The servers must meet standards on electromagnetic interference, electrostatic discharge, corrosion, grounding and seismic durability.
At the LinuxWorld Conference in New York, the non-profit Open Source Development Lab (OSDL) said the carrier-grade Linux working group hopes to draft the specifications by March, with the first compliant projects available from independent software vendors by end of the year.
Also announced was the creation of a second working group that will be charged with enabling Linux development for wider use in corporate data centres. That group will be created later this year, said Tim Witham, director of OSDL.
"We wanted to get one running, and now we will do the other," Witham said.
Ari Virtanen, vice-president of Nokia Networks, said the opportunities for Linux in the carrier-grade server market were real because it allows next-generation and multimedia communications services to be created economically on open-standard platforms. By using open source software and development on standard architectures, costs and time to market will be reduced, he said.
Virtanen said the scheduled time frame for the project "is a tough target," but the group is "well on track and feels confident this will be done."
The working group will initially include OSDL members including Alcatel, Cisco, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Intel, MontaVista Software, Espoo, Nokia, Red Hat and SuSE Linux.
The development work of both working groups will be done under the General Public Licence (GPL) used for many open source projects.
Stacey Quandt, an analyst at Giga Information Group, said that while the creation of working groups is noble, much of their success would depend on the co-operation of open source Linux developers who are integrally involved in the kernel development process.
A major factor is whether the group can garner interest and support from Linus Torvalds, the creator of Linux.
The group "has to have Linus" to gain recognition and credibility, Quandt said. "I don't know if Linus has carrier-grade Linux and data centre Linux on his agenda."
Another challenge, she said, is the 2002 timetable set for the carrier-grade working group. "It's a very aggressive timeframe," she said.