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Linux has a Place in the Enterprise

2012/02/16 1 comment

Linux in the Enterprise
From its meager beginnings as a hobby project to its extreme success among geeks, Linux has survived lawsuits, boycotts and onslaughts from every corner of the UNIX, Windows and Mac computing markets. Linux has, in spite of its critics, made its way into the world’s data centers. Linux enjoyed early success as a host platform for the Apache web server but now has blossomed into a formidable contender for rack space. For an operating system, Linux has the best mixture of vendor neutrality, open source code base, stability, reliability, scalability and affordability. It also provides the user or administrator the choice of graphical user interfaces or none at all.

Linux has one very significant advantage over all other operating systems: Hardware compatibility. It runs on a variety of hardware platforms from wristwatches to mainframes, although it’s most familiar playing field is on x86 metal.

Two decades of community development and support have brought Linux into the mainstream as an enterprise-level operating system that’s competitive on every level of computing. Linux hosts workloads of all sizes and types: Web services, databases, applications, network services, file services, virtualization and cloud computing.

With the notable exceptions of Microsoft’s Hyper-V and Solaris Zones, Linux-based virtualization solutions are the standard in contemporary data centers. And, the world’s largest cloud computing vendor, Amazon, uses Xen virtualization for its services. Though it’s rare outside of Internet Service Provider (ISP) realms, you can run “Zones” virtualization on Linux too. Zones, containers or jails are a popular method of securely compartmentalizing Linux applications from one another. ISPs use containers to separate users from one another on shared systems for shell access. It’s an effective and secure method of leveraging inexpensive hardware over dozens of users.

Though Linux has a dedicated following, corporate buy-in and support from the world’s largest hardware and software vendors, there are still those who aren’t convinced. As late as mid-2011, I found several articles and commentary challenging the viability of Linux as a data center operating system.

The problem with Linux adoption stems from a misunderstanding of the Linux support model. Linux, as a kernel, and generally as an operating system, is free. Free means its code is free to use, change and adapt to any purpose. Some refer to this freedom as open source. Open source does not necessarily mean free. Proprietary software can be open source but it isn’t free to change, rebrand, etc. Linux is free software and it’s also open source.

It also means that Linux is free of charge. Vendors charge for media, consulting, support and a host of associated services but they usually do not charge for the Linux software itself.

The very thing that makes Linux so desirable to geeks and those knowledgeable in the ways of free software is also the aspect that makes some company executives turn away from Linux as a data center operating system. Incorrectly, they assume that since something is free and doesn’t have strings attached that there must be something wrong with it.

Dispelling myths associated with Linux use requires a lot of energy and time. But, there is one sure test for Linux data center viability: IT Services Support.

Linux has support, financial and technical, from the biggest names in the IT industry. Each of these industry giants has its own Linux distribution preference but, whichever distribution you decide to use, you can purchase full support for it. You can purchase 24x7x365 support from a variety of sources, including directly from Linux distribution vendors.

Every major IT services company supports Linux, Windows and commercial UNIX flavors as part of its portfolio. Linux is a mainstream operating system that carries workloads for every sized company in the world. Linux is no longer cute or niche. If you use any online web hosting services, web-based CRM software, databases, virtualization or cloud services, chances are greater than 90% that you’re using Linux behind the scenes for those services.

Linux supports high availability, clustering, high-performance computing and a variety of hardware platforms. It also supports industry standard LDAP (Directory) services, large databases, journaling filesystems, SMP computing and major computer languages including an implementation of Microsoft’s .NET platform.

Linux has its place in your data center doing the enterprise-level heavy lifting at a lower cost than comparable proprietary systems. The days of the monolithic, single operating system data centers are long gone. Heterogeneous networks, including Linux, are today’s standard fare.


This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet.

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Has the World outgrown Commercial UNIX?

2012/01/19 1 comment

When you read articles about cloud computing or Enterprise computing, you rarely see the term ‘UNIX’ anymore. You see plenty of rhetoric about Linux and Windows but UNIX seems to have left the building, for good. And, by ‘building,’ I mean data center. However, that’s not the case. UNIX is alive and well in the world’s Enterprise data centers. It just doesn’t grab headlines like it used to. Does the fact that UNIX isn’t a newsworthy buzz term mean that it’s on its last legs as an Enterprise operating system. Certainly not. Commercial UNIX might have lost its “coolness” but it hasn’t lost its place running your business-critical applications and services.

Enterprise-level UNIX systems still rule the data center for the big workloads, the big databases and Big Data.

When selecting an operating system for your critical business needs, what do you look for? Reliability, availability, stability, versatility, virtualization, scalability, affordability, sustainability, supportability and sheer ability are terms that come to mind on which to judge an operating system. Plus you need a company behind the operating system that employs experts who understand the critical nature of your business. That’s the lure of commercial UNIX. That’s the decision point for many businesses: Support.

