REC, Surat puts it, “It was
cool. Window boxes, Suns, Alphas and HPs could talk to Linux without any problem.”

Add to it another feature of
Linux-completeness. The problem with other proprietary OS, including commercial flavors of
Unix, is rapid cost escalation as these tend to give the bare bones and then charge for
any add-ons and options. On the other hand, Linux is so complete that in many cases you
don’t need to buy or acquire anything else to deploy it. With these two features and help
of the IS community Linux makes its backdoor entry. By the time the management is made
aware of Linux in an organization, they are usually too stumped by the functionality of
the OS and comes the ‘hey let’s give it a shot’ approach.

In our research of Linux usage in
the country, we found that usually the first initiative is to install it as a mail server
and then graduate to porting other applications over Linux. According to Bharat Goenka,
MD, Peutronics (the makers of Tally financial software), “The original purpose of
Linux was to act as a mail server in the office.” The reason why Linux was opted over
other OS was that Linux was amongst the few to seamlessly work with OS/2-the dominant OS
at Peutronics. The same has been the case with IIS Institute of Management, Kerala.
According to Charles Pinheiro, System Administrator, IIS Institute of Management, “We
were planning to install Netscape mail server or Microsoft Exchange server to take care of
our mail business. But finally we opted for Linux.” However AMP India was sure about
Linux and the company deployed it as their email and POP3 server. V VijayKumar, Manager
IS, AMP India says, “It was cost effective and not fuzzy about the hardware
requirement and therefore suited our purpose.”

Other features are also helping the
Linux movement across the country. Stability, for one, is attracting the serious attention
of organizations across the country. As Bharat puts it, “In the past 180 days, the
only time the system was shut down, was when the Karnataka Electricity Board power failed
for 18 hours. In fact, the system shut off after 14 hours and came up with no problems or
data loss when power was restored-which was no mean feat for a network OS.” The same
has been the case with BLUG. As Saraf quips, “I have had an uptime of 108 days on my
Linux box which I had to reboot just because we wanted to install the new kernel.”
Jamuna Ramakrishna, System Administrator at Hivos, a NGO funding organization, has the
same opinion about Linux. She says, “Given our disinclination to know what’s
happenings behind the computer screens, Linux seems to fit the bill. We haven’t had any
crashes so far.” Rock-solid stability, you would agree. Using Linux as mail servers
indicate the high stability factor of this OS.

These, then are the stepping stones
for Linux in any organization. Once the stability of the OS seeps in among the decision
makers, they are willing to take ‘chances’ with other mission critical applications.
Peutronics has moved their Internet Gateway and the domain server for www.peutronics.com
and a point-to-point analog line to Linux at their offsite development office. Tata
Infotech’s Applied Technology Group is using Linux as a new technology development
platform.

Though cost is undoubtedly an
important advantage for Linux, another undeniable advantage, especially in a country like
India, is the low hardware requirement. Even Valloppillil installed a copy of Caldera’s
OpenLinux v1.2 standard edition on on an old P5-100/32MB RAM machine in his office that
used to run NT4. AMP uses Linux on 486 SX with 8 MB RAM 1 GB HDD for its entire email
transactions, which is as big as 100 MB per day with 80-plus users. Says Vijay Kumar,
"Other OS at similar capacity would not have worked with this configuration and
performance." Chips in Chitnis, "Inspite of the low hardware requirement, Linux
will beat many OSs on identical hardware platforms by a margin that no longer seems
funny." For instance, to set up and run a Windows NT server in a 100 user
environment, one would need a highend server with at least 64 MB of RAM (128 preferred)
and running at pretty high CPU speed. Add to this a simple thing like email, and Microsoft
recommends doubling the hardware requirement for a NT server running Exchange. Similarly,
planning to add SQL server, upgrade your hardware.

What about Linux?

A Linux box with all these function and more will happily continue to run on the same
hardware platform. The best part in most cases is that Linux would have had all these
functions built-in to begin with.

There are ample case studies and
stories of how organizations across the globe are deploying Linux successfully. However,
you will find enough successful case studies about Windows NT, NetWare or any other Unix
floating on the net. For instance, NT traditionally has had the upper hand when it comes
to ease of use, ease of installation and size of application portfolio. So if your
organization is relying on ActiveX or other proprietary Microsoft protocols, Linux and
other flavors of Unix hold little advantage to you.

Nevertheless, it is pertinent to
note that the days of ‘one solution for all’ has gone. And if any organization/vendor is
propagating this idea, then it is living in a fool’s paradise. What is important to
business users is to assess their organizational needs and use the best OS or a
combination of the available OS. Again, the advantage is with Linux, because of it being
free, highly stable, complete, very high level of cross-connectivity and extremely well
supported relative to others-even Microsoft acknowledges this fact, remember the Halloween
Documents.

Still skeptical about Linux? Let
Microsoft’s employees, Valloppillil and Josh Cohen, in another leaked document, Halloween
II, have the last word, "Linux represents a best-of-breed Unix, that is trusted in
mission critical applications, and due to its open source code has a long term credibility
which exceeds many other competitive OSs."

 

Linux and others—a
comparision

x86 Operating Systems RH Linux 5.1
WNT 4.0 Solaris 2.6 Range of Compatible hardware Very wide Modest Narrow Minimal hardware
386, 8MB 486-Pentium, Pentium, 32 MB 16 MB to 32 MB DCOMM support No Yes Yes VB vendor
support No Yes No Oracle vendor support Announced for 1999 Yes Yes Performance High
Comparable to Linux Half of Linux to same as Linux 64-bit-readiness Since 1995 year 2000?
In late beta (sources portable to 64-bit OS) Office MS-compatibility Yes The standard Yes
Remote administration Standard Just released June 16 Standard Multi-processing
capabilities Excellent Modest Excellent Symmetric multiprocessing Since 1995 Since 1993-4
Since 1990 (SMP) maturity Off-the-shelf SMP limit 4 10 64 Clustering maturity Since 1997
Since 1997 Since 1994 Clustering limit 8 2 4 IP Security (IPSec) Yes Committed to support
1999 Reboot required for installations No In many cases No Source code readily available
Yes No No Java developer tools Lagging Yes Yes VolanoMark 2.0.0 JVM 234 1411 839
performance (higher is better) Source: www.sunworld.com

 

Linux – then and now

Date Users Version Size (LOC) 1991
1 0.01 10k 1992 1000 0.96 40k 1993 20,000 0.99 100k 1994 100,000 1.0 170k 1995 500,000 1.2
250k 1996 1.5M 2.0 400k 1997 3.5M 2.1 800k 1998 7.5M 2.1.110 1.5M The LOC count appears to
be inclusive of all Linux ports including x86, PPC, SPARC, etc. Source: Halloween II

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *