Predictions 2010: The future of Linux

2010 will see Linux mature and offer CIOs more in the data centre and on the desktop.

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A new decade for Linux in the data center begins in January. While no palm readers or astrologists were asked for their divinations, six Linux-watchers consulted their knowledge-banks and offered up a few predictions on Linux in 2010.

"The focus will continue to be on enterprise consolidation onto centralized Linux platforms, such as blade servers, to support cloud and virtualization initiatives," said Steve Brasen, principal analyst at Enterprise Management Associates.

"Open source systems management vendors are focused on developing solutions for monitoring and supporting virtual and cloud infrastructures. Also, expect to see a focus on simplifying Linux operational management through better integration with enterprise-class automated management solutions."

Ronald McCarty, founder and director of professional services at Your Net Guard, said that government will be a big Linux and open source adopter in 2010. This follows on the efforts of Open Source for America , an organization launched in July of 2009 to promote the adoption of open source in government.

Linux Foundation President, Jim Zemlin, will continue to push his notion of "Linux everywhere" for the new year. He pointed out that Linux is the heart of connected televisions, cameras, set top boxes, netbooks, smartphones, video games, tablet PCs, smart homes, automotive, GPS, and much more.

Linux and the cloud gain strength in the data center 
Most agreed that Linux and the cloud will continue to be joined at the hip next year, and Bill Claybrook, owner of New River Marketing Research said that the growth of cloud may not be a boon to the big three Linux companies—Red Hat, Novell and Canonical.

"We will see non-paid Linux (Fedora, Debian, Linux Mint etc.) being used much more in clouds than paid Linux," said Claybrook. "As a result, Linux vendors will not reap big returns from cloud computing."

The first wave of cloud adoption will be internal clouds, said Claybrook.

"But cloud implies automation; something missing from all virtualization management products, and no one is providing it for clouds yet," he said. "So far Canonical is the only Linux distro vendor that has offered anything for cloud computing. Red Hat keeps talking about its cloud computing offerings, but it is really talking about virtualization, and Novell has only some re-branded stuff for cloud computing."

Michael Cote, analyst with Red Monk, addressed some of the pain points in cloud adoption, which he said are often "FUD-driven." Additionally, a culture clash between cloud pioneers and the slower open source community is a impediment to fast cloud uptake in the Linux datacenter, said Cote.

"There also hasn't been an agnostic presence in the cloud-world driving enterprise adoption like we have in Linux with IBM and others," said Cote. "The enterprise market really needs a force like that to get all the enterprise bridge jumpers to make the leap into new ways of doing IT."

Brasen provided a list of primary areas for cloud-focused development for 2010:

  • Simplifying and reducing the cost of implementation.
  • Enabling dynamic migration between cloud services, enterprise cloud, and traditional servers.
  • Ensuring secure and reliable cloud implementations with the use of automated monitoring and management tools.
  • Achieving compliance initiatives on cloud architectures.

Virtualization mayhem: The Linux hypervisor wars 
Gordon Haff, principal IT advisor at Illuminata, Inc., said it is hard to predict what will happen with Linux virtualization market share.

"A lot of virtualization is done on roll-your-own distributions, such as Amazon," said Haff. "I expect KVM to ramp up for pure Linux environments though, given that Red Hat is going to be pushing it hard and Ubuntu favors it."

People tend to think of Linux as the rainbows-and-sandals happy land where everything is one big ball of openness and compatibility. 

Brasen posited that VMware isn't likely to make significant inroads against Xen dominance on Linux platforms. But he said that VMware's recent acquisition of SpringSource may make it more attractive to the open source community, and that there are certainly some opportunities for VMware to leverage this support to develop better Linux-based integrations.

Cote said that the unfortunately high degree of virtualization fragmentation between open and closed hypervisor technologies will get more obvious in 2010.

"People tend to think of Linux as the rainbows-and-sandals happy land where everything is one big ball of openness and compatibility," said Cote. "I'm not sure the world has realized the degree to which virtualization fragmentation will be annoying."

Linux on the desktop, netbook, mobile device 
Early last year there was a lot of buzz about Linux gaining ground on netbooks but much of it fizzled with the release of Windows 7 in November.

