You’ve probably heard more about Linux in the last 12 months than in its entire nine-year history. That’s because Linux has finally achieved a level of corporate and public awareness as a powerful and reliable operating system for meeting the business needs of companies, for dedicated

Web servers, mail servers, and the like. New by OS standards, Linux has been tried, tested, and proven in a relatively short span of time.

Linux is a free, open source, multi-tasking, multi-user operating system that runs on Intel Architecture and a variety of other hardware platforms. Fully IEEE POSIX-compliant and modeled on traditional UNIX operating system design, it originally began as a research project by a Finnish graduate student, Linus Torvalds. By using the inherent power of the open source method of software development, where code is shared and development is a collaboration among a wealth of programmers on the worldwide Web, Linux has quickly evolved into one of the most popular operating systems available now. Today, Linux has developed a loyal following all across the world among many different businesses, government institutions and universities, as well as the top computer manufacturers, such as HP/Compaq, IBM, Intel, and SGI.

When creating a communications solution, Linux seems just like any another operating system to choose from in many respects. However, it just might be special enough to make the difference in your solution. For instance, because this OS is very UNIX-like, it provides a reliable, scalable platform with many of the high-end attributes of traditional UNIX systems. Yet, it differs from UNIX in a few key areas. Based on open source, Linux is a truly open system, unlike many proprietary UNIX implementations. Additionally, because it has been designed to run on open Intel Architecture hardware, assembling a Linux platform (hardware and software) can be done much more cost-effectively than traditional UNIX platforms.

Linux in the OS Market

Linux isn’t just for the technically proficient. An entire business ecosystem has grown up around this OS. Today there are industry vendors providing application-ready binary distributions of Linux. Some of these vendors offer direct commercial-quality support for their products, while others provide support for a variety of vendors’ distributions. A number of computer hardware vendors now also provide Linux as an option on new hardware, along with direct support. As seen in the following chart, this ecosystem has allowed Linux systems to account for over 25 per cent of servers shipped by 1999, second only to Windows.

Furthermore, the growth rate for Linux server deployments in 1999 was an astounding 93.8 per cent, far surpassing Windows’ second place finish with a 24 per cent growth rate. So, while Windows is currently the leader in server operating system shipments worldwide, Linux is seriously challenging its coveted position, as shown in the following chart.

This spectacular growth is driven by two main factors: technology and commercial viability. Driving the technology factor is the work of thousands of developers worldwide, collaborating via the Internet to develop new Linux features, improve Linux OS reliability and scalability, and develop new applications and tools that allow even faster and more robust application development.

Linux appears to be a good strategic bet, because traditional UNIX vendors such as Compaq, IBM, HP, and SGI are moving to rally around this single, unified platform. The growth of Linux has allowed UNIX vendors to see the importance of conforming to open, standards-based solutions.

Based on these compelling trends, it is critical to extend a company’s products to help its customers capitalize upon the features and capabilities of the Linux platform.

Is Linux Serious Enough For Communications?

Few will argue that Windows is currently the leader of the Enterprise server market segment. However, as Enterprise systems take on more of an embedded nature, or as those solutions are outsourced to service providers, there will be an opportunity for Linux to address the needs of the Enterprise, too.

With the convergence of voice and data networks, with the movement of converged communications solutions into the mainstream, and with commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) components gaining acceptance for mission-critical applications, it appears likely that Linux will be extremely well positioned for an entry into the lucrative and demanding service provider arena. Already Linux development has focused on increasing the overall reliability, scalability, and manageability of the operating system when planning new releases, in order to appeal to the service provider market and other segments requiring mission-critical attributes in an operating system – such as special-purpose servers.

Intel continues to support many technical efforts within the Linux community, from Plug-and-Play to IA-64 ports for the Intel Itanium processor, which are key to the continued evolution of the Linux platform. Already widely acknowledged as being an extremely reliable and robust operating system, Linux systems have also earned support from most of the top-tier server vendors such as HP/Compaq, IBM, and SGI. What’s more, as the platform continues to evolve, adding new features and capabilities like high availability, traditional telephony platform suppliers like Force, Motorola, and Ziatech are able to support NEBS-compliant and CompactPCI systems with Linux.

Since so much of the evolution and development of Linux has occurred via the Internet, its inherent networking capabilities allow a rich new breed of applications to evolve, combining the best features of the Internet along with traditional circuit-switched voice communications networks. The first release System Release for Intel Dialogic products supporting Linux was made in the summer of 2000. Now Linux remains a top-tier platform in development plans.

The industry appears ready as well for Linux. All major server manufacturers have certified their hardware with this OS and all of them are shipping systems pre-loaded and pre-configured with Linux. So if you are using an existing UNIX-based solution, or if you are considering a migration to Linux, the short answer is that you should have confidence in your decision.

What Does Linux Have To Offer Technically?

In the server market, Linux has made inroads most strongly as dedicated-use servers such as:

  • Internet servers (including e-Commerce servers);
  • Embedded systems;
  • Application servers;
  • File/print servers; and
  • Development systems.

As an example, the Apache Web server, running on Linux, serves more Web sites than all other servers, including Microsoft’s IIS.

Capitalizing On Linux Features

Running your solution on Linux may improve the overall reliability and availability of your platform, enabling you to increase the actual and perceived quality of your solutions, serve your customers better, and even penetrate new markets.

Additionally, Linux has features available to the Intel Dialogic product developer as well as the end-user, which can be realized out of the box. All that is necessary is to simply run your boards along with your existing application software on a Linux based machine. Other benefits specific to converged communications solutions require application development, integration services, or both.

While the list of features and capabilities of Linux is impressive and demonstrates the operating system’s capabilities, the following analysis puts the focus largely on those features that have relevance for Intel Dialogic board-level products or are of particular interest to our customers (for a more comprehensive review of the features and enhancements that will be available in latest version of Linux (2.4), visit Linuxtoday.com).

In Part two Techie Corner explores how Linux enhances reliability and availability

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