The Yin And Yang Of Enterprise Computing
By Art Wittmann I've been thinking about two products that rarely make it into our review mix. One is actually a family of products--Hewlett-Packard's line of switches and hubs. The other really isn't a product at all, at least not in its purest form. I'm talking about Linux, the freeware operating system that has shaken up the enterprise server market and may soon do the same to the desktop market.
It struck me as odd that news about these two now-well-seated players should cross my desk on the same day and leave me puzzling about what to do with them in the pages of Network Computing. First, I received an announcement that Oracle and Informix will support Linux and later discovered that Netscape will, too. That's a pretty impressive trio of server-side apps; it will be interesting to see what sort of pricing models come with that support.
The Latecomer HP, for its part, unveiled a line of 10/100 switches for less than $100 per port with lifetime warranties and a quality set of management features. Along with the switches, it announced 10/100 hubs for about $50 per port and plain old Ethernet hubs for as little as $10 per port. HP's switches do 802.1Q and 802.1p, and all of HP's offerings are guaranteed to be Year 2000-compliant. It's a great story, it's just that the company is telling it about six months after everyone else did.
In a sense it's too bad. The folks over at HP make wonderfully solid products, but to keep prices in line, the company typically lags behind the market, and therefore we rarely include its offerings in our switch reviews (though its Gigabit Ethernet switches did come out in time to be included in our lab tests; you can read our findings starting on page 61). HP's products tend to be on the plain-Jane side of things, but with lifetime warranties and HP's support network they are well worth your consideration.
The Freebie Linux, on the other hand, has made its way into the enterprise through the back door, just under the CIO's nose. It is the last great bastion of the technocrats, offering flexibility and performance beyond that of most commercially available operating systems. And its developer community is probably only rivaled by Microsoft's, at least in terms of small and medium-sized networked servers.
Every time I read about the stuff that goes into Linux, from its kernel design to its user shells, I think of all the material I read in operating-systems classes--what was theory in school is now practice in Linux. However, there are two big knocks against Linux. First there's the question of support for a free operating system. Depending on your organization, it's a legitimate concern. But the Internet is crawling with people who love to answer Linux questions, so you'll probably get better support there than from most major vendors.
The second concern is about applications. But on the server side, with Oracle, Informix, Netscape and a slew of applications supported on the Internet, that really isn't a big problem. In fact, at a recent conference of Linux faithful, the pledge was made to go after the desktop. Watch out, Redmond!
Quality Coverage That still leaves me with the issue of how to get these two players covered in Network Computing. HP may not get much coverage for its switches and hubs. I love the company's strategy, but we won't delay a review to wait for a product from it.
For Linux, it's a different story. By some estimates, it has more than 6 percent of the server market, and that's pretty significant. Its architecture is a proven one, and there's little doubt in my mind that Linux will continue to add market share--particularly if it manages to stay pure and compatible. And if it does, we'll treat it exactly the same as we treat any other operating system in the enterprise. You'll see us do reviews on it and with it. It seems that the freebie's time has come.
Send your comments on this column to Art Wittmann at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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