It’s fun to think of living in a world where a company can throw caution to the wind and use free software. The reality is that for a company to remain operational it must do so sometimes at greater expense. It’s wise to be frugal but you also can’t afford to gamble with your business’s livelihood based on whim or attitude founded on an ideal. Free software has its place in the data center. But, are you willing to risk your company’s mission-critical business on it?

So far, businesses say, “No.”

Commercial UNIX still wins in every category listed above. Yes, even affordability. Companies that use Linux never do so without also paying for support and 24x7x365 is expensive, even for Linux. Windows does some things well. Linux does some things well. Commercial UNIX does some things well. There is no single right answer to every problem. That’s why you don’t have many companies of any size that have a single operating system or platform anymore.

Don’t misunderstand me, I love Linux and free software but you have to realize that, when it comes to risking millions or perhaps even billions of dollars on your computing infrastructure, you have to use a time-tested, battle-proven technology. That technology is commercial UNIX.

Allow me to quote some statistics gathered by Gabriel Consulting Group (GCG) last year (2011) on this topic that’s published in their whitepaper, “Is Commercial Unix Relevant in the Midmarket?” The 300+ survey respondents represent companies of all sizes, including 44 percent from companies with more than 10,000 employees. However, the data in the report reflects the responses from the focus group (Midmarket, 4,000 or fewer employees), which is 46 percent of the total number of those surveyed. GCG has also included some data from the large company segment for comparison.

  • >80% stated that UNIX usage is increasing.
  • 49% said that 75% or more critical applications run on UNIX
  • >75% report that >50% mission-critical applications run on UNIX
  • Larger organizations state that 75% of their critical applications run on UNIX
  • 90% said that UNIX is strategic to their business
  • 98% of large company respondents stated that UNIX is strategic

What are the most important factors to those who choose commercial UNIX for their mission-critical workloads?

  1. Availability and Stability
  2. Operating System Quality
  3. Predictable Performance
  4. Vendor Support
  5. Raw performance, Speed, Scalability

What are the less important factors for those who’ve selected commercial UNIX?

  1. Easy Administration and Management
  2. Acquisition Price
  3. System Familiarity
  4. Virtualization Capability and Tools

These two lists say a great deal about commercial UNIX buying habits. One glaring point is that price is of less consequence than reliability. The top three reasons given are the reasons why commercial UNIX has many more years of life left in it for the applications and systems that are business mission-critical.

One point that’s a bit unclear in the survey is that of scalability. Sure, Linux and Windows are both scalable but only on PC hardware. And, that includes virtualization. PC hardware can’t compare to the “big iron” on which commercial UNIX runs. Of course, Linux (zLinux) does run on mainframe computers (z/OS) and that’s pretty big iron but most companies under the 4,000 employee levels don’t own a mainframe.

Although survey respondents said that raw performance, virtualization and scalability were not high on their most important aspects list, they’re still important. So is support. The people who write the checks still like to rely on companies that back their products. Companies have more confidence in commercial UNIX than they do in Linux, even when supported by primary vendors such as Red Hat or Novell. Although the Debian distribution is free of charge, companies would rather engage and pay for a real company’s support behind the product.

To drive home the point, the survey revealed that 41 percent of respondents feel that commercial UNIX support is superior to that of Linux vendor support at 30 percent. And, 47 percent believe that UNIX is more available and more reliable than Linux.

Most small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs), like most Enterprises, have a heterogeneous environment. They run their mission-critical applications and services on commercial UNIX and user-oriented services (File, Web, Intranet) on Windows and Linux. Almost three-quarters of those surveyed said they would use commercial UNIX well into the future. While commercial UNIX doesn’t have that “cool” factor that Linux does, commercial UNIX still owns the mission-critical market.

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet.

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Why You Need Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)

2012/01/07 1 comment

Infrastructure as a Service is that part of cloud computing that allows you to lease and manage computing infrastructure for your business needs. Computing infrastructure includes virtual machines (VMs), operating systems, middleware, runtime components, network, storage, data and applications. Cloud computing vendors provide the necessary underlying physical hardware (servers, network, storage) that they own and manage transparently in the background. The two worlds have little crossover. The cloud vendor and customer have a non-intrusive relationship with one another just as you currently do with your web hosting provider. They’re there when you need help but their direct involvement in your business is zero.

The cloud vendor also supplies you with a management interface in which you work with your infrastructure. You’re responsible for license management for your operating systems and software. You pay for compute resources per CPU, per hour, per gigabyte of bandwidth, per gigabyte of storage or a combination.

The Three Faces of IaaS

IaaS isn’t as simple as a single offering but the boundaries between types are well-drawn. First, you have the Private Cloud. Private IaaS is exactly what you think it is—a dedicated, private infrastructure. Think of your own data center setup as a Private Cloud IaaS. Of course, unless you have cloud infrastructure (virtualization, storage, extreme redundancy, etc.), it isn’t officially a cloud but you get the idea.
On the other end of the spectrum is the Public Cloud. A Public Cloud is a 100 percent hosted solution. You own no hardware. It is the Public Cloud that is the focus of this article.
If you combine the two cloud concepts, you have what’s known as a Hybrid Cloud. A Hybrid Cloud can be any percentage mixture of Private and Public infrastructures for your company. Most companies will evolve into this type of cloud from a traditional, private hardware infrastructure to a cloud-based one.

