Networking

How Linux is taking over the network

Is world domination by Linux a fanciful dream, or could it be a reality in ways we don't expect? Scott Reeves sees the signs.

Is the idea of world domination by Linux as far-fetched as it sounds? Perhaps it is still not deployed on many laptops or desktops worldwide. Does that mean that world domination is a pipe dream? I would argue that it may all depend on whether you define world domination as having it installed on more laptops than its competitors, or whether you define it as being present in more places than its competitors. Linux is used in areas other than the PC world, and it is in those other areas that Linux is stealthily making its advance.

One of the big attractions of Linux is the ability to customise the kernel. In particular, being able to compile for different CPU architectures makes Linux attractive for embedded real time systems. Being able to strip Linux down to the bare minimum amount required to run makes Linux a perfect fit for development of embedded real time operating systems. Which brings me to one point: what exactly is a real time operating system, anyway?

The idea of a real time operating system is that it should have a minimum delay, and a minimum delay variation. The delay variation is known as jitter. The scheduler works on the principal of ensuring processes are run within a certain time. The amount of time spent in a buffer or in memory should be minimised. The overall goal is to minimise the delay and the jitter.

Now consider the architecture of a mid-range to enterprise level Storage Area Network (SAN). A SAN has three main components: storage, switches, and servers. The communication protocol used for communication between these three components is usually Fibre Channel, though Ethernet is starting to provide some competition for Fibre Channel. The market leader in Fibre Channel SAN switches is Brocade, with around 71% of the market share in 2012.  

A SAN switch is a critical part of a SAN. Most Brocade SAN switches shipped use firmware called Fabric Operating System, or Fabric OS for short. Fabric OS is actually a version of real time Linux. If a SAN is using Brocade SAN switches, then Linux is present.  

Logging into a Brocade SAN switch via the CLI will look quite familiar to anyone from a Linux or UNIX background. The login used for various Fabric OS commands is called admin. There are a few Linux commands that admin can run. But mostly, admin is restricted to running zoning related commands. However, the switches do come with a root account. This is occasionally used by field technicians when swapping out components.  

Brocade is probably the big area where Linux is used. Another area is in the SOHO NAS market. There are several NAS devices that use Linux. The Synology NAS, for example, has a Linux kernel. Synology are not the only NAS Company that uses Linux as the operating system. Iomega and QNAP also run a version of the Linux kernel. Apart from being fast and robust, Logical Volume Manager is also included. This means you can (if you wish) use the CLI to do your own volume creation and extension.

There are other areas where Linux looks like it is gaining footholds. For instance, there is the DD-WRT project. This project aims to produce Linux-based kernels to replace the firmware in routers.

The presence of Linux in SAN switches is a big area where Linux has already taken off. Another is in the entry to mid-range NAS market. There are also several types of tape libraries that utilise a Linux kernel. Linux could achieve world domination, but maybe not in the way we expect.


About

Scott Reeves has worked for Hewlett Packard on HP-UX servers and SANs, and has worked in similar areas in the past at IBM. Currently he works as an independent IT consultant, specializing in Wi-Fi networks and SANs.

10 comments
djones36
djones36

What about VMware ESX/ESXi or Citrix XenServer running a modified Linux version. You can even run some Linux commands on Windows Servers via PowerShell, LOL....

anthony.sheehy
anthony.sheehy

Why stop at brocade or at SANs? Cisco's latest 3850 switches are running on Linux.

swifters
swifters

I played golf yesterday and at my level, played quite well.However nearly all my good shots suffered bad bounces......the algorithms did not add up......

I assume algorithms are operating system independent?

The average man in the street could not care less which OS is root as long as 

IT WORKS !!


CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

This is why I wonder why so many Linux advocates keep trying to climb the desktop mountain, when the OS has already conquered so many other peaks. 

chrisbedford
chrisbedford

<ahem> "The scheduler works on the [i]principle[/i] of ensuring..." ;-)

But apart from that, just about every piece of dedicated consumer network hardware sold today (DSL routers, plug-n-play NAS boxes, IP cameras, switches) runs some form of Linux kernel in firmware (some of them astonishingly old and unpatched versions, <koff koff koff>, but that's a different conversation for another day).

daboochmeister
daboochmeister

From the perspective of the network, you should probably also mention that many load balancers, firewalls, and web application/XML gateways are based on Linux (though certainly many are based on BSD as well). Also, most of the CDN offerings use Linux in their fabric.

But not sure why you're limiting a discussion of world dominance by Linux to network devices ... consider all the web servers out there, the infrastructure of behemoths like Google/FB/Twitter/etc. - and then consider that within a year or so there'll be more actively-used Android devices than Windows PCs and servers combined. Point all THAT out, and it really DOES start to look like a conspiracy for world domination!

bilal_mahmood@hotmail.com
bilal_mahmood@hotmail.com

you forgot to mention 60% web servers running apache. and about same usingdifferent flavors of SQL on linux on the www.

over all a good read!

ricegf2013
ricegf2013

@CharlieSpencerIt's purely charitable, Charlie - I and my 30 million or so friends who use Linux on the desktop just want to share the joy with the rest of the world. :-)

Of course, Chrome OS has taken 5% of the laptop market and growing rather fast (with a little help from our Windows 8 co-conspirator), and if you expand personal computing to include mobile, Windows is actually down to a 44% market share with Linux and Apple devices taking most of the rest.

But we're really not happy with the constrained environments of Android, iOS and Chrome - we'd like to see a full-power, true multi-tasking, fully open environment become popular enough that mere mortals could compute in freedom and peace. Hence, we keep "trying to climb the desktop mountain".

I think this is one reason the Ubuntu Edge campaign at Indiegogo has broken so many records so quickly (already approaching $6 million in only 3 days) - a high-end, flexible, fully open device that covers both desktop and mobile use cases and runs native apps plus the massive library of Android apps just sounds like a place I really want personal computing to go!

Dean Beck
Dean Beck

@bilal_mahmood@hotmail.com 

and let's not forget Samba, openLDAP, etc. The article makes it sound like this is the introduction of Linux to the 'magic' of the network, internet, etc

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