Industry Giants Back Laboratory for Linux R&D

Goal is to speed up open-source growth

In a multimillion-dollar deal that backers hope will help bring Linux firmly into the world of enterprise computing, four industry heavyweights announced last week that they and other companies are creating the first independent, nonprofit development laboratory for Linux.

The Open Source Development Lab, to be based near Portland, Ore., is being built by Hewlett-Packard Co., Intel Corp., IBM and NEC Corp. The laboratory is expected to open by the end of the year.

Other companies sponsoring the lab are Caldera Systems Inc., Dell Computer Corp., LinuxCare Inc., LynuxWorks Inc., Red Hat Inc., Silicon Graphics Inc., SuSE Linux AG, TurboLinux Inc. and VA Linux Systems Inc.

The idea of the lab, according to the backers, isn't to create new projects. Instead, the focus will be on accelerating projects being developed by the open-source community.

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IBM Offers AFS To Open-Source

IBM last week announced that it will release the source code to its Andrew File System (AFS). The technology could help Linux gain enterprise acceptance.

AFS is similar to the more widely used Network File System but is considered more robust and secure, said Tony Iams, an analyst at D. H. Brown Associates Inc. in Port Chester, N.Y. AFS is used mainly in academic and government markets but also has users in the financial industry. The system will work with most versions of Unix and with Microsoft Corp.'s Windows NT.

"We did this because the AFS community wanted this to be open-source," said Dan Frye, program director at IBM's Linux Technology Center.

According to Iams, AFS is "technologically really quite beautiful, but it never caught on commercially. IBM is not giving up all that much by turning this over [to open-source]."

Iams said AFS could help Linux compete in the enterprise - but the Linux community must first decide to accept it. IBM has previously committed to contributing some of its journaling file-system technology to the open-source effort.

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"This will be the first of many labs we hope to open," said an IBM spokeswoman. Each of the four key partner companies is providing seed money for the project, as well as the personnel necessary to move it forward, she said.

A mix of servers and equipment will be in the lab to give developers the tools to produce applications for a wide range of environments, the spokeswoman said. The equipment will be accessible on-site or over the Internet, she added, with personnel ready to assist.

But in a world where Linux development has largely been accomplished by individuals in the field collaborating with one another in a sort of computer underworld, some observers wonder how the Linux development community will respond to a group of big guns getting involved.

"They have the buy-in from most of the bigwigs in open-source," said Bill Claybrook, an analyst at Aberdeen Group Inc. in Boston. "The idea is that some of those folks from the open-source community will be on the board" of the new lab, helping shape its direction and future.

For IBM, NEC, HP and Intel, the motivation for helping to push the development of Linux is clear, Claybrook said.

"It is to their advantage to see Linux move up the food chain," he said. "Some of these companies are kind of fed up dealing with Microsoft [as the major operating system provider] all the time and being bullied."

Linux has plenty of promise and lots of open-source development already being carried out by others, saving the partner companies millions of dollars in development costs, Claybrook said. In addition, IBM and the other companies see the continued development of Linux as a way to rejuvenate their hardware sales.

Dan Kusnetzky, an analyst at International Data Corp. in Framingham, Mass., said the only way Linux will be ported to large-scale hardware will be through the creation of such a lab, where independent developers will have hands-on access to leading-edge machines.

"It makes perfectly good sense for the companies who want this to happen to make the lab available," Kusnetzky said. "If they want the software development, they have to make it possible."

Copyright © 2000 IDG Communications, Inc.

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