A Hybrid Cloud is the solution that cloud vendors recommend to their customers who’ve grown their own data centers and that are comfortable with that model. Mix your Private Cloud with the Public Cloud for a solid and complete solution for you and your customers. A Hybrid Cloud mixes the security and control of a traditional data center with hosted cloud infrastructure. Typically, companies will transition their disaster recovery efforts to the Public Cloud while retaining production operations in-house in a Private Cloud.

Industry experts view Hybrid Clouds as a transitional step to a full Private Cloud. They see this process as a stepwise migration. As leases and service contracts expire, companies will move their computing workloads from private data center architecture and Private Clouds to virtualized architecture in the Public Cloud.

Analysts predict that by the end of 2012, as many as 20% of businesses will exist completely in the Public Cloud.

Cost Savings But Not Where You Think

Cost tops the advantages of IaaS cloud computing. To purchase the same amount of physical computing power, to manage that computing power and to house that computing power costs many times more than bulk pricing from a cloud vendor. IaaS is basically hardware outsourcing. You don’t own the hardware. You don’t manage the hardware. You use the hardware but its care and feeding are not your problem.

Put whatever moniker on cloud computing’s IaaS that you want but it’s really no different than what you probably do now in your current data center. Unless you own your data center, pay its staff, maintain the facility and physically service your own hardware, then you’re already using hardware (infrastructure) as a service. The primary difference in a standard data center space lease and IaaS is that you don’t have to deal with any hardware.

IaaS frees you from purchasing or leasing hardware, having it shipped to the data center, paying someone to deploy it into a rack, paying for that rack space, managing the hardware throughout its life cycle and taking care of its disposal. That’s why traditional data center infrastructure management is expensive. You have to pay for the hardware, you have to pay for maintenance, you have to pay for management and you have to pay for the business services that required all of this expense in the first place.

On the other side of the argument, cloud opponents state that your TCO is no lower with IaaS than with traditional data center service. This might be true from a pure hardware point-of-view. After all, the IaaS vendor has to pay for the data center infrastructure and pass his costs on to you. However, the savings is in the form of labor costs.

Count the number of full-time employees (FTEs) you have on hand right now to manage your infrastructure. Now, count the number of FTEs you’ll require by not managing any hardware. Is there a significant difference between the two numbers? Add up the total cost of those FTEs who you won’t need anymore and multiply that number by three years (standard hardware lease length). That number is your savings.

Since your new virtual infrastructure comes with online management tools for creating new servers, installing operating systems, presenting storage and configuring network, you’ll need fewer FTEs to handle the job.

Lower Entry Barriers and Rapid Innovation

IaaS also lowers the financial and logistical barriers for startup businesses to enter the market and push their products and services to customers in a fraction of the standard timeframe. The IaaS model allows startups to start small and grow to any size on the pay-as-you-go plan. There’s not a huge outlay of capital on hardware and FTEs that traditionally built businesses have experienced.

Another advantage of IaaS is rapid innovation. For example, if you have an idea for a new service today, you could spin up a virtual test infrastructure for a few hundred dollars, test your service, demo your service and deploy a working business model in a matter of days instead of months. In a time when windows of opportunity are often very small, IaaS makes sense for who need a quick service build-out to show investors or potential customers.

Embrace the Elastic and Mobile Cloud

IaaS also makes your company mobile, elastic and global. You can manage your systems from anywhere, you can shrink and grow your computing infrastructure as needed and you can keep your global customers happy with zero downtime. And, since you’re not tied to a server room or data center, your office location is irrelevant. You can work from home and your employees can be spread across the globe.

Have you ever had to move systems, network and storage from one location to another? If you have, you know about expense, outage and failure. Most cloud vendors maintain geographically disparate data center locations to ensure zero downtime for your infrastructure. Sure, there’s an additional cost for the service but how much is your current disaster recovery solution costing you?

Summary

You need IaaS because you need mobility, agility, stability, availability, elasticity and frugality in your business. You can save money. You can beat the competition to market. And, you can do it with the peace of mind that someone else is minding the hardware foundation under your business.

Where to Go from Here

If you’re considering moving to an IaaS solution or you’re part of a startup, contact a cloud vendor and discuss your needs. Remember that not all cloud vendors can or will give you good advice. Look for experience, longevity, availability, customer service and customer satisfaction in your quest to migrate to the cloud. Remember that your partnership with a cloud vendor is an important one. It’s more than a simple landlord-tenant relationship; it’s a cohabitation. You’re domestic partners and you have to select wisely. So, you need to find a partner who can help you make a smooth transition to your desired level of cloud adoption, since you’re going to be there a very long time.

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet.

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