White heat column:Facts and myths

Don't be afraid of making the first step towards Linux, says Jasmin Ul-Haque, because your customers will appreciate that you are...

Don't be afraid of making the first step towards Linux, says Jasmin Ul-Haque, because your customers will appreciate that you are offering them leading edge technology at a hugely competitive price.

Linux is a Unix-like operating system. The term strictly speaking refers only to the operating system kernel, while a Linux distribution is the combination of that kernel with all the utilities required to create a workable operating system.

What differentiates the offering of each Linux company is how they compile their own distribution, which system management tools they have written, what additional software is bundled, the documentation provided with the package and what type of customer support is offered.

As an operating system, Linux has made tremendous strides in functionality and ease of use. Already imbued with the Unix features of flexibility, stability and robustness, the licensing structure enables Linux to be offered at a very cost-effective price.

No free lunch
Linux is often described as a free operating system because it can be downloaded without payment and for the freedom which the licence offers to users to read, modify and redistribute the source code.

Businesses, however, require vendor responsibility, support, documentation and a defined roadmap for future development. In other words, there is no such thing as a free lunch, and companies seriously wishing to deploy Linux are already asking all the right questions.

Not to dismiss the efforts of the Linux community - it is because of the passion for the superior technology that a multitude of highly talented individuals choose to work on Linux development projects. Consequently, there is a huge momentum to facilitate the rapid development of the

Linux code and distributions
Where's the market? As the Linux market matures, so has the offering for this market and there are now a range of commercial systems designed to offer tailor-made solutions for specific needs.

Linux is already being deployed in a number of sectors: financial, telcos, manufacturing, SMEs and corporates. However, most of these implementations have been driven bottom-up by enterprising IT managers who want less hassle and cost when managing basic server functions.

It is only recently that UK companies are investigating the benefits of having a Linux IT strategy - something their European counterparts have been doing for a number of years with positive results.

What are the barriers?
A recent survey commissioned by the Open Forum Europe group in conjunction with the DTI identified some of the major concerns that CTOs had with implementing Linux.

They were worried about lack of vendor accountability, lack of third party technical support, reliability, security, scalability and lack of necessary experience.

The only way these concerns can be properly addressed is by a combined approach from the Linux vendors and the channel to the customer.

The evidence suggests that the opportunity for direct Linux revenue is with the channel, which is best suited to advise customers on which system is suited to their particular requirements and assist with implementation and support.

Although all Linux vendors contend that Linux is suitable for the desktop, evidence shows the majority of deployments are on servers - from file and print to network set-up.

Potential customers want to hear the arguments of why they should use Linux, and they would venture to upgrade if they were certain of assistance from their preferred channel partner. Linux vendors have come to understand the importance of channel partners and this is reflected in an increasing portfolio of business products with appropriate margins for the channel.

Where now?
Channel partners need to be committed to gaining the necessary skills to handle Linux and there are a number of channel partner programmes designed to facilitate this.

Education is a pre-requisite for this and the fastest, most cost effective and broad education is offered by the Linux Professional Institute. A number of training firms also offer set and tailor-made courses. Simply contact the major Linux vendors and ask them how they can help you to benefit from Linux.
Jasmin Ul-Haque is commercial director at SuSE Linux

Linux Professional Institute: www.lpi.org

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