Do you remember a time when Linux was a niche OS? Beyond college kids and a few converted Unix nerds, Linux was something for hackers, Ham radio operators and ivory tower dwellers. No one would ever put a Linux-based computer into a data center. How times and attitudes have changed. Once known as the "little OS that could," today Linux could take over your data center. No bands will play. No tickertape will fall. And, no pomp or circumstance will surround the event. Linux will seep quietly into your data center through the "cracks" other OSes leave agape.
Whose fault is this paradigm shift toward Linux as an accepted data center-capable OS? The adopters, like you, are somewhat to blame. The media takes partial blame for providing "air time" to Linux and associated open source technologies. The big vendors like Citrix, IBM, Oracle and VMware carry much guilt, too. But, the biggest culprits of all, including Linus Torvalds, are the Linux developers. Their vision has put Linux into every large data center in the world.
Have you moved your DNS, file storage, mail or other services to Linux? If so, you're in good company. If you haven't, it's time to give Linux a second or third look. Unless your applications are extremely proprietary and OS-dependent, transferring them to the Linux platform is a simple process.
You'll be happy to know that Linux supports all the major languages: PHP, Perl, Java, Ruby, Python, C, C++ and .NET. Yes, .NET (See Mono Project). Some languages, known as interpreted languages, easily transfer from one OS to another with few, if any, required modifications.
In addition to cross-platform language capability, Linux offers adopters an ever-expanding range of Windows-compatible services, such as Windows file and printer sharing, logon scripts and drive mappings. For those who want to migrate from a commercial Unix OS, Linux supports standard Unix services, such as NFS, DNS, NIS+, SMTP and the entire range of TCP/IP services and protocols.
Linux provides the basis for much virtualization technology -- Xen, VMware, KVM and OpenVZ, for example. Cloud vendors that use Linux exclusively, such as Amazon.com, attest to the fact that Linux provides the perfect virtualization backdrop for their services.
All Linux distributions have package repositories from which you may install gigabytes of free software without touching a piece of source code or worrying about compiling the software. Packages are binary application installations created specifically for your particular Linux distribution. Popular commercially supported Linux distributions are Red Hat, Ubuntu, SUSE and Mandriva.
You might have heard that Linux is free. It certainly is, but you can purchase commercial support for the peace of mind you need. The lack of commercial Linux support was once the greatest barrier to Linux adoption in the world's data centers.
Perhaps one of the best things about Linux is that it provides you with a choice of OSes. No one particular company owns Linux; nor does any single company control its licensing, distribution or support. Linux supports a variety of mono and multiprocessor hardware, including ARM, x86, Alpha, Sparc and IBM Mainframe. It fully support the "Big Iron" used in contemporary data centers.
Converting to Linux doesn't mean spending a bundle on training either. Linux looks and feels like commercial Unix OSes. The files are in the same places, named the same things, and the commands work in the same ways. Anyone who uses a commercial Unix can quickly transfer her skills to Linux. For the Windows users who need to convert, Linux comes standard with a choice of graphical desktops that look like and behave like the Windows interface.
Linux is no longer viewed as just an anomaly among "real" data center OSes. Its developers and converts have made it a respectable and competitive choice for businesses that seek to lower their IT overhead and regain some profit. Converting to Linux isn't difficult, even for those who find themselves drowning in a sea of proprietary software and hardware. It's a real choice for developers, cloud vendors, database vendors, virtualization companies, hosting companies and you, the business owner. Linux is here to stay. Linux is a real commercial offering. Linux has proven itself as a real data center OS. And, the developers keep it real for everyone.
Ken Hess is a freelance writer who writes on a variety of open source topics including Linux, databases, and virtualization. He is also the coauthor of Practical Virtualization Solutions, which was published in October 2009. You may reach him through his web site at http://www.kenhess.com.