Open Source

How Linux found its home in the enterprise

Linux is uniquely suited to meet the demands of large-scale, enterprise computing. Jack Wallen traces its evolution and impact on enterprise systems.

When I first started using Linux, I was certain my platform of choice was going to take every aspect of computing by storm — and do so fairly quickly. And with good reason. It didn't suffer from the same show-stopping flaws that plagued the Windows platform, it was cost effective, it was reliable... and it was secure.

Flash forward over a decade and Linux is still struggling to gain mainstream acceptance on the home desktop and in small businesses (though that is starting to climb). Amid all the hoopla over the desktop, something different has happened — something many may not have expected — Linux has become fairly widespread in the larger, enterprise-level companies. On desktops, in servers, and everything in between — the word on the street is that Linux is fairly popular in the enterprise. How did this happen? Simple — evolution. But it wasn't just an application on a code-base level. The evolution happened everywhere: The companies behind the distributions, the developers and designers, the CIOs and COOs of the companies — it all combined together to create the perfect storm for Linux adoption in the enterprise. Let's break it all down into its constituent parts.

Distribution mindset

If you'll remember, Red Hat Linux was, at one point, a desktop distribution. It wasn't until Red Hat forked into Fedora and Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) that things began to change. Red Hat became a company intent on taking over the enterprise, and they focused on the most important aspects of running a business. Prior to Red Hat's brilliant move, Linux distributions were just focused on getting their platform into the hands of users. This was all fine and good if the intent was to remain a niche, geek-centric toy. But Red Hat fully understood what their distribution was capable of and now they are a billion dollar company AND the leading contributor to the Linux kernel.

That last bit is crucial. With Red Hat contributing to the kernel, it can continue to hone the kernel to meet the demands of the enterprise.

But it's not just Red Hat that is focusing the mindset of the Linux platform. Canonical has taken the desktop-centric Ubuntu and completely turned that business model on its head. With the switch to the Unity desktop, it is now possible to support every device running Ubuntu much more easily — as the interface remains the same. Not only that, but Canonical has made sure that every aspect of Ubuntu is polished and professional. As much as many want to deny it, in the world of business, image actually matters. With the efforts of Red Hat and Canonical, the Linux image has evolved into something ready and able to take on the tasks thrown at them by enterprise needs.

But what about the software itself? How has it evolved?

Cloud computing

One of the aspects that really shows off the power of Linux is cloud computing. Most major clouds are run from Linux platforms. Two of the largest clouds on the planet are run off Linux servers:

  • Amazon EC2: Almost half a million Linux servers
  • Netflix: nearly 1,000 Linux servers run the front end which connects to hundreds of Amazon S3 servers

From inception, Linux was built for the likes of cloud computing. It's networkability, security, and reliability make it the perfect candidate and companies like Red Hat, OpenStack, RackSpace, SUSE, and Canonical have used those strengths to their advantage to develop outstanding cloud platforms.

Devices

Turns out, Linux seems to power a vast majority of the devices you use.

  • Storage appliances
  • Phones
  • Routers
  • Switches
  • Security hardware
  • Virtual appliances
  • Copiers

Somewhere along the line, manufacturers realized that Linux was the ideal platform with which to run their systems. Because Linux can be easily stripped down (thank you, modular kernel), and still function, it's a perfect marriage.

To the web

So much of business today is run from web-based services and applications. HRM, CRM, ERP, Wikis, Bug tracking, accounting — nearly every aspect of business can be handled through the web browser. For the longest time, open source has offered every tool imaginable for these tasks — but now those applications have solidified themselves as prime movers in the enterprise.

Some of the biggest hitters among the open source, enterprise-ready tools include:

These tools have been around for a while, but now that usage has finally caught up to the reality that web-based tools far surpass that of client-based tools, attention has finally been given to the platforms that really were at the forefront of this trend.

When I first started giving this topic some thought, my original intent was to show how Linux and open source have evolved to meet enterprise needs. But the reality shows a different perspective — that it's the enterprise that has evolved to finally see that Linux and open source does, in fact, live up to the demands of large-scale computing.

  • High-availability
  • Clustering
  • Web-based applications
  • Security
  • Reliability

It's all been in place since the early days. Open source has always been ahead of the curve — and finally, enterprise-level companies are seeing that. It's just a matter of time before this enlightenment trickles down to medium and small-sized businesses.

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

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