While none of the pundits thought that 2010 would be the year of the Linux desktop, some predict growth in other areas..

"I believe that the only way Linux can make a dent in the Windows client market share lead is by adopting a single Linux client, preferably Ubuntu Desktop and market and sell it against Windows," said Claybrook. "The open source community has gotten behind Firefox, and its market share has grown from 3.6% in 2004 to about 23% in 2009."

Cote said that barring spectacular failure of Windows 7, the ink and hype around the desktop market in 2010 will be devoted to Microsoft.

"If you try to get time on the calendar to talk about 'Linux desktops,' concerns and interests like Windows 7, mobile, cloud, etc. will get you prioritized a lot lower," said Cote. "But if you go in talking about applications you might have more luck."

He pointed out that IBM is doing something interesting with Lotus on Ubuntu.

"That predictive framing is why Lotus' desktop Linux strategy is so sly: they're in no way selling Linux desktops, they're selling the application stack that runs on them. The fact that Linux is on the desktop is -- from a marketing and narrative point of view -- just an implementation detail."

Zemlin looks to none other than Microsoft's Bill Gates' "computer on every desktop" mantra as a blueprint for building Linux market share.

"We similarly want to see a computer in every pocket, car, airplane, television, ATM, gas pump, desktop, milking machine, boat, train, and more all running Linux," he said.

Haff and Brasen are optimistic about the rise of Linux in mobile devices.

"We'll certainly see an increase in Linux as it relates to mobile devices of many forms and thus it's fair to say that the percentage of Linux contributions specific to clients will increase," said Haff.

... enterprises that are frustrated by the limitations of their native smartphone OS and applications are turning to Linux-based architectures... 

Brasen said that enterprises that are frustrated by the limitations of their native smartphone OS and applications are turning to Linux-based architectures, such as Google Android and Ubuntu Mobile, to allow them to develop proprietary environments specific for their business. But, this is still a small percentage of enterprise deployments, with the majority using Symbian, Windows Mobile, Rim BlackBerry, and the Apple iPhone.

"As business mobile device utilization moves from static processes (such as shipping and inventory management) to advanced business applications (word processing, email, file sharing) we'll see an increased requirement for the mobile vendors to provide enterprise editions of these services," said Brasen. "If they do not deliver quickly or effectively enough, Linux based solutions will likely fill the gap."

A new shiny Chrome will attract attention in 2010 
Claybrook predicts a lot of buzz around Google's Chrome OS when it nears release in the second half of 2010.

"Chrome OS could have a big impact on data centers by paving the way for more web-based applications and cloud computing," he said. "The cost savings through the use of Chrome OS on netbooks would be the driver for getting data center IT managers to move to more web-based applications and cloud computing."

Linux packaging improvements needed 
If the distributions are listening, McCarty wants them to work on packaging.

"I'd like to see the distributions start playing nicer on the package front to allow developers to quickly package their source and binaries for most distributions, instead of throwing their hands up and providing a tar ball and make instructions," he said, noting that openSUSE is providing some leadership on this front.

Hardware gets cheaper (even free) 
That's right, free hardware. It's cheaper to build a netbook than an iPhone, ushering in carrier subsidies and essentially free hardware, Zemlin said To counter this, PC and smartphone makers are moving toward services such as Apple's iTunes and Nokia's Ovi.

"Enterprise computing is seeing a similar trend accelerating in server computing," said Zemlin. "Today if you are a hot Web startup in Silicon Valley you don't need to buy any software to build your Web business. Almost everyone uses open source, and you don't need any hardware either because you can simply rent virtual machines on Amazon's EC2 service."

With Google Apps making inroads into what was thought to be Microsoft's virtual lock in with SharePoint and Exchange Server, small businesses can have a full groupware and office productivity solution for $50.00 per user per year, with nothing else to buy. But, says Zemlin, the IT industry will not implode because everyone is getting everything for free, and consumers and enterprises will not get a free ride.

"The cost of computing will shift from hardware and software purchasing to the acquisition of services," he said. "Vendors that see this shift will have loads of services and hardware to sell, albeit to different customers than they are used to.

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