Linux meets enterprise server challenge

Government officials are beginning to sit up and take notice of the Linux operating system.

A few years ago, Linux began appearing in data centers as information technology professionals discovered that the open-source operating system could easily tackle basic network tasks — such as Web, file and print serving — more cost-effectively than its commercial counterparts.

Initially, many government agencies were hesitant to deploy Linux for mission-critical application servers, preferring instead to use one or more of the commercial Unix operating systems to ensure scalability. In addition, many government IT purchasers were skeptical of Linux's ability to comply with the Common Criteria Evaluation and Validation Scheme, internationally recognized procedures for testing the level of security in IT products. Such compliance is required for many agency IT purchases.

It's time, however, for another look at Linux because much has changed on the server side.

For starters, the economic woes of the past couple of years have made Linux an even better choice as IT budgets shrink or stay flat but agency projects continue to move forward.

The recent release of the Linux 2.6 kernel offers the scalability needed to reliably and securely power mission-critical application servers with ease. For example, the new kernel can support up to 64 processors, 64G of memory and file systems of up to 16 terabytes. It allows Linux to go head-to-head with commercial Unix platforms and gives agency data centers a lower-cost alternative for application serving.

In addition, Linux not only supports Intel Corp.-based architectures but also other enterprise architectures, including Sun Microsystems Inc.'s SPARC and IBM Corp.'s PowerPC64 and S/390. Recent tests running Linux on a PowerPC64 architecture using an IBM iSeries LPAR showed that the operating system is well prepared for nearly any server-side task, including application serving.

Several major server-side Linux distributions have either undergone or are undergoing the certification process for the Common Criteria Evaluation and Validation Scheme. For example, in 2003, SUSE Inc.'s server-side product, SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 8, achieved Common Criteria security certification running on IBM's eServer xSeries platform. In addition, the company also expects to meet the Common Operating Environment requirements.

Accordingly, officials at many government agencies are looking at running Linux on their servers for the first time or considering expanding their Linux base after one or more proof-of-concept evaluations. Server-based Linux is clearly a strong option to consider for meeting budget objectives while delivering on key technology initiatives.

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